John Pemberton was a wasted opportunity. That was the final verdict for one of the most controversial figures in the Civil War. General John Pemberton was a man without a country. Torn in his mind over which side to defend, the Northern-born but Southern-married man made a choice that would have the greatest effect on his life and the course of the conflict.
Pemberton decided to fight for the Southern cause. Proven in the field of administration, Pemberton found himself uncomfortable in combat.
Yet combat was where the leaders of the Confederacy would place him time and time again. In South Carolina, Pemberton demonstrated his distaste for combat and was rewarded with another more important assignment in Mississippi, Vicksburg. It was at this strategic “gateway to the Mississippi” where the indecisive leader would find his greatest loss.
The Rebel commanders were at a loss and confused as to why this intelligent, sometimes brilliant commander, could fail so quickly? The reasons were clearly evident. The general was a fish out of water on the fields of combat and when forced to be there performed as expected, miserably.
This man, this able-bodied king of administration, if left to his own devices surely would have been a great benefit to the Confederates. Lee and Davis would have to flex their leadership muscle and condemn this man from Philadelphia, to his demise.
Born in Philadelphia in 1814, John Pemberton was destined to be a man of great interest. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in the fall of 1837, Pemberton fought in the Seminole War and received decorations for his bravery against the Mexican army.
His marriage to a woman from the South, (Virginia) would lead to his detractors casting stones. The obvious dilemma was that the Union commanders thought that this would be a detriment to his leading capabilities.
How right they were. The division stemming from his border marriage and the adultery that followed created one of the biggest scandals of the Civil War. The Confederate leaders readily ignored the personal issues that surrounded the embattled leader and sent him to his first real military conflict, Mississippi.
Vicksburg was the last remaining Confederate stronghold that overlooked the Mississippi River and needed to be taken to open up the Union shipping lanes.
Grant decided to attack and capture the city in October 1862. General Pemberton, an ill-qualified combatant but excellent tactician and administrator was sent into the upper Mississippi area to defend the port-city at all cost.
After a brief run-in with Lee and Jefferson Davis over the defending of the department at all cost, Pemberton stayed in Vicksburg allowing Grant to move freely about the delta.
The military loss for the Confederates at Vicksburg was placed on General Pemberton, although he was decidedly against the idea of “sticking to Vicksburg like glue”. Pemberton wanted to harass and follow General Grant around hopefully disrupting troop movements and cutting off the Northern supply lines. This would have been to a greater benefit as the city of Vicksburg fell to Grant and his well-rested un-harassed army.
The good General Pemberton died on July 13th, 1881 in the town of Penllyn, Pennsylvania. A man of great controversy from start to finish, the general will never be forgotten.