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The Siege of Vicksburg commences

The Siege of Vicksburg commences

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On May 18, Union General Ulysses S. Grant surrounds Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, in one of the most brilliant campaigns of the war.

Beginning in the winter of 1862-63, Grant made several attempts to capture Vicksburg. In March, he marched his army down the west bank of the Mississippi, while Union Admiral David Porter’s flotilla ran past the substantial batteries that protected the city.

They met south of the city, and Grant crossed the river and entered Mississippi. He then moved north to approach Vicksburg from its more lightly defended eastern side. In May, he had to split his army to deal with a threat from Joseph Johnston’s Rebels in Jackson, the state capital that lay 40 miles east of Vicksburg. After defeating Johnston’s forces, Grant moved toward Vicksburg.

On May 16, Grant fought the Confederates under John C. Pemberton at Champion Hill and defeated them decisively. He then attacked again at the Big Black River the next day, and Pemberton fled into Vicksburg with Grant following close behind. The trap was now complete and Pemberton was stuck in Vicksburg, although his forces would hold out until July 4.

In the three weeks since Grant crossed the Mississippi in the campaign to capture Vicksburg, his men marched 180 miles and won five battles. They took nearly 100 Confederate artillery pieces and nearly 6,000 prisoners, all with relatively light losses.

READ MORE: 7 Important Civil War Battles

What We Learned: from the Siege of Vicksburg

In early 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant, with help from the Western Gunboat Flotilla, captured Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee and then won a victory at Shiloh, allowing a Union siege of the Confederate bastion at Vicksburg, Miss. Meanwhile, Flag Officer David Farragut took New Orleans, threatening all of Louisiana and positioning the converging Union forces to split the Confederacy.

Wetlands and the Mississippi itself impeded advances on Vicksburg. Unable to protect his supply line, Grant halted a march through central Mississippi, ordering General William T. Sherman to boat his 31,000 men downriver. In the last week of 1862, Sherman sent his men against bluffs north of the city. Repulsed, his corps held its ground through winter, fixing significant Confederate forces in the defense of Vicksburg.

Grant then crossed to the west bank of the Mississippi and cleared eastern Arkansas while seeking to move his gunboats and transports downriver past the city. Vicksburg’s batteries, set on a bluff above the river’s east bank, could pierce the decks of Union gunboats. Grant ordered canals built to bypass the bluff, but those attempts failed. With most of his army waiting on the west bank of the river south of the city, Grant challenged Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter to run the Vicksburg batteries. Porter’s first 10 ships did so in the dark on April 16, 1863, losing just one vessel. By early May, Grant had some 40,000 men on the east bank south of the city. Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton had 33,000 defenders in and around Vicksburg, while another Confederate force held Jackson—until driven out by Grant on May 14. He then punished Pemberton at Champion Hill and the Big Black River Bridge, forcing him to flee to entrenchments along the eastern approaches to Vicksburg.

Grant assaulted the works, but the Confederates had spent months fortifying the ridges around the city. The assaults failed, so Grant—reinforced to some 77,000 men—pressed the siege with trenches and bombardments. Union miners dug beneath Rebel positions and packed the tunnels with explosives, destroying one fort on July 1.

Inside Vicksburg, citizens dug into the hills to escape shellfire, while troops faced reduced rations. The commissariat had stockpiled little food, and Pemberton had ordered most horses and mules driven outside the city due to lack of fodder. Along with corn and peas, rats and cats virtually disappeared by the end of June. Thirsty soldiers drank directly from the river, with dire results.

By July 1, Confederate commanders reported fewer than 200 able-bodied men per regiment. Two days later, Pemberton opened negotiations with Grant, who requested unconditional surrender but accepted the parole of all Confederate troops instead. On the Fourth of July, Union troops occupied Vicksburg.

Grant took some 10,000 casualties after crossing the Mississippi, while inflicting an equal number of enemy casualties. He paroled nearly 30,000 Rebels, most of whom fought again. Five days after Vicksburg’s fall, Port Hudson, last bastion on the Mississippi, also surrendered, and Union eyes turned eastward.

■ A mobile force should never surrender its mobility (the term “sitting ducks” comes to mind).

■ A fortress is defensible only as long as its food holds out.

■ When defending a city, evacuate civilians they have to be fed. Do not evacuate animals they are emergency rations.

■ Accurate threat assessment beats shoveling canals in a swamp while the enemy improves his defenses. Damn the batteries, full speed ahead!

■ Never parole enemy troops they are veterans. You will see them again (maybe from the wrong side of a POW cage).

■Finally, boil the danged river water!

Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.


The park includes 1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles (32 km) of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile (26 km) tour road, a 12.5-mile (20.1 km) walking trail, two antebellum homes, 144 emplaced cannons, the restored gunboat USS Cairo (sunk on December 12, 1862, on the Yazoo River), and the Grant's Canal site, where the Union Army attempted to build a canal to let their ships bypass Confederate artillery fire.

The Cairo, also known as the "Hardluck Ironclad," was the first U.S. ship in history to be sunk by a torpedo/mine. It was recovered from the Yazoo in 1964.

The Illinois State Memorial has 47 steps, one for every day Vicksburg was besieged.

The 116.28-acre (0.4706 km 2 ) Vicksburg National Cemetery, is within the park. It has 18,244 interments (12,954 unidentified).

The time period for Civil War interments was 1866 to 1874. The cemetery is not open to new interments. The cemetery [1] has only one Commonwealth war grave, of an airman of Royal Australian Air Force buried during World War II. [2]

The remnants of Grant's Canal, a detached section of the military park, are located across from Vicksburg near Delta, Louisiana. Union Army Major General Ulysses S. Grant ordered the project, started on June 27, 1862, as part of his Vicksburg Campaign, with two goals in mind. The first was to alter the course of the Mississippi River in order to bypass the Confederate guns at Vicksburg. For various technical reasons the project failed to meet this goal. The river did change course by itself on April 26, 1876. The project met its second goal, keeping troops occupied during the laborious maneuvering required to begin the Battle of Vicksburg.

The national military park was established on February 21, 1899, to commemorate the siege and defense of Vicksburg. The park sprawls over 1,800 acres (7.3 km 2 ) of land. The park and cemetery were transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service (NPS) on August 10, 1933. Of the park's 1,736.47 acres (not including the cemetery), 1,729.63 acres (6.9996 km 2 ) are federally owned.

In the late 1950s, a portion of the park was transferred to the city as a local park in exchange for closing local roads running through the remainder of the park. It also allowed for the construction of Interstate 20. The monuments in land transferred to the city are still maintained by the NPS. As with all historic areas administered by the NPS, the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. Over half a million visitors visit the park every year. [3]

American Civil War

The Siege of Vicksburg was a major victory for the Union during the Civil War. The Union Army surrounded the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi and eventually took control.

When did it take place?

The siege took much longer than your typical battle. It began on May 18, 1863 and lasted over a month until July 4, 1863.

Who were the commanders?

The commander for the Union forces was General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant led the Army of Tennessee and had over 35,000 men under his command. Other Union generals included William T. Sherman and John McClernand.

The leader of the Confederates was General John Pemberton who commanded the South's Army of the Mississippi. He had only 18,000 soldiers under his command.

Why was Vicksburg important?

The city of Vicksburg is located on the Mississippi River. It was the last major port on the river held by the South. If the North could take Vicksburg, the Confederacy would be cut off from supply lines to the west. Also, rebel states such as Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas would be isolated from the rest of the South.

The Siege of Vicksburg was the end of a long series of battles in the western theatre of the Civil War called the Vicksburg Campaign. The Union Army, led by General Grant, had won a number of battles against the Confederates pushing them back towards Vicksburg. They also captured the city of Jackson, the capital of Mississippi.

Grant approached the city slowly, forcing the Confederates to retreat before him. While approaching the city, he captured the local railroad and secured his own supply lines while isolating the city of Vicksburg.

On May 18, 1863, Grant's army approached Vicksburg. The Confederate Army of General Pemberton were dug in. They were going to be nearly impossible to defeat while hiding behind the defenses of the city. Over the first couple of days, Grant tried to break into the city by overwhelming them with his superior numbers. It didn't work. Many Union soldiers lost their lives and the Confederates still held the city.

Grant then decided to lay siege to the city. He would bomb them constantly and wait until they ran out of food. He knew that eventually they would have to surrender.

The conditions in the city got worse and worse over the next several weeks. The people in the city began to run out of food. They started to eat anything available including the horses, dogs, and cats. Near the end they were even eating rats and tree bark. Because of malnutrition, many of the soldiers became sick from diseases like scurvy, dysentery, and malaria.

In addition to not having food, the city was constantly being bombed. People couldn't safely walk the streets or live in their houses. They had to hide day and night in their basements or dug out caves in the hills.

On July 4, 1863, the Confederates had had enough. General Pemberton surrendered to Grant.

The Siege of Vicksburg was a great victory for the Union. It gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union. Around the same time, the Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee was defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg. These two victories marked the major turning point of the Civil War in favor of the Union.


Military situation Edit

After crossing the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg at Bruinsburg and driving northeast, Grant won battles at Port Gibson and Raymond and captured Jackson, the Mississippi state capital, on May 14, 1863, forcing Pemberton to withdraw westward. Attempts to stop the Union advance at Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge were unsuccessful. Pemberton knew that the corps under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman was preparing to flank him from the north, and so had no choice but to withdraw or be outflanked. Pemberton burned the bridges over the Big Black River and devastated the countryside as he retreated to the well-fortified city of Vicksburg. [7]

The Confederates evacuated Hayne's Bluff, which was subsequently occupied by Sherman's cavalry on May 19, and Union steamboats no longer had to run the guns of Vicksburg, now being able to dock by the dozens up the Yazoo River. Grant could now receive supplies more directly than by the previous route, which ran through Louisiana, over the river crossing at Grand Gulf and Bruinsburg, then back up north. [7]

Over half of Pemberton's army had been lost in the two preceding battles [8] and many in Vicksburg expected General Joseph E. Johnston, in command of the Confederate Department of the West, to relieve the city—which he never did. Large numbers of Union troops were on the march to invest the city. They repaired the bridges over the Big Black River and crossed on May 18. Johnston sent a note to his general, Pemberton, asking him to sacrifice the city and save his troops, something Pemberton would not do. (Pemberton, a Northerner by birth, was probably influenced by his fear of public condemnation if he abandoned Vicksburg.) [9]

Pemberton, trying to please Jefferson Davis, who insisted that Vicksburg and Port Hudson must be held, and to please Johnston, who thought both places worthless militarily, had been caught in the middle, a victim of a convoluted command system and his own indecisiveness. Too dispirited to think clearly, he chose to back his bedraggled army into Vicksburg rather than evacuate the city and head north where he might have escaped to campaign again. When he chose to take his army into Vicksburg, Pemberton sealed the fate of his troops and the city he had been determined to defend.

