Welcome to the second part in our episodes on the Battle of Vicksburg, one of the most consequential Civil War battles in the Western theatre and what many historians consider to be the turning point of the war.
Grant’s Vicksburg campaign is considered one of the most brilliant of the war. With the loss of Pemberton’s army at Vicksburg and later Union victory at Port Hudson five days later, the Union now controlled the entire Mississippi River. The Confederacy was now split in half. Grant’s reputation soared, which led to him being appointed as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.
Battle of Vicksburg: Third Attempt
- Grant came up with a new plan. He and his army would march down the west (Louisiana) side of the river. The river fleet would run past Vicksburg’s batteries, then ferry the soldiers across the Mississippi so that they would be south of the city.
- Grant’s subordinates did not like the plan, seeing it as too risky. Sherman suggested they return to Memphis. Grant refused, saying that going back to Memphis would be too bad for Northern morale.
- Grant had his army build corduroy roads on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi to allow his army to march faster.
- On the evening April 16, 1863, the fleet (commanded by David Dixon Porter) steamed past the batteries. Many of the ships put cotton bales on their decks to absorb the blow of the Confederate shells.
- The Confederates lit huge bonfires to help them see the ships.
- Every Union vessel was hit, some caught on fire, but only eight were sunk (out of 30).
- Grant ferried his men from the west to the east side of the river. He now had 23,000 troops in Mississippi and near the town.
- On April 17, Federal cavalry under Benjamin Grierson launch a raid into Tennessee. Over 17 days, his command marched 800 miles, repeatedly engaged the Confederates, disabled two railroads, captured many prisoners and horses, and destroyed vast amounts of property. It also distracted Confederate cavalry from opposing Grant’s crossing.
- Fourth Attempt and Siege
- In early May, Sherman and his army joined Grant, bringing his total force to 40,000 men.
- Grant cut himself off from his supply line and lived off the land for two weeks. No one in the North knew where he and his army were.
- Grant’s chief opponent was Confederate General John C. Pemberton, who had 32,000 troops with which to defend Vicksburg.
- To the East, Joseph Johnston had replaced Bragg as overall commander of the West. He had 16,000 soldiers at Jackson, MS.
- During the first two weeks in May, Grant and his army marched 180 miles, fought and won two battles (Port Gibson, Raymond) and defeated 8000 Confederate soldiers. He also cut Confederate rail and communication links.
- During that period, Grant confused the enemy by marching east (away from Vicksburg!).
- On May 14, Grant drove Johnston away from Jackson. Sherman destroyed part of the town.
- Grant then turned back toward Vicksburg. Pemberton marched to meet him on May 16 at Champion Hill. Grant thoroughly defeated Pemberton. He attacked again the next day and again defeated Pemberton at Big Black River.
- The next day, the two forces again fought, with Grant winning again.
- Pemberton retreated into the defenses of Vicksburg. Johnston wired him and urged him to unite with Johnston’s forces, but Pemberton refused.
- On May 19, Grant launched a frontal assault against the city. It failed. He tried and failed again on May 22. The Federals suffered 4000 casualties.
- Grant then decided to lay siege to Vicksburg.
- During the bombardment, many Vicksburg residents lived in caves. They were reduced to eating horses and mules, and then dogs, cats, and rats. The Vicksburg newspaper had to be printed on wallpaper.
- After enduring six weeks of around-the-clock bombardment (from both sides), sniper fire, exploding mines, and dwindling food supplies among the residents of the city, Pemberton surrendered on July 4.
- Outcome of Battle of Vicksburg
- Grant suffered fewer than 10,000 casualties, while inflicting 10,000 on the Confederates and capturing 37,000 (30,000 in Vicksburg). He captured 127 cannons and 60,000 rifles.
- Lincoln said “Grant is my man.” Davis blamed Johnston for the loss of Vicksburg, although most Confederates blamed Pemberton.
- The Fourth of July would not be celebrated in Vicksburg again for 81 years.
Port Hudson and Tullahoma
- Port Hudson
- In late May, General Nathaniel Banks marched an army to the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson, LA.
- Port Hudson was a major fortified position.
- Banks twice tried frontal assaults in late May and early June (using Black soldiers). Both assaults failed.
- Like Grant, Banks decided to lay siege to the town.
- The city surrendered on July 9. Now the Union controlled the entire Mississippi.
- Lincoln said “The father of waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”
- Rosecrans and Bragg had been sitting for months since the Battle of Murfreesboro.
- On June 14, 1863, Rosecrans marched his army of 63,000 southward.
- He kept flanking Bragg’s army, who retreated again and again, ending up at Chattanooga.
- The triple Union triumphs at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Tullahoma provided a great boost to Northern morale and caused Southern morale to plunge.
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Civil War. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to the Civil War.
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