Learning Lincoln On-line
FROM-- SET FOUR, CIVIL WAR STUDIES
21 Readings About the Great Battles of the Civil War #9-- The Battle & Siege of Vicksburg, MS
A primary objective of the Union forces in the Civil War was to cut the Confederacy in two by winning control of the Mississippi River. To do this it was necessary to take the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Miss. As long as Vicksburg was held by the South, Union vessels could not operate freely on the river. The city also served as an important transportation point for the Confederacy. Supplies, arms, and men from the southwestern states were assembled at Vicksburg and then transported eastward by rail.
On Jan. 29, 1863, General Grant was put in command of the Army of the West, with orders to capture Vicksburg. It was a difficult assignment because the city, located east of the Mississippi, was on a high bluff overlooking a hairpin bend in the river. All earlier attacks against Vicksburg had failed. Grant now set his men to work with pick and shovel rather than with guns. They tried to dig a canal across the neck of land opposite the city and thus bypass Vicksburg by turning the river from its old bed. Despite their most strenuous efforts Grant's troops failed to change the course of the river. Another way to reach the city had to be found. Grant saw that Vicksburg could be approached only from the south and east.
The west bank of the Mississippi became dry enough for the men to travel over, but how were they to recross to the east bank after getting below the city? This could be done in only one way: The Union fleet would have to face the Confederate batteries and go down the stream as the men marched along the west shore. One dark night the attempt was made. The Confederates learned of the plan and sent troops across the river in skiffs. They set fire to houses on the shore so that Confederate gunners might have light to see the Union ships. Nevertheless all but one of the Union's vessels ran by the batteries in safety and transported Grant's men to the eastern bank.
This was all accomplished by the end of April 1863. Now began the task of pushing the Confederate troops back into the city. Seven times Grant met and defeated them before he reached Vicksburg. Failing to take the town by storm, he settled down to starve it into surrender. For seven weeks the town held out.
A Confederate woman who was shut up in the city gave this description of life during that time: "So constantly dropped the shells around the city that the inhabitants made preparations to live under the ground during the siege. We seized the opportunity one evening, when the gunners were probably at their supper, for we had a few moments of quiet, to take possession of our cave. Our dining, breakfasting, and supper hours were quite irregular. When the shells were falling fast, the servants came in for safety, and our meals waited; again they would fall slowly . . . and out would start the cooks to do their work."
Supplies ran low and were rationed. Horses and mules were killed for meat. Men died of disease and starvation. When Gen. John Pemberton finally asked what terms would be given them, Grant replied: "Unconditional surrender." Pemberton was forced to accept these hard terms on July 4, 1863. Vicksburg had fallen; the Confederacy was divided.