Fortifications Edit

As the Union forces approached Vicksburg, Pemberton could put only 18,500 troops in his lines. Grant had over 35,000, with more on the way. However, Pemberton had the advantage of terrain and fortifications that made his defense nearly impregnable. The defensive line around Vicksburg ran for approximately six and a half miles (10 km), based on terrain of varying elevations that included hills and knobs with steep slopes which would require an attacker to ascend them under fire. The perimeter included many gun pits, forts, trenches, redoubts, and lunettes. The major fortifications of the line included: Fort Hill, on a high bluff north of the city the Stockade Redan, dominating the approach to the city on Graveyard Road from the northeast the 3rd Louisiana Redan the Great Redoubt the Railroad Redoubt, protecting the gap for the railroad line entering the city the Square Fort (Fort Garrott) a salient along the Hall's Ferry Road and the South Fort. [11]

Union Edit

Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Union Army of the Tennessee brought five corps to the siege:

Confederate Edit

Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's Confederate Army of Mississippi inside the Vicksburg line consisted of four divisions, under Maj. Gens.:

Assaults Edit

Grant wanted to overwhelm the Confederates before they could fully organize their defenses and ordered an assault against the Stockade Redan for May 19. Troops from Sherman's corps had a difficult time approaching the position under rifle and artillery fire from the 36th Mississippi Infantry, Brig. Gen. Louis Hébert's brigade. They had to negotiate a steep ravine protected by abatis and cross a 6-foot-deep (1.8 m), 8-foot-wide (2.4 m) ditch before attacking the 17-foot-high (5.2 m) walls of the redan. This first attempt was easily repulsed. Grant ordered an artillery bombardment to soften the defenses and at about 2 pm, Sherman's division under Maj. Gen. Francis P. Blair tried again, but only a small number of men were able to advance even as far as the ditch below the redan. The assault collapsed in an exchange of rifle fire and hand grenades lobbing back and forth. [13]

The failed Union assaults of May 19 damaged troop morale, deflating the confidence the soldiers had felt after their string of victories across Mississippi. They were also costly, with 157 killed, 777 wounded, and eight missing, versus Confederate casualties of eight killed and 62 wounded. The Confederates, assumed to be demoralized, had regained their fighting edge. [14]

Grant planned another assault for May 22, but this time with greater care his troops would first reconnoiter thoroughly and soften up the defenses with artillery and naval gunfire. The lead units were supplied with ladders to ascend the fortification walls. Grant did not want a long siege, and this attack was to be by the entire army across a wide front. [15]

Despite their bloody repulse on May 19, Union troops were in high spirits, now well-fed with provisions they had foraged. On seeing Grant pass by, a soldier commented, "Hardtack". Soon all Union troops in the vicinity were yelling, "Hardtack! Hardtack!" The Union served hardtack, beans, and coffee the night of May 21. Everyone expected that Vicksburg would fall the next day. [16]

Union forces bombarded the city all night, from 220 artillery pieces and with naval gunfire from Rear Adm. David D. Porter's fleet in the river. While causing little property damage, they damaged Confederate civilian morale. On the morning of May 22, the defenders were bombarded again for four hours before the Union attacked once more along a 3-mile (5 km) front at 10 am. [17]

Sherman attacked once again down the Graveyard Road, with 150 volunteers (nicknamed the forlorn hope detachment) leading the way with ladders and planks, followed by the divisions of Blair and Brig. Gen. James M. Tuttle, arranged in a long column of regiments. They hoped to achieve a breakthrough by concentrating their mass on a narrow front. They were driven back in the face of heavy rifle fire. Blair's brigades under Cols. Giles A. Smith and T. Kilby Smith made it as far as a ridge 100 yards from Green's Redan, the southern edge of the Stockade Redan, from where they poured heavy fire into the Confederate position, but to no avail. Tuttle's division, waiting its turn to advance, did not have an opportunity to move forward. On Sherman's far right, the division of Brig. Gen. Frederick Steele spent the morning attempting to get into position through a ravine of the Mint Spring Bayou. [18]

McPherson's corps was assigned to attack the center along the Jackson Road. On their right flank, the brigade of Brig. Gen. Thomas E. G. Ransom advanced to within 100 yards of the Confederate line, but halted to avoid dangerous flanking fire from Green's Redan. On McPherson's left flank, the division of Maj. Gen. John A. Logan was assigned to assault the 3rd Louisiana Redan and the Great Redoubt. The brigade of Brig. Gen. John E. Smith made it as far as the slope of the redan, but huddled there, dodging grenades until dark, when they were recalled. Brig. Gen. John D. Stevenson's brigade advanced in two columns against the redoubt, but their attack also failed when they found their ladders were too short to scale the fortification. Brig. Gen. Isaac F. Quinby's division advanced a few hundred yards, but halted for hours while its generals engaged in confused discussions. [19]

On the Union left, McClernand's corps moved along the Baldwin Ferry Road and astride the Southern Railroad of Mississippi. The division of Brig. Gen. Eugene A. Carr was assigned to capture the Railroad Redoubt and the 2nd Texas Lunette the division of Brig. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus was assigned the Square Fort. Carr's men achieved a small breakthrough at the 2nd Texas Lunette and requested reinforcements. [20]

By 11 am, it was clear that a breakthrough was not forthcoming and that the advances by Sherman and McPherson were failures. Just then, Grant received a message from McClernand, which stated that he was heavily engaged, the Confederates were being reinforced, and he requested a diversion on his right from McPherson's corps. Grant initially refused the request, telling McClernand to use his own reserve forces for assistance Grant was mistakenly under the impression that McClernand had been lightly engaged and McPherson heavily, although the reverse was true. McClernand followed up with a message that was partially misleading, implying that he had captured two forts—"The Stars and Stripes are flying over them."—and that another push along the line would achieve victory for the Union Army. Although Grant once again demurred, he showed the dispatch to Sherman, who ordered his own corps to advance again. Grant, reconsidering, then ordered McPherson to send Quinby's division to aid McClernand. [21]

Daniel A. Ramsdell, Ransom's Brigade [22]

Sherman ordered two more assaults. At 2:15 pm, Giles Smith and Ransom moved out and were repulsed immediately. At 3 pm, Tuttle's division suffered so many casualties in their aborted advance that Sherman told Tuttle, "This is murder order those troops back." By this time, Steele's division had finally maneuvered into position on Sherman's right, and at 4 pm, Steele gave the order to charge against the 26th Louisiana Redoubt. They had no more success than any of Sherman's other assaults. [23]

In McPherson's sector, Logan's division made another thrust down the Jackson Road at about 2 pm, but met with heavy losses and the attack was called off. McClernand attacked again, reinforced by Quinby's division, but with no success. Union casualties for the day totalled 502 killed, 2,550 wounded, and 147 missing, about evenly divided across the three corps. Confederate casualties were not reported directly, but are estimated to have been under 500. Grant blamed McClernand's misleading dispatches for part of the poor results of the day, storing up another grievance against the political general who had caused him so many aggravations during the campaign. [24]

Siege operations Edit

Historian Shelby Foote wrote that Grant "did not regret having made the assaults he only regretted that they had failed." [25] Grant reluctantly settled into a siege. On May 25, Lt. Col. John A. Rawlins issued Special Orders No. 140 for Grant:

Corps Commanders will immediately commence the work of reducing the enemy by regular approaches. It is desirable that no more loss of life shall be sustained in the reduction of Vicksburg, and the capture of the Garrison. Every advantage will be taken of the natural inequalities of the ground to gain positions from which to start mines, trenches, or advance batteries. . [26]

Grant wrote in his memoirs, "I now determined upon a regular siege—to 'out-camp the enemy,' as it were, and to incur no more losses." [27]

Federal troops began to dig in, constructing elaborate entrenchments which the soldiers of the time referred to as "ditches". These surrounded the city and moved steadily closer to the Confederate fortifications. With their backs against the Mississippi and Union gunboats firing from the river, Confederate soldiers and citizens alike were trapped. Pemberton was determined to hold his few miles of the Mississippi as long as possible, hoping for relief from Johnston or elsewhere. [28]

A new problem confronted the Confederates. The dead and wounded of Grant's army lay in the heat of Mississippi summer, the odor of the deceased men and horses fouling the air, the wounded crying for medical help and water. Grant first refused a request of truce, thinking it a show of weakness. Finally he relented, and the Confederates held their fire while the Union recovered the wounded and dead on May 25, soldiers from both sides mingling and trading as if no hostilities existed for the moment. [29]

After this truce, Grant's army began to fill the 12-mile (19 km) ring around Vicksburg. It soon became clear that even 50,000 Union soldiers would not be able to effect a complete encirclement of the Confederate defenses. Pemberton's outlook on escape was pessimistic, but there were still roads leading south out of Vicksburg unguarded by Union troops. Grant sought help from Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the Union general-in-chief. Halleck quickly began to shift Union troops in the West to meet Grant's needs. The first of these reinforcements was a 5,000-man division from the Department of the Missouri under Maj. Gen. Francis J. Herron on June 11. Herron's troops, remnants of the Army of the Frontier, were attached to McPherson's corps and took up position on the far south. Next came a three division detachment from XVI Corps led by Brig. Gen. Cadwallader C. Washburn on June 12, assembled from troops at the nearby posts of Corinth, Memphis, and LaGrange. The final significant group of reinforcements to join was the 8,000-man strong IX Corps from the Department of the Ohio, led by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, arriving on June 14. With the arrival of Parke, Grant had 77,000 men around Vicksburg. [30]

In an effort to cut Grant's supply line, Confederates in Louisiana under Major General John G. Walker attacked Milliken's Bend up the Mississippi on June 7. This was largely defended by recently enlisted United States colored troops. Despite having inferior weaponry, they fought bravely and repulsed the Confederates with help from gunboats, although at heavy cost the defenders lost 652 to the Confederate 185. The loss at Milliken's Bend left the Confederates with no hope for relief other than from the cautious Johnston. [31]

