A New Independence Day
When Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, the city of Vicksburg became a beacon of freedom in the heart of the Confederacy. The Civil War would drag on for nearly 2 more years, but the war in Vicksburg was done.
As many as 20,000 African Americans flocked to Vicksburg following the siege, seeking freedom and protection. Some came individually, but many came in large groups, often following Union soldiers returning to the city after raids into the interiror of Mississippi. As General Sherman returned to Vicksburg following the Meridian Expedition, he estimated he had "a full 5,000 negroes" accompanying his troops.
Unfortunately like in Vicksburg was not easy for many of the new residents. The town was overrun with refugees, there was not enough housing, and there was little work or employment to be had. Most lived in poverty, squatitng in whatever space they could find, and building makeshift shelters for protection. At first, the occupying Union Army worked hard to recruit as many male refugees into the army, where they could be fed, given shelter, and aid in the ongoing war effort.
The Freedman's Bureau
Newly freed slaves were anxious to receive and education. While some slaves had educational opportunities from their masters, most were illiterate, could not perform basic math, and lacked the basic life skills. The African American community in Vicksburg instituted a voluntary tax upon thmselves to help pay educational costs for blacks in the city. By NOvember 1865 over 2,200 black students were taking courses in Vicksburg.
The federal government soon established a Freedman's Bureau in Vicksburg. Intially this office focused on improving living conditions for the refugees by providing housing, food, and medical services. Services soon expanded to include providing educational opportunities to help educate the former slaves. Classes were held during the day and night, and offered opportuntieis to children and adults. Many northern cities would support the Freedman's Bureau's throughout the south by sending books, supplies, and monetary donations.
As more cities of the Confederacy fell to Union forces, military leaders looked towards the successes of the Freedman's Bureau in Vicksburg, and adopted the Vicksburg model in cities all across the south.
An Overabundance of Workers
With the influx of refugees came a overwhelming labor supply for the city of Vicksburg, to the point where many blacks had difficulty finding work. By the time the war ended, many blacks returned to their plantations to work as hired hands in the cotton fields. The Freedman's Bureau would help blacks negotiate contracts, wages, and material benefits with the plantation owners, and would attempt to make sure both sides upheld their end of the contract. Wages were considerably generous, with many makng $15 per month with lodging, food and clothing provided.
Some African Americans were able to open their own businesses in Vickbsburg, while others helped to rebuild the city and erase the scars of the 47-day siege.