Battle of Vicksburg

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Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi

Battle of Vicksburg

Other Names: Vicksburg Battle, Siege of Vicksburg; Vicksburg Campaign

Location: Warren County, Mississippi

Campaign: Grant’s Operations against Vicksburg (1863)

Date(s): May 18-July 4, 1863

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant [US]; Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton [CS]

Forces Engaged: Army of the Tennessee [US]; Army of Vicksburg [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 19,233 total (US 10,142; CS 9,091)

Result(s): Union victory

Description: In May and June of 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s armies converged on Vicksburg, investing the city and entrapping a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton. On July 4, Vicksburg surrendered after prolonged siege operations. This was the culmination of one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the war. With the loss of Pemberton’s army and this vital stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy was effectively split in half (fulfilling Gen. Scott's Anaconda Plan). Grant's successes in the West boosted his reputation, leading ultimately to his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Battle of Vicksburg
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Civil War Battle of Vicksburg Map

Grant’s campaign in the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, began in late 1862 with setbacks. Confederate cavalry captured Grant's supply base at Holly Springs, and William Tecumseh Sherman's premature assault on Vicksburg failed. After a winter of frustration, Grant's supporting fleet ran past the batteries and landed troops south of Vicksburg. Grant then unexpectedly struck at Jackson, Mississippi, before turning toward Vicksburg. His lightning moves prevented the cooperation of two Confederate armies in Mississippi and led to eventual surrender of the besieged citadel of Vicksburg in July 1863. (See Mississippi Civil War History Homepage). Grant's victory virtually opened the river and bisected the Confederacy. A smashing victory against Gen. Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga in November 1863 firmly established his reputation as the Union's finest commander.

After Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, its residents refused to celebrate the holiday for 81 years.

(Continued below)

Recommended Reading: The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862 - July 1863 (Modern Library) (Hardcover). Description: The companion volume to Stars in Their Courses, this marvelous account of Grant's siege of the Mississippi port of Vicksburg continues Shelby Foote's narrative of the great battles of the Civil War--culled from his massive three-volume history--recounting a campaign which Lincoln called "one of the most brilliant in the world." Continued below...

"Foote delivers another masterpiece... a welcome addition to every Civil War buff's library."

Vicksburg is the Key: Fall 1862

Strategic Vicksburg Battle location Map
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Battle of Vicksburg Map

Vicksburg is the Key! Spring 1863

Battle of Vicksburg
President Abraham Lincoln.jpg
Photo courtesy National Archives

At the time of the Civil War, the Mississippi River was the single most important economic feature of the continent; the very lifeblood of America. Upon the secession of the southern states, Confederate forces closed the river to navigation, which threatened to strangle northern commercial interests.

President Abraham Lincoln told his civil and military leaders, "See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.... We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg."  Lincoln assured his listeners that "I am acquainted with that region and know what I am talking about, and as valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg will be more so."
 
(Right) President Abraham Lincoln
 
It was imperative for the administration in Washington to regain control of the lower Mississippi River, thereby opening that important avenue of commerce enabling the rich agricultural produce of the Northwest to reach world markets.

It would also split the South in two, sever a vital Confederate supply line, achieve a major objective of the Anaconda Plan, and effectively seal the doom of Richmond. In the spring of 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant launched his Union Army of the Tennessee on a campaign to pocket Vicksburg and provide Mr. Lincoln with the key to victory.

Recommended Reading: TRIUMPH AND DEFEAT: The Vicksburg Campaign. Description: Author Terry Winschel, chief historian at Vicksburg National Military Park, weaves a professional lifetime of personal experience and scholarship into this remarkable study. His chapters cover every major aspect of what many consider to have been the decisive military achievement of the war--the capture of "The Gibraltar of the Confederacy." Continued below... 

How good was General Grant's generalship? Was Confederate Lieutenant General John Pemberton really as inept as we have been led to believe? Which battle of the months-long campaign was decisive and sealed the fate of the city? How did the civilians deal with the lack of food and supplies? What role did cavalry play in this critical campaign? Winschel discusses these issues and many others with articles on General Grant's march through Louisiana, Grierson's Federal cavalry raid, the battles of Port Gibson and Champion Hill, the infantry assault on Vicksburg, siege operations, John Walker's Texas Division, the citizens of Vicksburg, and much more. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Terrence Winschel is the Chief Historian of Vicksburg National Military Park and the author or editor of several books and dozens of articles on the Civil War. Winschel and family reside in Vicksburg.

