The Vicksburg Campaign – Vicksburg is Key!


Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi

Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi

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)

Jackson to Vicksburg – Civil War in the Balance

Champion Hill  (May 16, 1863)

Big Black River Bridge (May 17, 1863)

Sites, Places, and Markers

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

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

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. Upon the secession of the southern states, Confederate forces closed the river to navigation, which threatened to strangle northern commercial interests.

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, while he took the remainder of the army down the Mississippi Central Railroad. Both of these initiatives failed.

Grant conducted a number of “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 a number of battles including Snyder’s Bluff, Port Gibson, Raymond, captured the capitol 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.

Negotiating surrender, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Negotiating surrender, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January 2021.

Also See:

Civil War Battles of Mississippi

General Grant and the Vicksburg Campaign (by Henry Cabot Lodge 1895)

American Civil War

President Abraham Lincoln

Mississippi River & Expansion of America

Source: National Park Service

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