Ulysses S. Grant, writing to George G. Pride, June 15, 1863 [32]

Pemberton was boxed in with plentiful munitions but little food. The poor diet was telling on the Confederate soldiers. By the end of June, half were sick or hospitalized. Scurvy, malaria, dysentery, diarrhea, and other diseases cut their ranks. At least one city resident had to stay up at night to keep starving soldiers out of his vegetable garden. The constant shelling did not bother him as much as the loss of his food. As the siege wore on, fewer and fewer horses, mules, and dogs were seen wandering about Vicksburg. Shoe leather became a last resort of sustenance for many adults. [33]

During the siege, Union gunboats lobbed over 22,000 shells into the town and army artillery fire was even heavier. As the barrages continued, suitable housing in Vicksburg was reduced to a minimum. A ridge, located between the main town and the rebel defense line, provided lodging for the duration. Over 500 caves, known locally as "bombproofs", were dug into the yellow clay hills of Vicksburg. Whether houses were structurally sound or not, it was deemed safer to occupy these dugouts. People did their best to make them comfortable, with rugs, furniture, and pictures. They tried to time their movements and foraging with the rhythm of the cannonade, sometimes unsuccessfully. Because of the citizens' burrowing, the Union soldiers gave the town the nickname of "Prairie Dog Village". Despite the ferocity of the Union fire, fewer than a dozen civilians are known to have been killed during the siege. [34]

Command changes Edit

One of Grant's actions during the siege was to settle a lingering rivalry. On May 30, General McClernand wrote a self-adulatory note to his troops, claiming much of the credit for the soon-to-be victory. Grant had been waiting six months for him to slip, ever since they clashed early in the campaign, around the Battle of Arkansas Post. He had received permission to relieve McClernand in January 1863 but waited for an unequivocal provocation McClernand was relieved on June 18. Grant so carefully prepared his action that McClernand was left without recourse. McClernand's XIII Corps was turned over to Maj. Gen. Edward Ord, who had recovered from an October 1862 wound sustained at Hatchie's Bridge. In May 1864, McClernand would be given a command in a remote area of Texas. [35]

Another command change occurred on June 22. In addition to Pemberton in Vicksburg, Grant had to be aware of Confederate forces in his rear under the command of Joseph E. Johnston. He stationed one division in the vicinity of the Big Black River Bridge and another reconnoitered as far north as Mechanicsburg both acted as covering forces. By June 10, the IX Corps, under Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, was transferred to Grant's command. This corps became the nucleus of a special task force whose mission was to prevent Johnston, who was gathering his forces at Canton, from interfering with the siege. Sherman was given command of this task force and Brig. Gen. Frederick Steele replaced him at XV Corps. Johnston eventually began moving to relieve Pemberton and reached the Big Black River on July 1, but he delayed a potentially difficult encounter with Sherman until it was too late for the Vicksburg garrison, and then fell back to Jackson. [36] Sherman would pursue Johnston and recapture Jackson on July 17.

Louisiana operations Edit

Throughout the siege Union and Confederate forces kept busy in a supporting role on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River. Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, received a telegraph from Pemberton on May 9 requesting that he move against Grant's communication lines along the Mississippi River. Grant had established important supply depots at Milliken's Bend, Young's Point, and Lake Providence, all within Smith's jurisdiction, but Smith failed to recognize the importance of Pemberton's situation. It was not until June when Smith finally took action on Pemberton's request, directing Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor to "do something" in support of the Vicksburg garrison. [37] Taylor commanded the District of Western Louisiana and developed a three-pronged campaign against Grant's three supply depots. All three of Taylor's assaults were defeated at the Battle of Milliken's Bend, the Battle of Young's Point, and the Battle of Lake Providence.

In response to the growing Confederate activity in the area, Grant decided to dispatch troops from the Vicksburg trenches across the river. The presence of Maj. Gen. John G. Walker's Confederate division on the Louisiana side was of particular concern its presence could possibly aid any Confederate attempt to escape from Vicksburg. Therefore, Brig. Gen. Alfred W. Ellet's Mississippi Marine Brigade and Joseph A. Mower's brigade from Sherman's corps were ordered to the vicinity of Milliken's Bend. Mower and Ellet were to cooperate against Walker's division, which was stationed in the vicinity of Richmond, Louisiana. Richmond was also an important supply line providing Vicksburg with food from Louisiana. On June 15, Ellet and Mower defeated Walker and destroyed Richmond. [38]

Ellet's men returned to De Soto Point and constructed an artillery battery targeting an iron foundry recasting spent Union artillery shells. Construction was begun on June 19, which placed a 20-pounder Parrott rifle in a casemate of railroad iron. The targeted foundry was destroyed on June 25 and the next day a second Parrott gun was added to the battery, which continued to harass the defenders until the garrison's surrender. [39]

Additional Confederate activity in Louisiana occurred on June 29 at Goodrich's Landing when they attacked a plantation and an army training center run by former slaves. The Confederates destroyed the plantations and captured over a hundred former slaves before disengaging in the face of Ellet's Marines. Confederate raids such as these were disruptive and caused damage, but they were only minor setbacks and demonstrated that the Confederates could cause only momentary disturbances in the area. [40]

Crater at the Third Louisiana Redan Edit

Late in the siege, Union troops tunneled under the 3rd Louisiana Redan and packed the mine with 2,200 pounds of gunpowder. The explosion blew apart the Confederate lines on June 25, while an infantry attack made by troops from Logan's XVII Corps division followed the blast. The 45th Illinois Regiment (known as the "Lead Mine Regiment"), under Col. Jasper A. Maltby, charged into the 40-foot (12 m) diameter, 12-foot (3.7 m) deep crater with ease, but were stopped by recovering Confederate infantry. The Union soldiers became pinned down and the defenders rolled artillery shells with short fuses into the pit with deadly results. Union engineers worked to set up a casemate in the crater in order to extricate the infantry, and soon the soldiers fell back to a new defensive line. From the crater left by the explosion, Union miners worked to dig a new mine to the south. On July 1, this mine was detonated but no infantry attack followed. Pioneers worked throughout July 2 and 3 to widen the initial crater to be large enough for an infantry column of four to pass through for any future assault. However, events the following day negated the need for any further assaults. [41]

Capture Edit

On July 3, Pemberton sent a note to Grant regarding the possibility of negotiations for peace. Grant, as he had done at Fort Donelson, first demanded unconditional surrender. He then reconsidered, not wanting to feed 30,000 Confederates in Union prison camps, and offered to parole all prisoners. Considering their destitute and starving state, he never expected them to fight again he hoped they would carry home the stigma of defeat to the rest of the Confederacy. In any event, shipping that many prisoners north would have occupied his army and taken months. [42] Pemberton officially surrendered his army on July 4. [43] Most of the men who were paroled on July 6 were exchanged and received back into the Confederate Army on August 4, 1863, at Mobile Harbor, Alabama. They were back in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by September and some fought in the Battles for Chattanooga in November and against Sherman's invasion of Georgia in May 1864. The Confederate government protested the validity of the paroles on technical grounds and the issue was referred to Grant who, in April 1864, was general in chief of the army. The dispute effectively ended all further prisoner exchanges during the war except for hardship cases. [44]

Surrender was formalized by an old oak tree, "made historical by the event". In his Personal Memoirs, Grant described the fate of this luckless tree:

It was but a short time before the last vestige of its body, root and limb had disappeared, the fragments taken as trophies. Since then the same tree has furnished as many cords of wood, in the shape of trophies, as the 'True Cross'. [45]

The surrender was finalized on July 4, Independence Day, a day Pemberton had hoped would bring more sympathetic terms from the United States. Although the Vicksburg campaign continued with some minor actions, the fortress city had fallen and, with the surrender of Port Hudson on July 9, the Mississippi River was firmly in Union hands and the Confederacy split in two. President Lincoln famously announced, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea." [46]

Union casualties for the battle and siege of Vicksburg were 4,835 Confederate were 32,697, of whom 29,495 had surrendered. [5] The full campaign, since March 29, claimed 10,142 Union and 9,091 Confederate killed and wounded. In addition to the men under his command, Pemberton turned over to Grant 172 cannons and 50,000 rifles. [47]

May 18, 1863: Start of the Siege of Vicksburg

Even before the siege of Vicksburg commenced, food was a problem in the city. Confederate soldiers engaged in “the customary pilfering—fruits, vegetables, chickens, and livestock disappeared troops drained the city of supplies, created shortages, and sent prices soaring. Food became scarce. Butter sold for $1.50 a pound, and flour was virtually unavailable. A substance that passed for coffee was brewed from sun- dried pieces of sweet potato” and families “lived on bacon and cornmeal, and salted mackerel was considered a delicacy.”

Pemberton prohibited food from being shipped out of Mississippi, he encouraged farmers to grow edible crops rather than cotton, and some farmers and plantation owners did just that. Although food was plentiful outside Vicksburg, as the Union army would later prove, plantation owners were often unwilling to sell food to the military authorities, simply because farmers could get better prices on the open market. Well before the arrival of the Federal army, Vicksburg residents had to drive into the countryside to purchase salt for $45 a bag and turkeys at $50 each, which were unavailable in the city. But even when food was available and owners were willing to sell these goods to the military, there was still the problem of how to get the food into Vicksburg. Pemberton had no control over the railroad lines or steamboats, which often carried considerable private cargo rather than military necessities, and there were not enough army wagons or usable roads to carry the needed provisions into the city, or so he would later complain.

Unlike Grant, Pemberton was unwilling to confiscate private foodstuffs and his supply acquisition was limited. In March 1863, General Edward Tracy reported from Vicksburg that in “this garrisoned town, upon which the hopes of a whole people are set, and which is liable at any time to be cut off from its interior lines of communication, there is not now subsistence for one week. The meat ration has already been virtually discontinued, the quality being such that the men utterly refuse to eat it.” When alerted to the need for provisions, commissary agents immediately brought in 500,000 pounds of hog meat, some molasses, corn, salted beef, and salt. Additional provisions were hastily acquired, but they would not be nearly enough.