Siege of Vicksburg: May 18 - July 4, 1863

Battle of Vicksburg
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Battle of Vicksburg, including Siege and Campaign, Map

First Assault on Fortress Vicksburg: May 19, 1863

Civil War Vicksburg Battle
Stockade Redan, Vicksburg.jpg
Stockade Redan, present day

Anxious for a quick victory, Grant made a hasty reconnaissance of the Vicksburg defenses and ordered an assault. Of his three corps, however, only one was in proper position to make the attack--Sherman's corps astride the Graveyard Road northeast of Vicksburg. Early in the morning Union artillery opened fire and bombarded the Confederate works with solid shot and shell.
 
With lines neatly dressed and their battle flags blowing in the breeze above them, Sherman's troops surged across the fields at 2:00 p.m. and through the abatis (obstructions of felled trees) toward Stockade Redan. Although the men of the 1st Battalion, 13th United States Infantry, planted their colors on the exterior slope of Stockade Redan (a powerful Confederate fort which guarded the road), the attack was repulsed with Federal losses numbering 1,000 men.

1st Union Assault: May 19, 1863

Vicksburg Siege and Vicksburg Campaign Map
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Battle of Vicksburg, or Vicksburg Campaign, Battlefield and Union Assault Map

Grant Assaults Vicksburg Stronghold: May 22, 1863

Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi
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Union Troops attack Confederate positions

Undaunted by his failure on the 19th and realizing that he had been too hasty, Grant made a more thorough reconnaissance then ordered 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 the guns fell silent and Union infantry was thrown forward along a three-mile front. Sherman attacked once again down the Graveyard Road, McPherson in the center along the Jackson Road, and McClernand on the south along the Baldwin Ferry Road and astride the Southern Railroad of Mississippi. Flags of all three corps were planted at different points along the exterior slope of Confederate fortifications. McClernand's men even made a short-lived penetration at Railroad Redoubt. But the Federals were again driven back with a loss in excess of 3,000 men.

Vicksburg Battlefield
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Union artillery target the Vicksburg Fortifications

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
2nd Union Assault: May 22, 1863

Battle of Vicksburg
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May 22nd, Attack on Vicksburg

The Siege of Vicksburg: May 26 - July 3, 1863

Vicksburg Civil War Battle
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Union soldiers dig approach trenches towards Confederate fortifications

Following the failure of the May 22 assault, Grant realized that Vicksburg could not be taken by storm and decided to lay siege to the city. Slowly his army established a line of works around the beleaguered city and cut Vicksburg off from supply and communications with the outside world. Commencing on May 26, Union forces constructed thirteen approaches along their front aimed at different points along the Confederate defense line. The object was to dig up to the Confederate works then tunnel underneath them, plant charges of black powder, and destroy the fortifications. Union troops would then surge through the breach and gain entrance to Vicksburg. 

Throughout the month of June, Union troops advanced their approaches slowly toward the Confederate defenses. Protected by the fire of sharpshooters and artillery, Grant's fatigue parties neared their objectives by late June. Along the Jackson Road, a mine was detonated beneath the Third Louisiana Redan on June 25, and Federal soldiers swarmed into the crater attempting to exploit the breach in the city's defenses. The struggle raged for 26 hours during which time clubbed muskets and bayonets were freely used as the Confederates fought with grim determination to deny their enemy access to Vicksburg. The troops in blue were finally driven back at the point of bayonet and the breach sealed. On July 1, a second mine was detonated but not followed by an infantry assault.
 
Throughout the weary month of June the gallant defenders of Vicksburg suffered under the constant bombardment of enemy guns from reduced rations and exposure to the elements. Reduced in number by sickness and battle casualties, the garrison of Vicksburg was spread dangerously thin. Soldiers and citizens alike began to despair that relief would ever come. At Jackson and Canton, General Johnston gathered a relief force which took up the line of march toward Vicksburg on July 1. By then it was too late as the sands of time had expired for the fortress city on the Mississippi River.

Throughout the weary month of June the gallant defenders of Vicksburg suffered under the constant bombardment of enemy guns from reduced rations and exposure to the elements. Reduced in number by sickness and battle casualties, the garrison of Vicksburg was spread dangerously thin. Soldiers and citizens alike began to despair that relief would ever come. At Jackson and Canton, General Johnston gathered a relief force which took up the line of march toward Vicksburg on July 1. By then it was too late as the sands of time had expired for the fortress city on the Mississippi River.

Vicksburg and the Civil War
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Camp life behind the Union Siege Lines

Stockade Redan: May 19-July 4, 1863

Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi, History
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Confederate Defenses and Union Approaches

Recommended Reading: Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg. Description: The Battle of Champion Hill was the decisive land engagement of the Vicksburg Campaign. The May 16, 1863, fighting took place just 20 miles east of the river city, where the advance of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Federal army attacked Gen. John C. Pemberton's hastily gathered Confederates. Continued below...

