Vicksburg, Siege of

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Vicksburg, Siege of (1862–63).During the Civil War, Vicksburg, a port city above the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Yazoo, was a key link between the eastern and the trans‐Mississippi areas of the Confederacy. In May 1862, 3,000 Confederate troops under Brig. Gen. Martin L. Smith occupied the town. Smith began fortifying the 200‐foot bluffs. With the siege of New Orleans and the fall of Memphis, Vicksburg quickly became the only bastion on the Mississippi blocking Union river traffic.

On 28 May 1862, the USS Oneida arrived and opened fire upon Vicksburg. Additional vessels under Flag Officer David Farragut joined the bombardment in the coming weeks, augmented by mortar schooners under Cmdr. David Dixon Porter. Lacking sufficient forces for a land assault, the Federals attempted to dig a canal across the peninsula opposite the town. On 28 June, Farragut's ships steamed upstream and joined Charles H. Davis's gunboat squadron. On 15 July, however, the CSS Arkansas, an ironclad riverboat, ran the gauntlet of Union vessels to anchor safely below Vicksburg. Farragut's vessels failed to destroy the Arkansas when they returned downstream that night. Low water ended construction on the canal and threatened to strand the deep‐draft vessels.

When the Union fleets departed on 25 July, both sides understood that only a Union army could capture Vicksburg. To prevent that possibility, Smith's successor, Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn, ringed Vicksburg with earthworks and fortified Port Hudson. On 14 October, Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Pemberton assumed command of Mississippi and eastern Louisiana.

Ulysses S. Grant marched southward on 2 November from Grand Junction with 30,000 men and outmaneuvered Pemberton, who fell back to Grenada. While Grant continued overland, William Tecumseh Sherman moved via the Mississippi to Vicksburg. Grant's advance stalled after Confederate cavalry disrupted his rail communications and destroyed his supply base at Holly Springs on 20 December. The following week, Sherman's 32,000 troops landed near Vicksburg, but in fighting 27–29 December they suffered a repulse at Chickasaw Bluffs. Sherman withdrew on 2 January 1863.

Undeterred, Grant decided to isolate Vicksburg from the east while supplying his entire army via the Mississippi. However, that required Union transports below or behind Vicksburg. Attempts to complete the canal and to create an all‐water route west of the Mississippi proved fruitless. Fort Pemberton prevented Union vessels from entering the Yazoo River above Vicksburg, and attempts to bypass the fort failed.

On 31 March, Grant started two corps down the west side of the Mississippi. To distract Pemberton, Sherman's corps remained near Vicksburg and 1,700 Union cavalrymen under Col. Benjamin H. Grierson conducted a raid that disrupted Confederate communications throughout Mississippi. On the night of 16 April, nine Federal gunboats and two Union troop transports steamed past Vicksburg, followed six nights later by five transports and six barges of supplies. From 30 April through 1 May, 23,000 Union soldiers crossed the Mississippi and disembarked at Bruinsburg.

Grant's maneuvering baffled Pemberton, who was further impaired by conflicting orders. His immediate superior, Joseph E. Johnston, instructed him to concentrate and defeat Grant; but Pemberton focused on Grierson's cavalry and followed President Jefferson Davis's mandate to hold Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Pemberton's confusion enabled Grant to defeat Confederate detachments at Port Gibson and Grand Gulf. After securing the latter on 3 May and being joined by Sherman, Grant marched toward Jackson, Mississippi. He encountered no serious resistance until 12 May, when Confederates made a stand near Raymond. Fearing an enemy concentration, Grant sent James B. McPherson's corps and Sherman's to Jackson; John A. McClernand's corps remained in reserve to block any Confederate advance from Vicksburg.

That same day, General Johnston arrived in Jackson and took command of all Confederate forces in Mississippi; but Grant's deployment prevented him from establishing reliable communications with Pemberton. Pemberton finally led 17,500 Confederates from Vicksburg on 12 May, but when he failed to join Johnston, Grant proceeded to defeat the two Confederate armies, one at a time. After driving Johnston's 6,000 troops from Jackson on 14 May Grant turned and defeated Pemberton at Champion Hill on 16 May and at Big Black River on 17 May. Pemberton then withdrew to Vicksburg.

Eager to avoid a lengthy siege, Grant launched several unsuccessful assaults against the bastion, but his troops suffered heavy casualties. Union engineers began constructing 12 miles of earthworks, about 600 yards from the 9‐mile‐long Confederate fortifications. By 1 June, Grant had 50,000 troops surrounding 30,000 Confederates; an additional 27,000 Union soldiers arrived by mid‐June.