When the Federal army turned from Jackson and headed west to Vicksburg, Pemberton directed that there should be no provisions left in the area around Vicksburg. The Confederates evacuated Snyder’s Bluff , along with an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 bushels of corn that had to be burned because there were no available transports to move it into the city. The Confederate troops filled what wagons they had with chickens, turkeys, peas, corn, rice, and sugar, and brought them into the city. Beef cattle, dairy cows, sheep, hogs, and mules were rounded up and driven ahead of the retreating Confederate forces. As the Confederate army retreated into Vicksburg on May 17, they brought everything they could into the city. Vicksburg resident Emma Balfour observed: “From 12 o’clock until late in the night the streets and roads were jammed with wagons, cannons, horses, men, mules, stock, sheep, everything you can imagine that appertains to an army— being brought hurriedly within the entrenchment.” She also noted the chaos: “Nothing like order prevailed.”

With what had already been stockpiled in the city, Pemberton believed that Vicksburg “had ample supplies of ammunition as well as of subsistence to stand a siege” for at least six weeks. He believed that before the city starved, Johnston’s army outside the city would lift the siege and free the encircled city, or at least that was his plan. Johnston was shocked that Pemberton allowed his army to be trapped in Vicksburg, and he had no rescue plan for the garrison.

Grant’s forces twice stormed the city’s fortifications, but failed to break through. When additional reinforcements arrived, the Union army settled into trench warfare. While the siege was underway, on May 26, Grant directed Major General Francis Blair to raid the rich agricultural area around the Yazoo River. Verbally, Grant gave “special instructions” to Blair to take or destroy all the food and forage that he found. Blair spent a week going forty- five miles up the river, burning or confiscating crops, cattle, and anything edible. Many of the cattle were herded back to Grant’s army besieging Vicksburg. Northern soldiers secured additional provisions from Southern planters outside the city who, much to the dismay of those sealed up in Vicksburg, readily sold produce and other foodstuff s to the Union army during the siege.

Throughout the siege, artillery and mortars regularly lobbed shells into the city and both soldiers and civilians had a rough time. To protect themselves from the bombardments, civilians dug caves into the hills in the city, cooking outside the entrances to their caves when the shelling was light. Foods commonly eaten in these makeshift shelters included rice and “coffee” brewed from sweet potatoes.

As the siege continued, diminishing food supplies become critical. Daily rations for Confederate soldiers consisted of fourteen ounces of food per man. This included “four ounces each of bacon, flour, or meal, the rest comprising peas, rice, and sugar. It was less than half the rations normally issued and led, some believed, to sharply increased sickness among the debilitated troops.” By May 30, the Confederate meat ration was cut in half. On June 4, Sergeant William Tunnard, of the 3rd Louisiana Infantry, wrote that “all surplus provisions in the city were seized, and rations issued to civilians and soldiers alike. To the perils of the siege began now to be added the prospect of famine.” By June 12, the meat ration was exhausted.

A plentiful supply of cowpeas (also called black- eyed peas), grown by local farmers for animal feed, had been stockpiled in the city before the siege. These were ground into flour that was used to make bread of sorts. Not every Confederate soldier was thankful for this blessing. Ephraim Anderson of the 1st Missouri Brigade wrote that cowpea bread was a “novel species of the hardest of ‘hard tack.’ ” The cowpea meal “was ground at a large mill in the city, and sent to the cooks in camp to be prepared. It was accordingly mixed with cold water and put through the form of baking but the nature of it was such, that it never got done, and the longer it was cooked, the harder it became on the outside, which was natural, but, at the same time, it grew relatively softer on the inside, and, upon breaking it, you were sure to find raw pea- meal in the centre. The cooks protested that it had been on the fi re two good hours, but it was all to no purpose yet, on the outside it was so hard, that one might have knocked down a full- grown steer with a chunk of it.” After being fed to the troops for three days and making soldiers sick, cowpea bread was taken off the menu. Boiled cowpeas, however, continued to be about one half of their total subsistence. When the Union soldiers outside the city heard about the cowpea bread, presumably from deserters, a Southerner reported that they “hallooed over for several nights afterwards, enquiring how long the pea- bread would hold out if it was not about time to lower our colors and asking us to come over and take a good cup of coffee and eat a biscuit with them. Some of the boys replied that they need not be uneasy about rations, as we had plenty of mules to fall back upon.”

And it did come to mule meat. Alexander St. Clair Abrams, who worked for the Vicksburg Whig, reported that “mules were soon brought in requisition, and their meat sold readily at one dollar per pound, the citizens being as anxious to get it as they were before the investment to purchase the delicacies of the season.” Mule meat “was also distributed among the soldiers, to those who desired it, although it was not given out under the name of rations. A great many of them, however, accepted it in preference to doing without any meat, and the flesh of the mules was equal to the best venison.” Abrams “found the flesh tender and nutritious, and, under the peculiar circumstances, a most desirable description of food.” Ephraim Anderson arrived at one dinner one evening to find that mule meat was the main course: “The appetites of some of the boys were so good, that they partook of it even with a relish.” Anderson himself only tasted it, finding it “not very pleasant and by no means palatable.”The Vicksburg Daily Citizen pronounced mule flesh “very palatable” and “decidedly preferable to the poor beef which has been dealt out to the soldiers for months past, and that a willingness was expressed among those who tried the meat to receive it as regular rations.”

For its part, the Northern press had a field day when reporters heard about Vicksburg’s mules. The Chicago Tribune fabricated a bill of fare for a fictitious “Hôtel de Vicksburg”:

Mule Bacon, with poke greens.

Mule Bump, stuffed with rice.

Mule Head, stuffed a la mode.

Mule Ears, fricasseed a la got’ch.

Mule Side, stewed, new style, hair on.

Mule Beef, jerked, a la Mexicana.

Mule Tongue, cold, a la Bray.

Mule Brains, a la omelette.

Mule Kidneys, stuffed with peas.

Mule Tripe, fried in pea- meal batter.

Genuine Confederate Coffee.

Mississippi Water, vintage of 1492. Superior, $3

Limestone Water, late importation. Very fi ne, $2.75.

Spring Water, Vicksburg brand, $1.50.

Gentlemen to wait on themselves. Any inattention on the part of servants to be promptly reported at the office.

JEFF. DAVIS & Co., Proprietors.

CARD. The proprietors of the justly celebrated Hôtel de Vicksburg, having enlarged and refitted the same, are now prepared to accommodate all who favor them with a call. Parties arriving by the River or Grant’s inland route, will find Grape, Cannister & Co.’s carriages at the landing, or at any depot on the line of entrenchments. Buck, Ball & Co. take charge of all baggage. No effort will be spared to make the visit of all as interesting as possible.

Mule meat was not all that was consumed in Vicksburg. According to Confederate Major S. H. Lockett, Confederate soldiers ate rats “with the relish of epicures dining on the finest delicacies of the table.” A resident noted in her diary: “rats are hanging dressed in the market for sale with mule meat,— there is nothing else. The officer at the battery told me he had eaten one yesterday.” The price for rats was $2.50.The Daily Citizen reported that they had “not as yet learned of any one experimenting with the flesh of the canine species,” although there were reports of a paucity of dogs and cats on the streets of thecity.

During the last few weeks of June, conditions in Vicksburg worsened. “Many families of wealth had eaten the last mouthful of food in their possession, and the poor class of non- combatants were on the verge of starvation,” according to a report. As soldiers’ rations were reduced, malnutrition set in, and many soldiers ended up in the hospital(or remained ill at their posts), suffering from diseases exacerbated by hunger. Colonel Ashbel Smith of the 2nd Texas Infantry reported:

Our rations were reduced to little more than sufficient to sustain life. Five ounces of musty corn-meal and pea flour were nominally issued daily. In point of fact, this allowance did not exceed three ounces. All the unripe, half brown peaches, the green berries growing on the briars, all were carefully gathered and simmered in a little sugar and water, and used for food. Every eatable vegetable around the works was hunted up for greens. Some two or three men approached to succumb and die from inanition for want of food, but the health of the men did not seem to suff immediately from want of rations, but all gradually emaciated and became weak, and toward the close of the siege many were found with swollen ankles and symptoms of incipient scurvy.

Captain Ferdinand O. Claiborne, of the 3rd Mary land Battery, recorded in his diary: “Our rations are growing more scarce every day and we must eventually come to mule meat. We have a quantity of bacon yet on hand, but breadstuff is the great desideratum. The men receive only one-quarter rations of breadstuff s such as rice, pea meal and rice flour— the corn has given out long since, rations of sugar, lard, molasses and tobacco are issued but this does not make amends for the want of bread, and the men are growing weaker every day.”

On June 28, Pemberton received an anonymous letter signed “many soldiers.” It read, in part: “Our rations have been cut down to one biscuit and a small bit of bacon per day, not enough scarcely to keep soul and body together, much less to stand the hardships we are called upon to stand. If you can’t feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is . . . This army is now ripe to mutiny unless it can be fed.” Deserters reported the same thing. Charles A. Dana wrote on June 29,to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton: “Two separate parties of deserters from Vicksburg agree in the statement that the provisions of the place are near the point of total exhaustion that rations have now been reduced lower than ever that extreme dissatisfaction exists among the garrison, and that it is agreed on all hands that the city will be surrendered on Saturday, July 4, if, indeed, it can hold on so long as that.”

The Father of Waters Goes Unvexed to the Sea

The deserters were right. General Pemberton, along with more than 27,000 Confederate soldiers, surrendered on the Fourth of July. The Confederates had received no rations on July 3, and the victorious Union soldiers empathized with them. Since the Federal army had ample supplies, many soldiers gave Confederate soldiers bread and other food, which “was accepted with avidity and thanks.” A Federal soldier named Isaac Jackson found that the Confederate soldiers “were nearly starved. I was talking with one who had been eating mule meat for four days & but one biscuit a day for over a week. It looked hard to see the poor fellow pitch into our ‘hard tack’ which our boys gave them. We had plenty, and they carried them off by armloads. Poor fellows, they needed them.” According to a Confederate soldier, Union soldiers “aided us greatly by many acts of kindness. They would go out to their sutler’s tent with the greenbacks we had borrowed from their dead comrades and purchase food for us, and doubtless many a starving ‘Reb’ felt that his life was thussaved.”

A Confederate officer named J. H. Jones approached a Union lieutenant and requested permission to buy food. The lieutenant responded that he needed to ask permission through military channels for that to happen. Jones replied that he must know, from my appearance, I would be dead some days before its return, to which he laughingly assented. He suddenly remembered that he had some “trash” in his haversack and offered it. The “trash” consisted of about two pounds of gingersnaps and butter crackers luxuries I had not seen for three years. I was struck dumb with amazement. “Trash,” quoth he? . . . I fell upon that “trash” like a hungry wolf and devoured it. A bystander afterwards declared that it disappeared in my mouth like grains of rice before a Chinaman’s chop stick. Be that as it may, the memory of that sumptuous feast still lingers, and my heart yet warms with gratitude towards that good officer for the blessing he bestowed.”

