The Vicksburg Campaign – Vicksburg is Key!

Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi by Kurz and Allison.

Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi by Kurz and Allison.


Grand Gulf  (April 29, 1863)

Snyder’s Bluff (April 29-May 1, 1863)

Bruinsburg Crossing (April 30, 1863)

Port Gibson (May 1, 1863)

Raymond (May 12, 1863)

Jackson (May 14, 1863)

Champion Hill  (May 16, 1863)

Big Black River Bridge (May 17, 1863)

Siege of Vicksburg  (May 18-July 4, 1863)


Sites, Places, and Markers

General Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign (by Henry Cabot Lodge)

Negotiating surrender, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant and Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton negotiate terms of surrender at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, 1894.

Vicksburg Campaign and Siege (March-July 1863)

During the Civil War, the Mississippi River was the single most important economic feature of the nation — the very lifeblood of America. However, upon the secession of the southern states, Confederate forces closed the river to navigation, which threatened to strangle northern commercial interests.

General Ulysses S. Grant in the trenches before the Siege of Vicksburg

General Ulysses S. Grant in the trenches before the Siege of Vicksburg

To combat this, Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant made a bold and risky decision to march the army down the west side of the Mississippi River to the south of Vicksburg, Mississippi and, either directly attack the fortress city or capture Port Hudson, Louisiana by both overland and naval forces. The campaign consisted of a series of maneuvers and battles that were directly or indirectly focused on taking the fortress city of Vicksburg that dominated the last Confederate-controlled section of the Mississippi River. Through the series of battles, the Union Army of the Tennessee under General Grant gained control of the river by capturing the stronghold and defeating Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s forces stationed there.

President Abraham Lincoln told his civilian 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.”

It was imperative for the administration in Washington D.C. to regain control of the lower Mississippi River, thereby opening that important avenue of commerce and 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, Virginia.

In the spring of 1863, Grant launched his Union Army of the Tennessee on a campaign to pocket Vicksburg and provide President Abraham Lincoln with the key to victory.

Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi

Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi

Grant initially planned a two-pronged approach in which half of his army, under Major General William T. Sherman, would advance to the Yazoo River and attempt to reach Vicksburg from the northeast. At the same time, he took the remainder of the army down the Mississippi Central Railroad. Unfortunately, both of these initiatives failed.

Grant conducted several “experiments” or expeditions — Grant’s Bayou Operations –  attempted to enable waterborne access to the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg’s artillery batteries. All five of these initiatives failed as well.

Finally, Union gunboats and troop transport boats ran the batteries at Vicksburg and met up with Grant’s men who had marched overland in Louisiana. On April 29 and April 30, 1863, Grant’s army crossed the Mississippi River and landed at Bruinsburg, Mississippi. An elaborate series of demonstrations and diversions fooled the Confederates, and the landings occurred without opposition.

Over the next 17 days, Grant maneuvered his army inland, fighting in several battles including Snyder’s Bluff, Port Gibson, Raymond, captured the capital of Jackson; moved on to Champion Hill and the Big Black River Bridge, before assaulting and laying siege to Vicksburg beginning on May 18, 1863.

The campaign consisted of many important naval operations, troop maneuvers, failed initiatives, and eleven distinct battles from December 26, 1862, to July 4, 1863. Military historians divide the campaign into two formal phases: Operations Against Vicksburg (December 1862 – January 1863) and Grant’s Operations Against Vicksburg (March–July 1863).

After Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army surrendered on July 4, 1863, and when Port Hudson, Louisiana surrendered five days later on July 9th, the entire Mississippi River belonged to the Union. These events are widely considered the turning point of the war. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign is considered one of the masterpieces of American military history.


After his bayou operations failed, Grant made a bold and risky decision to march the army down the west side of the Mississippi River to the south of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and either directly attack the fortress city or capture Port Hudson, Louisiana by both overland and naval forces.

Battle of Grand Gulf Mississippi.

Battle of Grand Gulf Mississippi.

Grand Gulf (April 29, 1863) – The first battle of this campaign occurred in Claiborne County, Mississippi, between Union Rear Admiral David D. Porter and Confederate General John S. Bowen. This battle began when Admiral Porter led seven ironclads in an attack on the fortifications and batteries at Grand Gulf to silence the Confederate guns and secure the area with troops of McClernand’s XIII Army Corps who were on the accompanying transports and barges.

The attack by the seven ironclads began at 8:00 am and continued until about 1:30 pm. During the fight, the ironclads moved within 100 yards of the Rebel guns and silenced the lower batteries of Fort Wade; but, the Confederate upper batteries at Fort Cobun remained out of reach and continued to fire.

The Union ironclads and transports were forced to draw off. After dark, however, the ironclads engaged the Rebel guns again while the steamboats and barges ran the gauntlet. In the meantime, General Grant marched his men overland across Coffee Point to below Grand Gulf. After the transports had passed, they embarked the troops at Disharoon’s Plantation and disembarked them on the Mississippi shore at Bruinsburg, below Grand Gulf. The men immediately began marching overland towards Port Gibson. Though the skirmish resulted in a Confederate victory, the loss at Grand Gulf caused just a slight change in Grant’s offensive. The estimated Union casualties were 80, and the Confederate number is unknown.

