A Civil War Biography

John Clifford Pemberton

Pemberton was born 10 August 1814 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania into an old and influential Quaker family. He attended West Point graduating 27th in the class of 1837 then served in the cavalry on the frontier seeing action during the Seminole War and the war with Mexico.

Although born in the North, Pemberton always stood on the side of states rights. In 1848 he had married Martha Thompson of Norfolk, Virginia adding to his Southern ties. When the war erupted Pemberton decided to side with the Confederacy and, although two of his brothers remained in the Union army and urged him to do likewise, resigned his commission on 24 April 1861.

He was appointed a brigadier general by Jefferson Davis on 17 June 1861. In August 1861 Pemberton replaced Robert E. Lee as the commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida when Lee was called to Richmond as an advisor to Jefferson Davis. Pemberton was promoted to major general in January 1862. He was promoted to lieutenant general on 10 October 1862 and although many in the south were suspicious of him because of his northern birth he was given command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. Pemberton always stated that it was conflicting orders from Davis and Joseph E. Johnston, the overall Confederate commander in the West, that resulted in him being besieged and eventually surrendering Vicksburg on 4 July 1863. Davis had sent word not to give up the city for a single day while Johnston ordered Pemberton to unite with his forces to attack Ulysses S. Grant even if it meant abandoning the city. Many in the south accused Pemberton of treason for surrendering the city and 29,000 Rebel soldiers.

When he was exchanged in May 1864 there was no assignment that matched his rank so he resigned his commission and offered his services as a private. Davis re-commissioned Pemberton a lieutenant colonel in the artillery and assigned him to the defenses of Richmond, where he served for the last nine months of the war. After the war Pemberton retired to a farm near Warrenton, Virginia then moved back to Pennsylvania in 1876. He settled in Penllyn, PA where he died 13 July 1881.

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