Vicksburg merchants who had hoarded supplies during the siege began selling food to civilians at extortionate prices: “$200 for a barrel of flour, $30 for the same amount of sugar, corn $100 a bushel and $5 for a pound of flour.” Other merchants brought out “wines for which the sick had pined in vain” and “luxuries of various kinds were founding profusion.” A great deal of food collected by the Confederate government was also in Vicksburg. When located, it was “rolled out into the streets” and given to the Confederate soldiers and the civilians of the city. William H. Tunnard of the 3rd Louisiana reported that the Union troops threw the provisions into the streets and shouted, “ ‘Here rebs, help yourselves, you are naked and starving and need them.’ ” Tunnard observed, “What a strange spectacle of war between those who were recently deadly foes.”

Within a few days, the Confederate soldiers were paroled— sent home to await official exchange. As for wounded and ill soldiers, they remained in Vicksburg, while medical professionals tried to cure their illnesses and treat their wounds. Weeks after the surrender, many still had not recovered. A Northern reporter described them in this way: “Their emaciated appearance made them look like a weak, tottering procession of skeletons, while their dirty white uniforms assisted materially in adding to the ghastliness of the pallor that overspread eachcountenance.”

Nine days after Vicksburg fell, Grant sent Sherman back to Jackson, Mississippi, which Johnston had reoccupied. Sherman was ordered to break up Johnston’s army and “destroy the rolling stock and everything valuable for carrying on war, or placing it beyond the reach of the rebel enemy.” Sherman reported back to Grant: “We are absolutely stripping the country of corn, cattle, hogs, sheep, poultry, everything, and the new- growing corn is being thrown open as pasture fields or hauled for the use of our animals.” Sherman considered this “wholesale destruction” to be the scourge of war. As a reporter for the Chicago Times wrote: “The country between Vicksburg and Jackson was completely devastated. No subsistence of any kind remained. Every growing crop had been destroyed when possible. Wheat was burned in the barn and stack whenever found. Provisions of every kind were brought away or destroyed. Livestock was slaughtered for use, or driven back on foot.”

As for Pemberton, Grant released him and sent him to report back to Johnston. Pemberton was roundly criticized in Southern newspapers for placing the garrison in the position of being starved out. On August3, 1863, he wrote his official report of the surrender. In it, he claimed that the lack of food played no part in his decision to surrender the city: “The assertion that the surrender of Vicksburg was compelled by the want of subsistence, or that the garrison was starved out, is one entirely destitute of truth. There was at no time any absolute suffering for want of food among the garrison. That the men were put upon greatly reduced rations is undeniably true but, in the opinion of many medical officers, it is at least questionable whether under all the circumstances this was at all injurious to their health.”

To support his assertion, Pemberton defiantly pointed out that, at the time of surrender, Vicksburg had “about 40,000 pounds of pork and bacon, which had been reserved for the subsistence of my troops in the event of attempting to cut my way out of the city also, 51,241pounds of rice, 5,000 bushels of peas, 92,234 pounds of sugar, 3,240pounds of soap, 527 pounds of tallow candles, 27 pounds of Star candles, and 428,000 pounds of salt.” This looks impressive, but is not. Soap, candles, and salt are not edible, and the quality of the meat and rice was highly questionable, and even if it had been distributed, would have run out in a few days. That just left a large sugar reserve, which is hardly sustenance.

The availability of food was contradicted by virtually every other report— Confederate and Federal— that emerged from Vicksburg. Confederate soldiers and civilians might have been able to hold out for a few more days, but without food the city and its garrison would have starved. According to all accounts, Confederate soldiers had no food. According to the surrender accord, Grant was required to supply the Confederate army with food. Most likely such statements were Pemberton’s way of avoiding responsibility for his failure to store enough food in the city for a long siege or, possibly, for his failure to avoid entrapment in Vicksburg in the first place, a view that Johnston maintained at the time. Pemberton’s assertion that there were insufficient means of transportation to move food into the city is also questionable, as Grant proved when he landed at Bruinsberg and confiscated all the transport vehicles he needed from surrounding plantations.

When it was suggested to Jefferson Davis that Vicksburg fell for want of provisions, he responded, “Yes, from want of provisions inside and a general outside who wouldn’t fight.” Davis’s swipe at Johnston’s failure to relieve Vicksburg may have been unjustified. His forces were located east of Jackson, and they were also without provisions, which was one reason Johnston gave for his failure to come to the aid of Vicksburg. Independent observers reported that his army “had been subsisting almost wholly on green corn for several weeks, and half his troops were probably unfit for duty. They were found sick at almost every house, and languishing or dead in hundreds of fence- corners. The utter impossibility of supplying his army with necessary food had been a sufficient reason for Johnston’s not falling upon Grant’s rear and attempting to raise the siege.”

The final conquest of the Mississippi River occurred five days after the fall of Vicksburg, when Port Hudson in Louisiana fell to the besieging army directed by Nathaniel Banks. Like Grant at Vicksburg, Banks tried to assault the Confederate fortifications at Port Hudson, and when direct assault failed, he settled down into a long siege. Port Hudson was also under the nominal command of Pemberton, who had been responsible for supplying the town with enough food to survive a siege. For the next forty-eight days, Banks tried to starve out the Confederate garrison. Like the Confederate forces in Vicksburg, the defenders of Port Hudson suffered from malnutrition and then starvation. One Confederate soldier reported in his diary that he and fellow soldiers had eaten “all the beef— all the mules— all the dogs— and all the rats.” After news of Vicksburg’s fall reached the garrison and their food and supplies were exhausted, the Confederates surrendered Port Hudson on July 9. For the first time in two years, the Mississippi River was open for ships to travel unimpeded from the Midwest to the mouth of the river. In Abraham Lincoln’s immortal phrase, “The Father of Waters goes unvexed to the sea.”

In late November 1863, General Grant, flush from his victory at Vicksburg, took charge of the stalled and starving Federal army at Chattanooga, where he defeated the Confederates. Grant’s victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga made him a national hero in the North.

Vicksburg Effects

During the Mississippi River campaign, food was used as both a strategic and tactical weapon. As a tactical weapon, the sieges prevented food from entering the cities, which directly contributed to their surrender. Strategically, the victories at Vicksburg and Port Hudson prevented food and supplies from Texas from reaching the Southern states. As a result of the loss of beef from Texas, the South had to reduce its meat rations for Confederate soldiers east of the Mississippi River.44 Just as important was the strategic value of the Mississippi River for Northern commerce. After these Union victories, Midwestern farmers could once again send provisions down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Southern farmers and plantation owners with access to the Mississippi began selling molasses, cotton, and other commodities to Union traders, and this sapped Confederate morale.

Most important, the Vicksburg campaign represented a sea change in the Federal strategy to end the war. At the beginning of the war, Northerners believed that there was strong support for the Union in the South, and that Southerners would eventually come to their senses, reject the fi rebrand secessionists, and rejoin the Union willingly. However, after occupying large sections of the Confederacy in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Virginia, it became clear that Northern forces were viewed as conquerors and not as liberators, and that whatever support existed for the Union in the South before the war had largely vanished once the conflict began. The activities of Southern guerrillas and cavalry raids proved that it would be impossible to supply the Federal troops who would have to garrison the South, which led Grant, Sherman, Lincoln, and many other Northern leaders to conclude that it would be impossible to win the war by traditional military means. What emerged was a new strategy that focused on the use of raiding armies to disrupt the Southern food supply, making it harder for Confederate guerrillas and armies to operate. As this new policy would directly affect civilians, it would also sap the South’s morale and its willingness to continue the war, or so it was hoped.

Excerpted from Starving the South by Andrew F. Smith. Copyright 2011 by Andrew F. Smith. All rights reserved.

ANDREW F. SMITH is the author of Starving the South, a faculty member at the New School and editor-in-chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. He lives in New York.

One of the Union’s top military objectives was to gain control of the Mississippi River, and thereby split the Confederacy in two. General Ulysses S. Grant took up this challenge late in 1862 but was frustrated for several months by the rebel defenses of Vicksburg, Mississippi. In mid-April 1863, Grant undertook a series of naval and infantry maneuvers that moved more than 30,000 troops into Vicksburg’s rear. This directive reflects Grant’s genius for military strategy as well as the fortitude that led Lincoln to believe in 1864 that he had at last found a general who would not let him down.

A full transcript is available.


. . . Vicksburg is so strong by nature and so well fortified that sufficient force cannot be brought to bear against it to carry it by storm against the present Garrison. It must be taken by a regular siege or by starving out the Garrison. I have all the force necessary for this if my rear was not threatened.

It is now certain that Jo Johnston has already collected a force from twenty to twenty-five thousand strong at Jackson & Canton and is using every effort to increase it to forty thousand. With this he will undoubtedly attack Harris Bluff and compell me to abandon the investment of the City if not reinforced before he can get here. I want your District striped to the very lowest possible standard. You can be in no possible danger for the time it will be necessary to keep their troops away. All points in West Tennessee North of the Memphis & Charleston road, if necessary, can be abandoned entirely. West Kentucky may be reduced to a small Garrison at Paducah and Columbus.

If you have not already brought forward the troops to Memphis to send me bring Smith’s, formerly Denver’s, Division. Add to this all other force you can possibly spare. Send two regiments of Cavalry also. If you have not received the Cavalry last ordered from Helena divert them to this place instead of sending two other regiments. No boat will be permitted to leave Memphis going North until transportation is fully provided for all the troops coming this way. The Quartermaster in charge of transportation and Col. W.S. Hillyer are specially instructed to see that this direction is fully enforced.

The entire rebel force heretofore against me are completely at my mercy. I do not want to see them escape by being reinforced from elsewhere. I hope before this reaches you troops will be already on the way from your command.

Gen. Dodge can spare enough from his force to Garrison Lagrange & Grand Junction.


Vicksburg is the only city in, and county seat of, Warren County, Mississippi, United States. It is located 234 miles (377 km) northwest of New Orleans at the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and 40 miles (64 km) due west of Jackson, the state capital. It is located on the east bank of the Mississippi River across from Louisiana.