Snyder’s Bluff (April 29-May 1, 1863) – Also called the Battle of Snyder’s Mill, this conflict occurred in Warren County between Union commander Major General William T. Sherman and Confederate Brigadier General Louis Hébert. To ensure that troops were not withdrawn to Grand Gulf to assist Confederates, a combined Union Army-Navy force feigned an attack on Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi. After noon, on April 29th, Lieutenant Commander K. Randolph Breese, with his eight gunboats and ten transports carrying Major General Francis Blair’s division, inched up the Yazoo River to the mouth of Chickasaw Bayou where they spent the night. At 9:00 am, the next morning, the force, minus one gunboat, continued upriver to Drumgould’s Bluff and engaged the enemy batteries. During the fighting, the Choctaw suffered more than fifty hits, but no casualties occurred. Around 6:00 pm, the troops disembarked and marched along Blake’s Levee toward the guns. As they neared Drumgould’s Bluff, a battery opened on them, creating havoc and casualties. The Union advance halted, and, after dark, the men re-embarked on the transports. The next morning, transports disembarked other troops but, the swampy terrain and heavy enemy artillery fire forced them to retire. The gunboats opened fire again, about 3:00 pm on the 1st, causing some damage. Later, the boats’ fire slackened and stopped altogether after dark. General Sherman had received orders to land his troops at Milliken’s Bend, so the gunboats returned to their anchorages at the Yazoo River’s mouth. The number of casualties in this Confederate victory is unknown.

Union Advance on Port Gibson, Mississippi

Union Advance on Port Gibson, Mississippi

Port Gibson (May 1, 1863) – Also called the Battle of Thompson’s Hill, this conflict in  Claiborne County was commanded by Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Brigadier General John S. Bowen. General Grant launched his march on Vicksburg in the Spring of 1863, starting his army south, from Milliken’s Bend, on the Mississippi River’s west side. He intended to cross the river at Grand Gulf, but the Union fleet could not silence the Confederate big guns. Grant then marched farther south and crossed at Bruinsburg on April 30th. Union forces came ashore, secured the landing area and by late afternoon, began marching inland. Advancing on Rodney Road towards Port Gibson, Grant’s force ran into Rebel outposts after midnight and skirmished with them for around three hours. After 3:00 am, the fighting stopped. Union forces advanced on the Rodney Road and a plantation road at dawn. At 5:30 am, the Confederates engaged the Union advance, and the battle ensued. Federals forced the Rebels to fall back. The Confederates established new defensive positions at different times during the day but, they could not stop the Union onslaught and left the field in the early evening. This defeat demonstrated that the Confederates could not defend the Mississippi River line, and the Federals had secured their beachhead. The way to Vicksburg was open. The Union victory resulted in 861 Union casualties and 787 Confederate.

Battle of Raymond MS, Theodore Davis

Raymond (May 12, 1863) – Taking place in Hinds County, this conflict was led by Union Major General James B. McPherson and Confederate Brigadier General John Gregg. Ordered by Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, Confederate commander at Vicksburg, Brigadier General John Gregg led his force from Port Hudson, Louisiana, to Jackson, Mississippi, and out to Raymond to intercept Union troops. Before dawn on May 12, Major General James B. McPherson had his XVII Army Corps on the march, and by 10:00 am, they were about three miles from Raymond. Gregg decided to dispute the crossing of Fourteen Mile Creek and arrayed his men and artillery accordingly.

As the Yankees approached, the Rebels opened fire, initially causing heavy casualties. Some Union troops broke, but Major General John A. Logan rallied a force to hold the line. Confederate troops attacked the line but had to retire.

More Federal troops soon arrived, and the Union forces counterattacked. Heavy fighting continued for six hours, but the overwhelming Union force prevailed, and Gregg’s men left the field. Although Gregg’s men lost the battle, they had held up a much superior Union force for a day. The battle resulted in an estimated 442 Union casualties and 569 Confederate.

Battle of Jackson, Mississippi

Battle of Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson (May 14, 1863) – This battle led by Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and Brigadier General John Gregg took place in Hinds and Jackson Counties. On May 9, 1863, General Joseph E. Johnston received a dispatch from the Confederate Secretary of War directing him to “proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces in the field.” As he arrived in Jackson on the 13th, from middle Tennessee, he learned that two army corps from the Union Army of the Tennessee — the XV, under Major General William T. Sherman, and the XVII, under Major General James Birdseye McPherson — were advancing on Jackson, intending to cut the city and the railroads off from Vicksburg. Johnston consulted with the local commander, Brigadier General John Gregg, and learned that only about 6,000 troops could defend the town. Johnston ordered Jackson’s evacuation, but Gregg was to defend the town until the evacuation was completed.

By 10:00 am, both Union army corps were near Jackson and had engaged the enemy. Rain, Confederate resistance, and poor defenses prevented heavy fighting until around 11:00 am, when Union forces attacked in numbers and slowly but surely pushed the enemy back. In mid-afternoon, Johnston informed Gregg that the evacuation was complete and that he should disengage and follow. Soon after, the Yankees entered Jackson and had a celebration hosted by Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who traveled with Sherman’s corps, in the Bowman House. They then burned part of the town and cut the railroad connections with Vicksburg. Johnston’s evacuation of Jackson was a tragedy because he could, by late on the 14th, have had 11,000 troops at his disposal and by the morning of the 15th, another 4,000. The fall of the Mississippi state capital was a blow to Confederate morale. The Union victory resulted in 286 Federal casualties and 850 Confederate.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated June 2021.

Also See:

Civil War Battles of Mississippi

American Civil War

President Abraham Lincoln

Mississippi River & Expansion of America

Source: National Park Service