Anxious to aid Pemberton, Johnston organized an army near Jackson. When he claimed his 24,000 troops were insufficient, he received 7,000 reinforcements. A trans‐Mississippi division also attempted to destroy Grant's supply base at Milliken's Bend. On 15 June, Johnston notified President Jefferson that he could not save Vicksburg. Grant deployed Sherman with 34,000 men east of Vicksburg to block Johnston.

Believing that Pemberton could hold out until 10 July, Johnston dispatched a courier to notify Pemberton that he would make a diversionary attack to enable the garrison to escape. Johnston could do no more because of transportation and logistics problems, unreliable communications, and inferior numbers against an entrenched enemy.

However, Pemberton never received the message, and conditions at Vicksburg deteriorated more rapidly than anticipated. Dwindling foodstuffs, insufficient water, and daily bombardments took a heavy toll on civilians and soldiers alike. Pemberton concluded his men were too weak to fight their way out.

On 3 July, he met with Grant and agreed to surrender the following day. At the surrender on 4 July 1863—the same week as The Battle of Gettysburg—the garrison consisted of 2,166 officers, 27,230 enlisted men, 115 civilian employees, 172 cannon, and 60,000 long arms. Casualties during the Vicksburg campaign totaled about 9,000 for the Union and 10,000 for the Confederacy, not counting Confederate prisoners. The victory further elevated Grant's prominence. Johnston learned of the surrender on 5 July, and after skirmishing with Sherman, withdrew. On 9 July, Port Hudson surrendered, giving the Union complete control of the Mississippi and dividing the Confederacy in half.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Confederate Army; Union Army.]


Gilbert E. Govan and and James W. Livingood , A Different Valor: The Story of General Joseph E. Johnston, C.S.A., 1956.
Peter F. Walker , Vicksburg: A People at War, 1860–1865, 1960.
Edwin C. Bearss , Rebel Victory at Vicksburg, 1963; repr. 1989.
Edwin C. Bearss , The Vicksburg Campaign, 3 vols., 1985–86.
Mary D. McFeely and William S. McFeely, eds., Memoirs and Selected Letters: Ulysses S. Grant, 1990.
Michael B. Ballard , Pemberton: A Biography, 1991.

Lawrence Lee Hewitt

Vicksburg in the Civil War

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VICKSBURG IN THE CIVIL WAR. With the fall of New Orleans to Union forces in April 1862, the importance of Vicksburg, Miss., for control of the Mississippi River became evident, and the Confederates quickly constructed fortifications. On 28 June ships from Union Adm. David Farragut's squadron slipped past the Vicksburg batteries and anchored upstream, establishing a Union naval presence around Vicksburg. In November Gen. Ulysses S. Grant moved his troops south from Memphis through northern Mississippi. The advancing forces, led by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, were decisively beaten at Chickasaw Bluffs on 2729 December. Four subsequent assaults were similarly repulsed. In desperation, Grant abandoned his Memphis base, moved down the west bank of the Mississippi (living off the country), recrossed the river below Vicksburg, and marched on the city from the east.

Confederate commander Gen. John C. Pemberton was surprised by the move and sent only a small force to oppose Grant. Within three weeks Vicksburg was in a state of siege. Aided by bombardment from the river fleet, Grant assaulted the Vicksburg lines once on 19 May and twice on 22 May 1863. Each attack failed with heavy loss. But the siege was ultimately successful. Dwindling supplies, mounting casualties, sickness, and the impossibility

of reinforcement finally induced Pemberton to open surrender negotiations. On 4 July 1863 he capitulated, officers and men being paroled as prisoners of war. Port Hudson, 300 miles down the river, surrendered 9 July. For the rest of the war, Vicksburg was a Union base of operations.


Arnold, James R. Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg. New York: Wiley, 1997.

Ballard, Michael B. Pemberton: A Biography. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Foote, Shelby. The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign. New York: Modern Library, 1995.

Hewitt, Lawrence L. Port Hudson: Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Thomas Robson Hay / a. r.

See also Chattanooga Campaign ; Navy, Confederate ; Navy, United States ; New Orleans, Capture of .

Vicksburg, Siege of

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Vicksburg, Siege of (1863) Fourteenth-month assault by Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War. The capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 4, 1863, gave the Union control of the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.