The city has increased in population since 1900, when 14,834 people lived here. The population was 26,407 at the 2000 census. In 2010, it was designated as the principal city of a Micropolitan Statistical Area with a total population of 49,644, which includes all of Warren County.

First People Edit

The area that is now Vicksburg was long occupied by the Natchez Native Americans as part of their historical territory along the Mississippi. The Natchez spoke a language isolate not related to the Muskogean languages of the other major tribes in the area. Before the Natchez, other indigenous cultures had occupied this strategic area for thousands of years.

European settlement Edit

The first Europeans who settled the area were French colonists who built Fort Saint Pierre in 1719 on the high bluffs overlooking the Yazoo River at present-day Redwood. They conducted fur trading with the Natchez and others, and started plantations. On 29 November 1729, the Natchez attacked the fort and plantations in and around the present-day city of Natchez. They killed several hundred settlers, including the Jesuit missionary Father Paul Du Poisson. As was the custom, they took a number of women and children as captives, adopting them into their families.

The Natchez War was a disaster for French Louisiana, and the colonial population of the Natchez District never recovered. Aided by the Choctaw, traditional enemies of the Natchez, though, the French defeated and scattered the Natchez and their allies, the Yazoo.

The Choctaw Nation took over the area by right of conquest and inhabited it for several decades. Under pressure from the US government, the Choctaw agreed to cede nearly 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km 2 ) of land to the US under the terms of the Treaty of Fort Adams in 1801. The treaty was the first of a series that eventually led to the removal of most of the Choctaw to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River in 1830. Some Choctaw remained in Mississippi, citing article XIV of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek they became citizens of the state and the United States. They struggled to maintain their culture against the pressure of the binary slave society, which classified people as only white or black.

In 1790, the Spanish founded a military outpost on the site, which they called Fort Nogales (nogales meaning "walnut trees"). When the Americans took possession in 1798 following the American Revolutionary War and a treaty with Spain, they changed the name to Walnut Hills. The small village was incorporated in 1825 as Vicksburg, named after Newitt Vick, a Methodist minister who had established a Protestant mission on the site. [5]

In 1835, during the Murrell Excitement, a mob from Vicksburg attempted to expel the gamblers from the city, because the citizens were tired of the rougher element treating the city residents with nothing but contempt. They captured and hanged five gamblers who had shot and killed a local doctor. [6] Historian Joshua D. Rothman calls this event "the deadliest outbreak of extralegal violence in the slave states between the Southampton Insurrection and the Civil War." [7]

Civil War Edit

During the American Civil War, the city finally surrendered during the Siege of Vicksburg, after which the Union Army gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The 47-day siege was intended to starve the city into submission. Its location atop a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River proved otherwise impregnable to assault by federal troops. The surrender of Vicksburg by Confederate General John C. Pemberton on July 4, 1863, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg the day before, has historically marked the turning point of the Civil War in the Union's favor.

From the surrender of Vicksburg until the end of the war in 1865, the area was under Union military occupation. [8]

The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was based at his family plantation at Brierfield, just south of the city.

Losing of Mississippi Access and Commercial Status Edit

Because of Vicksburg's location on the Mississippi River, it built extensive trade from the prodigious steamboat traffic in the 19th century. It shipped out cotton coming to it from surrounding counties and was a major trading city in West Central Mississippi.

However, in 1876, a Mississippi River flood cut off the large meander next to the Vicksburg through the De Soto Point, changed Mississippi River's course to be moved away from the city. Vicksburg now only have access to an oxbow lake formed from the old channel of the river, which effectively isolating the city from accessing the Mississippi riverfront. The city's economy suffered greatly due to lacking of a functional river port Vicksburg would not be a river town again until the completion of the Yazoo Diversion Canal in 1903 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [9]

Between 1881 and 1894, the Anchor Line, a prominent steamboat company on the Mississippi River from 1859 to 1898, operated a steamboat called the City of Vicksburg.

Political and racial unrest after Civil War Edit

Celebrations of the 4th of July, the day of surrender, were irregular until 1947. The Vicksburg Evening Post of July 4, 1883, called July 4 "the day we don't celebrate", [10] and another Vicksburg newspaper, the Daily Commercial Appeal, in 1888 hoped that a political victory would bring an enthusiastic celebration the following year. [11] In 1902, the 4th of July saw only "a parade of colored draymen". [12] In 1947, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger stated that the city of Vicksburg did not celebrate the 4th of July again until 1945, and then it was celebrated as Confederate Carnival Day. [13] A recent scholar disagrees, stating that large Fourth of July celebrations were being held by 1907, and informal celebrations before that. [14] [15] A large parade was held in 1890. [16]

In the first few years after the Civil War, white Confederate veterans developed the Ku Klux Klan, beginning in Tennessee it had chapters throughout the South and attacked freedmen and their supporters. It was suppressed about 1870. By the mid-1870s, new white paramilitary groups had arisen in the Deep South, including the Red Shirts in Mississippi, as whites struggled to regain political and social power over the black majority. Elections were marked by violence and fraud as white Democrats worked to suppress black Republican voting.

In August 1874, a black sheriff, Peter Crosby, was elected in Vicksburg. Letters by a white planter, Batchelor, detail the preparations of whites for what he described as a "race war," including acquisition of the newest guns, Winchester 16 mm. On December 7, 1874, white men disrupted a black Republican meeting celebrating Crosby's victory and held him in custody before running him out of town. [17] [ failed verification ] He advised blacks from rural areas to return home along the way, some were attacked by armed whites. During the next several days, armed white mobs swept through black areas, killing other men at home or out in the fields. Sources differ as to total fatalities, with 29–50 blacks and 2 whites reported dead at the time. Twenty-first-century historian Emilye Crosby estimates that 300 blacks were killed in the city and the surrounding area of Claiborne County, Mississippi. [18] The Red Shirts were active in Vicksburg and other Mississippi areas, and black pleas to the federal government for protection were not met.

At the request of Republican Governor Adelbert Ames, who had left the state during the violence, President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to Vicksburg in January 1875. In addition, a congressional committee investigated what was called the "Vicksburg Riot" at the time (and reported as the "Vicksburg Massacre" by northern newspapers.) They took testimony from both black and white residents, as reported by the New York Times, but no one was ever prosecuted for the deaths. The Red Shirts and other white insurgents suppressed Republican voting by both whites and blacks smaller-scale riots were staged in the state up to the 1875 elections, at which time white Democrats regained control of a majority of seats in the state legislature.

Under new constitutions, amendments and laws passed between 1890 in Mississippi and 1908 in the remaining southern states, white Democrats disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites by creating barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. They passed laws imposing Jim Crow and racial segregation of public facilities.

On March 12, 1894, the popular soft drink Coca-Cola was bottled for the first time in Vicksburg by Joseph A. Biedenharn, a local confectioner. Today, surviving 19th-century Biedenharn soda bottles are prized by collectors of Coca-Cola memorabilia. The original candy store has been renovated and is used as the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum.

20th century to present Edit

The exclusion of most blacks from the political system lasted for decades until after Congressional passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Lynchings of blacks and other forms of white racial terrorism against them continued to occur in Vicksburg after the start of the 20th century. In May 1903, for instance, two black men charged with murdering a planter were taken from jail by a mob of 200 farmers and lynched before they could go to trial. [19] In May 1919, as many as a thousand white men broke down three sets of steel doors to abduct, hang, burn and shoot a black prisoner, Lloyd Clay, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. [20] [21] From 1877 to 1950 in Warren County, 14 African Americans were lynched by whites, most in the decades near the turn of the century. [22]

The United States Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo River in 1903 into the old, shallowing channel to revive the waterfront of Vicksburg. The port city was able to receive steamboats again, but much freight and passenger traffic had moved to railroads, which had become more competitive.

Railroad access to the west across the river continued to be by transfer steamers and ferry barges until a combination railroad-highway bridge was built in 1929. After 1973, Interstate 20 bridged the river. Freight rail traffic still crosses by the old bridge. North-south transportation links are by the Mississippi River and U.S. Highway 61. Vicksburg has the only crossing over the Mississippi River between Greenville and Natchez, and the only interstate highway crossing of the river between Baton Rouge and Memphis.

During the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, in which hundreds of thousands of acres were inundated, Vicksburg served as the primary gathering point for refugees. Relief parties put up temporary housing, as the flood submerged a large percentage of the Mississippi Delta.

Because of the overwhelming damage from the flood, the US Army Corps of Engineers established the Waterways Experiment Station as the primary hydraulics laboratory, to develop protection of important croplands and cities. Now known as the Engineer Research and Development Center, it applies military engineering, information technology, environmental engineering, hydraulic engineering, and geotechnical engineering to problems of flood control and river navigation.

In December 1953, a severe tornado swept across Vicksburg, causing 38 deaths and destroying nearly 1,000 buildings.

During World War II, cadets from the Royal Air Force, flying from their training base at Terrell, Texas, routinely flew to Vicksburg on training flights. The town served as a stand-in for the British for Cologne, Germany, which is the same distance from London, England as Vicksburg is from Terrell. [23]

Particularly after World War II, in which many blacks served, returning veterans began to be active in the civil rights movement, wanting to have full citizenship after fighting in the war. In Mississippi, activists in the Vicksburg Movement became prominent during the 1960s.

Contemporary Vicksburg Edit

In 2001, a group of Vicksburg residents visited the Paducah, Kentucky, mural project, looking for ideas for their own community development. [24] In 2002, the Vicksburg Riverfront murals program was begun by Louisiana mural artist Robert Dafford and his team on the floodwall located on the waterfront in downtown. [25] Subjects for the murals were drawn from the history of Vicksburg and the surrounding area. They include President Theodore Roosevelt's bear hunt, the Sultana, the Sprague, the Siege of Vicksburg, the Kings Crossing site, Willie Dixon, the Flood of 1927, the 1953 Vicksburg, Mississippi tornado, Rosa A. Temple High School (known for integration activism) and the Vicksburg National Military Park. [26] The project was finished in 2009 with the completion of the Jitney Jungle/Glass Kitchen mural. [25]

In the fall of 2010, a new 55-foot mural was painted on a section of wall on Grove Hill across the street from the original project by former Dafford muralists Benny Graeff and Herb Roe. The mural's subject is the annual "Run thru History" held in the Vicksburg National Military Park. [27] [28]

On December 6–7, 2014, a symposium was held on the 140th anniversary of the 1874 riots. A variety of scholars gave papers and an open panel discussion was held on the second day at the Vicksburg National Military Park, in collaboration with the Jacqueline House African American Museum. [29]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 35.3 sq mi (91 km 2 ), of which 32.9 sq mi (85 km 2 ) are land and 2.4 sq mi (6.2 km 2 ) (6.78%) are covered by water.

