Image above: Kurz and Allison print showing the 13, 15, and 17th Corps under General Grant in the Siege of Vicksburg. Right: National Memorial and Peace Jubilee held in Vicksburg in October 1917. Both images courtesy Library of Congress.
While the majority of the nation on the east coast was focusing on the Confederate movements surrounding Washington, D.C. and the Battle of Gettysburg was being waged in that small Pennsylvania town, another battle was being waged in the western theatre of the war that would have a major impact on the ability of the Confederacy to maintain momentum toward independence. At Vicksburg, one day after Lee had lost at Pickett's Charge to one general given little credit for its victory, George W. Meade, another general would have victory in this southern Mississippi town in which credit would be heaped upon, and eventually given so much credit by his commander in the White House, that Abraham Lincoln would rest his hopes on ultimate victory in his hands, Ulysses S. Grant.
- Then and Now
- Things You Should Not Miss
Today, Vicksburg is a city of over 20,000 people almost equal distance between New Orleans and Memphis, on the west bank of the Mississippi River. At the time of the Civil War, Vicksburg was a sleepy, but important port on the river, far from the maddening war centered around Virginia, but no less important to the cause or outcome of the war. Over forty-seven days in May, June, and July of 1863, it would be involved in a siege that General Grant had proposed the winter before. Northern troops wanted to break the key to guarding the waters of the Mississippi, but the initial attempt to capture Vicksburg from the north failed. In April, a new plan would be attempted. Union ships bypassed the city at night to establish a base to the south, allowing the army to move down the Louisiana side of the river, then cross by ship to the east, reaching the dry ground south of Vicksburg. But still, the direct attacks would fail. But General Grant would not be deterred and lay siege to the city and southern troops beginning on the 19th of May with diligent bombardment for six weeks. On July 4, on that one day after Meade's victory in Gettysburg, General Grant had his victory at Vicksburg when General Pemberton's troops and the city surrendered. Harper's Weekly print (LOC photo below left) is of Generals Grant and Pemberton discussing the terms of surrender. After this victory, the North controlled the Mississippi River. Nineteen thousands troops from both armies would be killed, wounded, or missing in this campaign.
March 29 to April 30 = Grant's March.
April 16 - Passing the batteries of Vicksburg.
April 29 - Grand Gulf cannonade.
April 30 to May 1 - The Bruinsburg Crossing.
May 1 - Battle of Port Gibson.
May 2 to 11 - The northern army moves into the interior.
May 12 - Battle of Raymond
May 14 - Battle of Jackson.
May 17 - Battle of Big Black River Bridge.
May 18 - Confederate forces fall back to Vicksburg defenses.
May 19 - First Assault.
May 22 - Second Assault, including the assault on the Great Redoubt.
May 26 to July 3 - The Vicksburg Siege.
July 3 - Pemberton displays truce flag and proposes to meet with Grant. The morning interview does not reach a truce agreement, but later in the day, after exchanging notes, terms of surrender are agreed upon.
July 4 - Pemberton surrenders his troops to General Ulysses S. Grant. They are granted parole.
The Vicksburg National Military Park - The battlefield surrounds the north and east sections of the town, with the Mississippi River to its west. There are over 1,330 monuments dedicated to the troops on the park grounds. You can visit the two museums in the park; one at the park visitor center and the second at the U.S.S. Cairo Museum (pictured above center, photo courtesy NPS), which contains the restored Union gunboat that was raised in 1964. A sixteen mile tour around the park is available for a self-guided or licensed park guide tour (fee). There are also many free park ranger walks and talks. See the park visitor center for details of when and where they are being held. The Town of Vicksburg - There's tons to do in the town of Vicksburg as well, including many museums and historic homes that can be visited. Check out the many tours, both on land and on water. There's also casino riverboats, if that's up your alley, too.
1. Take the park tour, either self-guided or with a park guide. There are sixteen park tour sites, including Battery De Golyer, the Shirley House, which is the only remaining war structure still in the park, Vicksburg National Cemetery, Fort Garrott, and the Great Redoubt. The tour surrounds the city of Vicksburg and includes views of the Mississippi River and over one thousand monuments dedicated to both Union and Confederate soldiers at the battles and siege. Also, off the beaten path a bit, and outside the regular stops, are Louisiana Circle, South Fort, Navy Circle, and Grant's Canal (across the Mississippi River). If you've got time, they're worth a visit, too. It takes about two hours to complete the self-guided tour.
2. Don't miss the U.S.S. Cairo Museum. It's not often you get to see an actual Civil War ship raised from the bottom of a river. The ship had actually been sunk on December 12, 1862 by a Confederate torpedo in the Yazoo River, not the Mississippi, thirteen miles north of town.