John Clifford Pemberton (1814-1881)

John Clifford Pemberton (August 10, 1814 - July 13, 1881), was a career U.S. Army officer and Confederate general in the American Civil War, noted for his defeat and surrender in the critical Battle of Vicksburg.

Pemberton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1837 and served in the artillery. He saw action in the Second Seminole War and was decorated for bravery in the Mexican War. In peacetime, he proved to he an effective administrative officer. Though his defenders would later claim that Pemberton frequently exhibited antebellum pro-Southern sentiments, there is much evidence to the contrary.

At the start of the Civil War, Pemberton chose to resign his commission and join the Confederate States Army, despite his Northern birth. It was because of the influence of his Virginia-born wife and many years of service in the southern states before the war that he became devoted to the South.

His first positions were with Virginia infantry, but already by June 1861 he was back with the artillery. He was quickly identified for promotion, and commanded a brigade around Norfolk, training them in what was then a quiet area. In December 1861 he was moved to a more active coastal sector, down in South Carolina. The Union had seized Port Royal Island as a blockading base; it also threatened landings up and down the Atlantic coast. Robert E. Lee organized the whole coastal area, and Pemberton was one of the sector commanders. He took over from Lee in March 1862 and held the position until late September.

Pemberton was promoted to lieutenant general on October 10, 1862, transferred to Mississippi, commanding the forces there and in Louisiana east of the Mississippi River), and assigned to defend the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Mississippi River. Facing the aggressive Union commander Major General Ulysses S. Grant in the Vicksburg Campaign, Pemberton was out-numbered, but significantly out-generaled as well. After Grant surprised him by crossing the Mississippi River south of the city, he defeated Pemberton and Joseph E. Johnston in a number of battles through central Mississippi, eventually besieging Pemberton in Vicksburg. Although advised to escape with his army, sacrificing the city, Pemberton held firm for over six weeks, while soldiers and civilians were starved into submission. (Pemberton, well aware of his reputation as a northerner by birth, was probably influenced by his fear of public condemnation as a traitor if he abandoned Vicksburg.) On July 4, 1863, he surrendered the city and his army to Grant, resulting in a terrible strategic loss for the Confederacy.

Pemberton was vilified in the South: he wasnÕt Southern by birth, and had surrendered an Army rather than fight to the death for glory. The Union eventually exchanged him in May 1864 and Jefferson Davis had to figure out what to do with a competent but unpopular officer. There was no chance of giving him high command: too many people didnÕt trust him and wouldnÕt serve under him. He offered to serve as a private, as a way of regaining respect. Pemberton was finally put back into the artillery, as only a Lieutenant Colonel (down from Lieutenant General) and put in charge of RichmondÕs artillery during the long siege.

After the war he settled on a farm near Warrenton, Virginia, and eventually returned to his native Pennsylvania, where he died July 13, 1881, in the village of Penllyn. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.