Vicksburg is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. Much of the city is on top of a high bluff on the east bank of the Mississippi River.

Climate Edit

Climate data for Vicksburg, Mississippi (Vicksburg – Tallulah Regional Airport) 1991–2020 normals, extremes 1948–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 81
Average high °F (°C) 57.2
Daily mean °F (°C) 47.6
Average low °F (°C) 37.9
Record low °F (°C) −2
Average precipitation inches (mm) 5.44
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 9.3 10.1 9.9 8.4 9.5 9.1 9.7 9.4 6.8 7.5 8.7 10.1 108.5
Source: NOAA [30] [31]
Historical population
Census Pop.
18604,591 24.8%
187012,443 171.0%
188011,814 −5.1%
189013,373 13.2%
190014,834 10.9%
191020,814 40.3%
192018,072 −13.2%
193022,943 27.0%
194024,460 6.6%
195027,948 14.3%
196029,143 4.3%
197025,478 −12.6%
198025,434 −0.2%
199020,908 −17.8%
200026,407 26.3%
201023,856 −9.7%
2019 (est.)21,653 [4] −9.2%
U.S. Decennial Census [32]
2018 Estimate [33]

As of the census of 2000, 26,407 people, 10,364 households, and 6,612 families resided in the city, with a metropolitan population of 49,644. The population density was 803.1 people per square mile (310.1/km 2 ). The 11,654 housing units averaged 354.4 per square mile (136.9/km 2 ). The racial makeup of the city was 60.43% African American, 37.80% White, 0.15% Native American, 0.61% Asian, 0.43% from other races, and 0.59% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 1.04% of the population.

Of the 10,364 households, 32.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.9% were married couples living together, 24.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.2% were not families. About 32.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 13.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.15.

In the city, the population was distributed as 28.4% under the age of 18, 9.3% from 18 to 24, 27.9% from 25 to 44, 19.6% from 45 to 64, and 14.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 82.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 77.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $28,466, and for a family was $34,380. Males had a median income of $29,420 versus $20,728 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,174. About 19.3% of families and 23.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 34.8% of those under age 18 and 16.5% of those age 65 or over.

In 2017, Emma Green of The Atlantic stated, "The Army Corps of Engineers sustains the town economically". [34]

Annual cultural events Edit

Every summer, Vicksburg plays host to the Miss Mississippi Pageant and Parade. Also every summer, the Vicksburg Homecoming Benevolent Club hosts a homecoming weekend/reunion that provides scholarships to graduating high-school seniors. Former residents from across the country return for the event.

Every spring and summer, Vicksburg Theatre Guild hosts Gold in the Hills, which holds the Guinness World Record for longest-running show.

Places of interest Edit

The city government consists of a mayor who is elected at-large and two aldermembers. The current mayor is George Flaggs Jr., who defeated former mayor Paul Winfield in the June 2013 election. The two aldermembers are elected from single-member districts, known as wards.

The city is home to three large US Army Corps of Engineers installations: the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), which also houses the ERDC's Waterways Experiment Station the Mississippi Valley Division headquarters and the Vicksburg District headquarters.

The United States Coast Guard's 8th District/Lower Mississippi River sector has an Aids To Navigation unit located in Vicksburg, operating the buoy tending vessel USCGC Kickapoo. [37]


By mid-May, 1863, after months of “experiments,” battles, and movements up and down both sides of the Mississippi River, the Army of the Tennessee under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant finally approached the Confederate defenses of Vicksburg. The capture of the town was critical to Union control of the strategic river, and Grant’s proven reputation as a fighter hung in the balance. The climax of the campaign would occur along Grant’s 8-mile long front encircling the Confederate defenders.

On the evening of May 17, the defeated Confederates under Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton poured into their lines around Vicksburg after their defeat along the Big Black River. Looking for a quick victory and not wanting to give Pemberton time to settle in, Grant ordered an attack. Of his three corps, only Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s XV Corps northeast of the city was in the proper position to move forward and could attack on the 19th. The focus of Sherman’s assault would be the Stockade Redan, named for a log stockade wall across the Graveyard Road connecting two gun positions. Here, the 27 th Louisiana Infantry, reinforced by Col. Francis Cockrell’s Missouri Brigade, manned the rifle pits.

Sherman’s men moved forward down the road at 2:00 p.m., and were immediately slowed by the ravines and obstructions in front of the redan. Bloody combat ensued outside the Confederate works. The 13 th United States Infantry, once commanded by Sherman, planted their colors on the redan but could advance no further. Captain Edward C. Washington, the grandnephew of George Washington, commanding the regiment’s 1 st Battalion, was mortally wounded in the attack. After fierce fighting, Sherman’s men pulled back with 1,000 casualties. “We were swept away,” Sherman said, “as chaff thrown from a hand on a windy day.”

Undaunted by his failure on the 19th, Grant made a more thorough reconnaissance of the defenses prior to ordering another assault. Early on the morning of May 22, Union artillery opened fire and for four hours bombarded the city's defenses. At 10:00 a.m. the guns fell silent and Union infantry was sent forward along a three-mile front.

Sherman attacked again down the Graveyard Road, Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps moved against the center along the Jackson Road, and Maj. Gen. John B. McClernand’s XIII Corps attacked to the south at the 2 nd Texas Lunette and the Railroad Redoubt, where the Southern Railroad crossed the Confederate lines. Surrounded by a ditch 10 feet deep and walls 20 feet high, the redoubt offered enfilading fire for rifles and artillery. The interior was divided by traverses at right angles to the outside walls and held several pieces of artillery. After bloody hand-to-hand fighting, the 22 nd Iowa Infantry breached the Railroad Redoubt, captured a handful of prisoners, and planted their flag. The Iowans’ victory, however, was the only Confederate position captured that day. Timely reinforcements, led by Col. Thomas Waul’s Texas Legion, pushed McClernand’s men back to their lines and the fighting ended.

Grant’s unsuccessful attacks in May gave him no choice but to invest Vicksburg in a siege. Pemberton’s defenders suffered from shortened rations, exposure to the elements and constant bombardment from Grant’s army and navy gunboats. Reduced in number by sickness and casualties, the garrison of Vicksburg was spread dangerously thin. Civilians were particularly hard hit. Many were forced to live underground in crudely dug caves due to the heavy shelling. “We are utterly cut off from the world, surrounded by a circle of fire,” wrote Dora Miller in her diary. “The fiery shower of shells goes on day and night. People do nothing but eat what they can get, sleep when they can and dodge the shells… I send five dollars to market each morning, and it buys a small piece of mule meat. Rice and milk is my main food. I can’t eat the mule meat.”

By early June, Grant had established his own line of works surrounding the city. At thirteen points along his line, Grant ordered tunnels dug under the Confederate positions where explosives could be placed to destroy the rebel works. By the end of the month, the first mine was ready to be blown. The Confederates had built a redan where the Jackson Road crossed their lines east of the city, and the position there was manned by the 3 rd Louisiana Infantry supported by artillery batteries. Union miners tunneled 40 feet under the redan from the James Shirley home, packed the tunnel with 2,200 pounds of black powder, and on June 25 detonated it with a huge explosion. After over 20 hours of hand-to-hand fighting in the 12-foot deep crater left by the blast, the Union regiments were unable to advance out of it and withdrew back to their lines. The siege continued.

By July, with food running out, Pemberton requested to talk with Grant. Both commanders met between the lines on July 3. Grant insisted on an unconditional surrender but Pemberton refused. Rebuffed, Grant later that night offered to parole the Confederate defenders. Pemberton and his generals agreed that those were the best terms possible. At 10:00 am the next day, Independence Day, some 29,000 Confederates marched out of their lines, stacked their rifles and furled their flags. The battle and siege of Vicksburg were over.

With the loss of Pemberton’s army and a Union victory at Port Hudson five days later, the Union controlled the entire Mississippi River and the Confederacy was split in half. Grant's victory boosted his reputation, leading to continued command in eastern Tennessee and ultimately his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

10 Facts: The Vicksburg Campaign

The capture of the Confederate river fortress at Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, 1863 was a major turning point of the Civil War. Please consider these facts in order to expand your appreciation of this dramatic campaign.

Fact #1: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis both saw Vicksburg as “the key” to the Confederacy.

By the summer of 1863, Union advances from the Memphis in the North and New Orleans in the South had constricted Confederate control of the Mississippi River to a small section stretching from Port Hudson, Louisiana to the fortified city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Early in the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, gesturing to a map of the region, declared to his military advisors that "Vicksburg is the key" and that the failure to capture this city meant "hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the states of the far South [for the Confederacy]." For not only would the capture of Vicksburg benefit the commercial interests and military operations of the Union, but Vicksburg was also a vital logistical link to the resource-rich Trans-Mississippi. It was here at Vicksburg that huge quantities of molasses, cane sugar, sheep, oxen, cattle, mules, sweet potatoes, butter, wool, and salt, were transported across the great river and onto every corner of the Confederacy. Some historians have argued that it was the Trans-Mississippi, not the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia that was the true breadbasket of the Confederacy. And it was via Vicksburg that important war material and arms smuggled through Mexican ports could defy the Federal blockade and sustain the military needs of the South.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, whose plantation home was just south of Vicksburg, clearly recognized why the city was worth defending. For Vicksburg, in his words, was "the nailhead that held the South’s two halves together."

The Vicksburg fortress commanded a sharp bend in the Mississippi River roughly 100 miles north of the Louisiana border. Library of Congress

Fact #2: Ulysses S. Grant captured Vicksburg by moving away from it.

After bloody repulses in the last months of 1862, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Union Army of the Tennessee, determines to push his army south through Louisiana, using the Mississippi River to supply his troops. His plan is to land his army below Vicksburg, taking this Confederate bastion from the South. On April 16 and 22, 1863, Admiral David D. Porter's fleet successfully runs past the Vicksburg batteries, giving Grant the naval power necessary to cross the Mississippi, which he does on April 29, 1863. The following day, the Federals establish a strong lodgment east of the river after the Battle of Port Gibson.

