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John Clifford Pemberton

By John T. Marck

Known as the "Defender of Vicksburg," Pemberton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 14, 1814. Having a deep affection for the South, he entered West Point in 1833, and advocated states' rights convictions. Graduating twenty-seventh in his class of fifty in 1837, he entered the army serving in the cavalry. He then served in the Mexican War, and was breveted twice for heroism.

After the Mexican War, in 1848, he married a Southern woman from Norfolk, Virginia named Martha Thompson, who further encouraged his Southern inclinations. When the Civil War began, Pemberton resigned from the U.S. Army and joined the Confederate army. Two of his brothers who were in the U.S. Army with him decided to remain in the United States Army, rather than follow him to the Confederacy. On June 17, 1861, President Jefferson Davis gave him a commission as a brigadier general, and placed him in command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. As a result of this command, he was promoted to major general in January 1862, then to lieutenant general on October 10, that same year.

Four days later Pemberton assumed command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, and in this position soon learned that the center of his attention was Vicksburg, Mississippi. However, Pemberton was caught between conflicting military plans of his superior officers, General Joseph Johnston and President Jefferson Davis. In his quest to try to follow both sets of orders, he found that neither worked, as a result of trying both, surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, along with 29,000 of his troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

Having the high rank of lieutenant general, there was no command for him after Vicksburg, so he resigned his lieutenant generalcy to accept an appointment as a colonel in the artillery division. He stayed in this position until the end of the war. He then settled in Warrenton, Virginia on a farm, then returned to Pennsylvania.

He died in his native state on July 13, 1881 at the village of Penllyn.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.