‘Catching the rabbit:’ U.S. Grant and the Vicksburg campaign

Published 11:28 am Tuesday, January 9, 2024

With Gettysburg and Antietam, U.S. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign of 1863 is considered by historians as one of the most significant military engagements of the Civil War, in some ways the single most important and the most decisive for the War’s outcome. Why? Of all the battles of the Civil War, perhaps the most studied in military colleges around the world is Vicksburg. Why? Of all of the Union generals, Grant is accepted as Lincoln’s prescient choice as the military mastermind to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Why? What was the genius of Vicksburg and what was the genius of Grant?

These topics, which are so vital to the history of Natchez, which fell like a domino to Union occupation only days after Vicksburg, will be the topics of the Natchez Historical Society’s Annual Dinner Jan. 23. The speaker will be David Nolen, professor and associate dean for Archives and Special Collections at Mississippi State University. Professor Nolen formerly was the Reference Librarian at the U.S. Grant Presidential Library and is a Co-Editor of The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant — The Complete Annotated Edition (2017, Harvard University Press). The title of Professor Nolen’s presentation is “Catching the Rabbit: U. S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign.”

The Vicksburg Daily Citizen of July 2, 1863, included an article dismissive of Grant’s plan to conclude the siege of Vicksburg with its capture by Independence Day, July 4. The newspaper taunted, “The way to cook a rabbit is ‘first to catch the rabbit.’” When the city indeed surrendered July 4, Union troops added a note to the July 2 edition of the newspaper that, “Gen. Grant has ‘caught the rabbit.’” Professor Nolen’s presentation will illustrate how the image of rabbit-catching is an apt metaphor for the entire Vicksburg campaign.

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The Annual Dinner and presentation will be accompanied by the Historical Society’s award of its annual Historic Preservation Award to an individual who is an especially significant contributor to the preservation of historic memory in Natchez. Registration, reception, and a cash bar are at 5:30 p.m.; dinner at 6:30 p.m.; with the award and presentation at 7 p.m. The location is the Natchez Grand Hotel, 111 N. Broadway St.

The event is open to all, members and non-members, alike. All are welcome. As seating is limited, reservations must be made by January 14, and will not be accepted at the door. Dinner is $37 per person (vegetarian and non-vegetarian options are available). Online reservations and payments may be made at natchezhistoricalsociety.org. Alternatively, reservations may be made by mail (include names, phone numbers, and meal choices) addressed to: Natchez Historical Society, P. O. Box 49, Natchez, MS 39121. More information may be obtained by calling 281-731-4433 or 601-492-3004.

The Historical Society’s programs are partly funded by a generous grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

ALAN WOLF is a director of the Natchez Historical Society and its programing chair.