On the east bank, Grant's swiftly moving troops flank the Confederate garrison at Grand Gulf, forcing the Rebels to abandon the river fortress and make a beeline for Vicksburg. Grant, however, realizes that the terrain before him—broken by creeks and steep-sloped ravines—is well-suited for defense his opponent will be able to contest nearly every foot of ground. Furthermore, Grant's front will be constricted by the Mississippi River to his right and the Big Black River to his left, preventing him from using his superiority in numbers to overwhelm the Confederates. In the meantime, the Southern Railroad will provide the Rebels supplies, and—even worse—reinforcements. If he is going to take Vicksburg, Grant must first cut the railroad. On May 6, the Army of the Tennessee marches northeast, away from Vicksburg, toward the Southern Railroad. While en route, the Seventeenth Corps, under Gen. James B. McPherson, encounters Confederates outside of Raymond, Mississippi. This is the vanguard of a relief force under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, bound for Vicksburg. To counter this threat to his rear, Grant sends McPherson and the Fifteenth Corps under Gen. William T. Sherman toward the Mississippi State capitol of Jackson. After a brief battle, Johnston seemingly abandons his plans to relieve Pemberton and withdraws, never again to play an active role in the Vicksburg campaign. With the Southern Railroad now squarely in Union hands, and the threat to his rear neutralized, Grant can turn to his sights on Vicksburg.

Fact #3: Confederate leaders were divided on strategy at Vicksburg.

Gen. John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Army of Mississippi at Vicksburg, was in a tough bind. On the one hand, his immediate superior, Joe Johnston, placed little stock in defending Vicksburg and instead preferred to have Pemberton's force link up with his own. Together, Johnston reasoned, the Confederate armies could defeat Grant's troops in the open field before shifting their forces to other imperiled points of the Confederacy. On the other hand, Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, consistently directed Pemberton to protect Vicksburg at all hazards.

The Philadelphia-born Pemberton was keenly aware that abandoning Vicksburg might be viewed as an act of treason. He'd faced similar criticism in 1862 when he advocated the withdrawal from Charleston—much to the chagrin of South Carolina's governor. What's more, a directive from the President of the Confederacy was not something he could simply ignore. Nevertheless, Pemberton attempted to mollify his commanding officer. He moved his troops out of the Vicksburg trenches in the direction of Grant's army hoping to engage—and possibly defeat—the Yankees outside of Vicksburg, and thereby protect the city. Pemberton's movements, however, were slow and he made little effort to coordinate with Johnston. This half-hearted attempt to please both his military and civilian superiors placed Pemberton's army in a precarious position that the Federals would soon exploit.

Fact #4: The decisive battle for Vicksburg was fought at Champion Hill, Mississippi.

While groping through the countryside in search of Grant's army, word reached Pemberton that a portion of his opponent's supply train was lightly defended and within easy reach of his Confederate force. Late on the morning of May 15, 1863, Pemberton leisurely moves his army toward the target. Recent rains, however, have destroyed a bridge over Bakers Creek, forcing Pemberton to make a lengthy detour to cross the stream. When night falls on the 15th the Confederate army is badly spread out on narrow roads, with Bakers Creek to its rear.

In the mean time, Grant has acted swiftly. His three corps are moving west toward Vicksburg on three parallel axes. Pemberton's attenuated line lies directly across the path of the Federal juggernaut. At 7:30 am on May 16th, the head of Grant's southernmost column runs into Pemberton's right flank. At the same time, his two remaining columns are threatening the Confederate left flank near Champion Hill. The two sides vie for control of the hill for several bloody hours before the Federals' superiority in numbers compel the Confederates to withdraw. Only the skill of his junior officers and the bravery of his men save Pemberton from complete disaster, buying time for engineers to build a bridge over Bakers creek and allowing the bulk of Pemberton's army to escape intact. But the Confederates will never again have the chance to defeat the Union troops in the open field. Retreat to the trenches at Vicksburg is Pemberton's only option.

Fact #5: Ulysses S. Grant tried to take Vicksburg by storm twice before settling in to a siege.

The Confederate army marched into Vicksburg on May 17, 1863, with Grant’s Federals hot on their heels. Seeing an opportunity to strike while his opponent was disorganized, Grant ordered a small-scale assault on three axes, the Graveyard Road, the Jackson Road, and the Southern Railroad on May 19. Despite planting their colors on the Rebel works, the Yankee attackers were turned back with substantial loss.

On May 22, Grant tried again. After a massive bombardment, each of his three corps commanders—James McPherson, John McClernand, and Sherman—were ordered to attack in their respective sectors. On the right, Sherman's Fifteenth Corps' assault was torn to pieces as it advanced up the narrow defiles approaching the Stockade Redan. In the center, McPherson’s men were devastated by cross-fire and turned back after finding that their siege ladders were too short to scale the fortifications. McClernand’s men on the left were closest to breaking the Confederate line, with three regiments planting their colors on the Railroad Redan. McClernand sent back to Grant for additional help. A diversion by McPherson or Sherman, McClernand believed, would afford him the opportunity to complete the breakthrough. Grant, however, was slow to respond to his subordinate's call for aid. McPherson sends a division to McClernand, but it is too little too late--the Confederates in this sector rally and drive McClernand back. At the same time, Sherman throws more of his men at the Stockade Redan and is again repulsed.

A combination of determined defense and command confusion led to another morale-sapping defeat for the Union forces. All told, Grant lost more than 4,000 men in the May offensive. The Confederates lost less than 600. Although the Union army had won a string of victories in the open field, the Vicksburg defenses proved impervious to hasty attacks. The May offensive convinced Grant to lay siege to the city and starve the Confederates out.

Fact #6: Union naval operations were essential to the success of Grant’s infantry.

When David Dixon Porter was appointed to lead the Mississippi River Squadron, the naval detachment co-operating with Grant near Vicksburg, he was thrust into a command that far exceeded any he had held before, both in tonnage of ships and in importance of victory. Porter was a man of courage and skill, but he came to Vicksburg having made many enemies through his tendency to scorn superiors and play favorites among his inferiors. Nevertheless, the close working relationship that developed between Porter, Grant, and Sherman during the Vicksburg Campaign set the standard for joint operations in the West.

Porter’s conduct of his fleet during the Vicksburg campaign was unimpeachable. After months of failure trying to move infantry on the Memphis-Vicksburg overland line, it was Porter’s daring runs past the Vicksburg batteries on April 16 and 22, 1863 that moved enough river transports below the city for Grant to launch the decisive operation from the south. Porter's sailors were the first to occupy the abandoned Confederate base at Grand Gulf and, as Grant's army neared Vicksburg in mid-May, Porter set up a forward supply depot that allowed Grant to keep his troops supplied as they settled into final phases of the Vicksburg campaign. After the infantry invested the city in May, Porter's gunboats provided additional firepower to the Federal forces, lobbing roughly 22,000 shells into the Confederate fortifications over the course of the 39-day siege—an average of 564 per day. After the Confederate surrender, Porter, Grant, and Sherman shared a bottle of wine on the U.S.S. Blackhawk.

Fact #7: Vicksburg had its own Crater more than a year before Petersburg.

On June 23, Grant’s engineers completed a bold project. After weeks of tunneling, they had arrived at a spot directly underneath the 3rd Louisiana Redan, a stronghold on the Confederate fortification line. They spent the next day moving 2,200 pounds of gunpowder into position under the redan.

At 3 P.M. on June 25, they lit the fuse. After a few tense moments the redan blew sky-high and Gen. John A. Logan's infantry went into the resultant crater with a shout, supported by cannon and musketry from all along the Union line. However, the tumbling debris happened to form a new parapet that commanded the crater. Confederates swiftly occupied the parapet and began to roll artillery shells with lit fuses into the struggling mass of blue soldiers. The attack was cut up and stalled. Union engineers eventually moved into the crater and erected a shielding casemate of earth and wood debris, allowing the infantry to withdraw without further loss.

On July 1, Grant’s engineers informed him that they were days away from completing a network that would set off thirteen more explosions simultaneously. Such an assault would have had a good chance of seizing the entire city, but the events of July 3 rendered the network unnecessary.

Despite middling success of this explosive attempt to break the siege, Grant nevertheless assented to a similar plan thirteen months later when his forces were stalled outside Petersburg, Virginia.

Fact #8: Grant demanded an unconditional surrender at Vicksburg—and was rebuffed.

On July 3, 1863, white flags began to appear above the Confederate fortifications. Then John Pemberton rode out into no-man’s land—Grant went to meet him. Pemberton wanted to open negotiation for the surrender of the city and his army.

Early in the war, Grant earned the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” for the terms he bluntly offered to the Confederate garrison at Fort Donelson, Tennessee. He made the same offer at Vicksburg, but Pemberton refused. The two men parted with only an agreement to a brief cease-fire. Later that night, Grant relented. He offered parole to Pemberton and his army, which the Confederate general accepted. The surrender was finalized the next day, July 4, 1863, and the Union army took control of the city. In recognition of that day, the townsfolk of Vicksburg did not celebrate Independence Day for 81 years following the siege.

Fact #9: The capture of Vicksburg split the Confederacy in half and was a major turning point of the Civil War.

In the few days it took for Grant’s message announcing the capture of Vicksburg to reach Abraham Lincoln, the President had also received word that Port Hudson, the only other Confederate stronghold left on the Mississippi, had also fallen. “The Father of Waters once again goes unvexed to the sea,” he proclaimed.

With no length of the Mississippi River now safe from Union power, the Confederacy was unable to send supplies or communications across its breadth. Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas were cut off from the rest of the rebellious nation. This was doubly damaging, as the Texas-Mexico border was a favorite route of secessionist suppliers and the possibility of French intervention across the border was precluded by the nigh-impassable boundary of a Union-held Mississippi River. The fall of Vicksburg came just one day after the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg, prompting many to point to early July, 1863 as the turning point of the Civil War.

Fact #10: The American Battlefield Trust Trust is engaged in an ongoing effort to preserve battlefield land around Vicksburg.

In 1899, Confederate veteran Stephen Dill Lee supervised the establishment of the 1,800 acre Vicksburg National Military Park, which was then transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. The park was the site of the raising of the ironclad USS Cairo in the 1960s, one of the landmark achievements of American Civil War preservation. Despite its significance, the other battlefields of the Vicksburg campaign, were largely unpreserved until recent years. The American Battlefield Trust has saved hundreds of acres on the battlefields of Raymond, Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, and Port Gibson.

Watch the video: Die Belagerung Deutscher Trailer. F. Murray Abraham. HD. KSM (July 2022).


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