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Vicksburg National Military Park


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( Painting by Andy Thomas “The Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi” to view more of his fine art, click  on picture)

Campaign for Vicksburg

Vicksburg Campaign Official Records

Between Cairo, Illinois, and the Gulf of Mexico, The Mississippi River meanders over a course of more than 1,600 kilometers (nearly 1000 miles) long.  During the Civil War, control of this stretch of the river was of vital importance to the Federal Government.  Command of that waterway would allow uninterrupted passage of Union troops and supplies into the South.  It would also have the desired effect of isolating the State, of Texas, and Arkansas and most of Louisiana, comprising nearly half the land area of the Confederacy and a region upon which the South depended heavily for supplies and recruits. 

            From the beginning of the war in 1861, the Confederates, to protect this vital lifeline, erected fortifications at strategic points along the river.  Federal forces, however, fighting their way southward from Illinois and northward from the Gulf of Mexico, captured post after post, until by late summer of 1862 only Vicksburg and Port Hudson posed major obstacles to Union domination of the Mississippi River.

            Of the two posts, Vicksburg was the stronger and more important.  It sat on a high bluff overlooking a bend in the river, protected by river batteries along the riverfront and by a maze of swamps and bayous to the north and south of it.  President Abraham Lincoln called Vicksburg “The Key” and believed “that the war could never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.”   So far the city had defied union efforts to force it into submission.

            In October 1862, Ulysses S. Grant was appointed the commander of the Department of Tennessee and charged with clearing the Mississippi of Southern Resistance.  That same month, John C. Pemberton, a West Point Graduate, and a Pennsylvanian by birth, assumed command of the roughly 50,000 widely scattered troops defending the Mississippi.  Vicksburg became the focus of military operations for both men.

            During the winter of 1862-63, Grant conducted a series of amphibious operations (often referred to as the Bayou expeditions) aimed at reducing Vicksburg.  All of them failed.  By Spring 1863, Grant had decided to march his army of approximately 45,000 men down the west (Louisiana) bank of the Mississippi, cross the river well below Vicksburg, and then swing into position to attack the city from the south.

            On March 31, 1863, Grant moved his army south from his encampment at Milliken’s Bend, 32 kilometer’s (20 miles) northwest of Vicksburg.  By April 28, the northerners were established at Hard Times on the Mississippi above Grand Gulf.  On the 29th, Admiral David Dixon Porter’s gunboats bombarded the confederate forts at Grand Gulf to prepare the way for a crossing, but the attack was repulsed.  Undaunted, Grant march his troops a little farther south and, on April 30th stormed across unopposed at Bruinsburg.

            Striking rapidly eastward to secure the Bridgehead, the northerners met elements of Pemberton’s forces at Port Gibson on May 1st.  The southerners fought a gallant holding action, but were overwhelmed and fell back toward Vicksburg.  After meeting and defeating a small confederate force near Raymond on May 12th, Grant’s troops attacked and captured Jackson, the State Capital, on May 14th, scattering the southern defenders. 

            Turning his forces westward, Grant moved against Vicksburg along the Line of the Southern Railroad of Mississippi.  At Champion’s Hill on May 16th, and at Big Black River Bridge on May 17th, his soldiers attacked and overwhelmed Pemberton’s disorganized Confederates, driving them back into their Vicksburg Fortifications.  By May 18th, advanced units of the Federal Army were approaching the bristling Confederate defenses.

            Believing that the battles of Champion’s Hill and Big Black River had broken the morale of the Confederates, Grant immediately scheduled an assault on the Vicksburg Lines.  The first attack took place against the Stockade Redan on May 19th and failed.  A second assault, launched on the morning of the 22nd of May also was repulsed.

            Realizing that it was useless to expend further lives in attempts to take the city by storm, Grant reluctantly began formal siege operations.  Batteries of artillery were established to hammer the Confederate fortifications, from the landside, while Admiral Porter’s gunboats cutoff communications and blasted the city from the river.  By the end of June, with no hope of relief and no chance to break out of the Federal cordon, Pemberton knew that it was only a matter of time before he must ”capitulate on the best of attainable terms.”  On July 3rd, he met with Grant to discuss terms for the surrender of Vicksburg.

            Grant demanded “Unconditional Surrender”, Pemberton refused.  The meeting then broke up.  During the afternoon, the Federal commander modified his demands and agreed to let the Confederates sign a paroles not to fight again till exchanged.  In addition, officers could retain a sidearm and a mount.  Pemberton accepted these terms, and at 10 am on July 4th, 1863, Vicksburg officially surrendered.

            When Port Hudson surrendered five days later, the great northern objective of the war in the west – the opening of the Mississippi River and the severing of the Confederacy – was at last realized.  For the first time since the war began, the Mississippi was free of Confederate troops and fortifications.  As President Lincoln put it “ The Father of Waters again goes Unvexed to the sea.”

 

                                   (Narrative From the Vicksburg National Military Park Guide)


Union Avenue

 

Assault on May 19th

 

Maps

 

Assault on May 22nd

 

U.S.S. Cairo

 

Siege from May to July

 

Confederate Avenue

 

Port Gibson Area

 



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