The bloody fighting seesawed back and forth until superior Union leadership broke apart the Southern line, sending Pemberton's army into headlong retreat. The victory on Mississippi's wooded hills sealed the fate of both Vicksburg and her large field army, propelled Grant into the national spotlight, and earned him the command of the entire U.S. armed forces. Timothy Smith, who holds a Ph.D. from Mississippi State and works as a historian for the National Park Service, has written the definitive account of this long overlooked battle. His vivid prose is grounded upon years of primary research and is rich in analysis, strategic and tactical action, and character development. Champion Hill will become a classic Civil War battle study.

The Fortress Surrenders: July 4, 1863

Vicksburg during the Civil War
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U.S. Flag raised over Courthouse in Vicksburg after surrender

On the hot afternoon of July 3, 1863, a cavalcade of horsemen in gray rode out from the city along the Jackson Road. Soon white flags appeared on the city's defenses as General Pemberton rode beyond the works to meet with his adversary--Grant. The two generals dismounted between the lines, not far from the Third Lousiana Redan, and sat in the shade of a stunted oak tree to discuss surrender terms. Unable to reach an agreement, the two men returned to their respective headquarters. Grant told Pemberton he would have his final terms by 10 p.m. True to his word, Grant sent his final amended terms to Pemberton that night. Instead of an unconditional surrender of the city and garrison, Grant offered parole to the valiant defenders of Vicksburg. Pemberton and his generals agreed that these were the best terms that could be had, and in the quiet of his headquarters on Crawford Street, the decision was made to surrender the city. 

At 10 a.m., on July 4, white flags were again displayed from the Confederate works and the brave men in gray marched out of their entrenchments, stacked their arms, removed their accouterments, and furled their flags, at which time the victorious Union army marched in and took possession the city.

When informed of the fall of Vicksburg, President Lincoln exclaimed, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."
 
The fall of Vicksburg, coupled with the defeat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the battle of Gettysburg fought on July 1-3, marked the turning point of the Civil War. See also: Battle of Vicksburg Killed and Casualties and Mississippi Civil War History Homepage.

Vicksburg Surrenders: July 4, 1863

Battle of Vicksburg
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Vicksburg Surrenders on 4 July

Recommended Reading: Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River (Great Campaigns of the Civil War). Description: The struggle for control of the Mississippi River was the longest and most complex campaign of the Civil War. It was marked by an extraordinary diversity of military and naval operations, including fleet engagements, cavalry raids, amphibious landings, pitched battles, and the two longest sieges in American history. Every existing type of naval vessel, from sailing ship to armored ram, played a role, and military engineers practiced their art on a scale never before witnessed in modern warfare. Union commanders such as Grant, Sherman, Farragut, and Porter demonstrated the skills that would take them to the highest levels of command. Continued below...

When the immense contest finally reached its climax at Vicksburg and Port Hudson in the summer of 1863, the Confederacy suffered a blow from which it never recovered. Here was the true turning point of the Civil War. This fast-paced, gripping narrative of the Civil War struggle for the Mississippi River is the first comprehensive single-volume account to appear in over a century. Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River tells the story of the series of campaigns the Union conducted on land and water to conquer Vicksburg and of the many efforts by the Confederates to break the siege of the fortress. William L. Shea and Terrence J. Winschel present the unfolding drama of the campaign in a clear and readable style, correct historic myths along the way, and examine the profound strategic effects of the eventual Union victory.

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Related Studies:

 

Recommended Reading: Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi (Civil War America). Description: When Confederate troops surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863--the day after the Union victory at Gettysburg--a crucial port and rail depot for the South was lost. The Union gained control of the Mississippi River, and the Confederate territory was split in two. In a thorough yet concise study of the longest single military campaign of the Civil War, Michael B. Ballard brings new depth to our understanding of the Vicksburg campaign by considering its human as well as its military aspects. Continued below...

Ballard examines soldiers' attitudes, guerrilla warfare, and the effects of the campaign and siege on civilians in and around Vicksburg. He also analyzes the leadership and interaction of such key figures as U.S. Grant, William T. Sherman, John Pemberton, and Joseph E. Johnston, among others. Blending strategy and tactics with the human element, Ballard reminds us that while Gettysburg has become the focal point of the history and memory of the Civil War, the outcome at Vicksburg was met with as much celebration and relief in the North as was the Gettysburg victory, and he argues that it should be viewed as equally important today.

Sources: Vicksburg National Military Park; Library of Congress; National Archives and Records Administration; National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

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