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Battle of Vicksburg

The Battle of Vicksburg was an American Civil War siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, on a well-fortified west-facing cliff on the Mississippi River. The siege lasted from May 18 -- July 4, 1863. The siege was initiated by the Union army under General Ulysses S. Grant with the aim of gaining control of the Mississippi River by capturing this Confederate riverfront stronghold. Shortly after it fell, the entire Mississipi Valley belonged to the Union.

Table of contents

Before the siege

Vickburg was nicknamed "The Gibraltar of the Confederacy." No large Union boats could sail the Mississippi past it without being drawing cannon fire and likely being sunk -- the Union had dug a canal to avoid Vicksburg but it was too shallow for big boats. Union forces under General Grant, whose star had been steadily riding since the fall of Fort Donelson had been trying for a long time to get at Vicksburg -- there had been seven failures[?] trying to get Union forces to where they could assault Vicksburg, and all the Union did was create a growing casualty list, and public opinion that General Grant was a fool, a drunkard, or worse.

"All Grant's schemes have failed," observed Elihu Washburn[?], long Grant's congressional benefactor who elevated the West Pointer to brigadier general early in the war. One newspaper editor colorfully put it (quoted in Shelby Foote, Fredericksburg to Meridian pg. 217), "Well, now, for God's sake say that Genl Grant, entrusted with our greatest army, is a jackass in the original package. He is a poor drunken imbecile. He is a poor stick sober, and he is most of the time more than half drunk, and much of the time idiotically drunk."

In answer to his critics, in his memoirs Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Grant had to say (ch. 32),

I took no steps to answer these complaints, but continued to do my duty, as I understand it, to the best of my ability.

Aware of Grant's victories on the battlefield, Lincoln deftly parried rumors of Grant's drunkeness by saying, "If I knew what brand of whiskey he drinks I would send a barrel or so to some other generals." Despite the appalling casualities at Shiloh, and (false; see below) rumors of Grant's drunkeness on the battlefield, Lincoln had also said of Grant "I can't spare this man, he fights." But of the seven failures that got the Union no closer to Vicksburg, in Battle Cry of Freedom, pg. 588, historian James B. McPherson observed,

For two months Grant's army had been floundering in the mud. Many of them rested permanently below the mud, victims of pneumonia or dysentery or any of a dozen other maladies. Vicksburg stood as defiant as ever.

Union mood in early 1863 was depressed. Defending Vicksburg was John C. Pemberton[?], a Pennsylvania Yankee who married South and sided with the Confederacy. He was not as sanguine about the Confederacy's hopes of keeping Vicksburg as some on the Union side, certain that the Grant's thrashing about would eventually hit a soft spot. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston[?] was afraid of the Federals in the West; as Bruce Catton observed (ch. 2, part 2),

... General Johnston suspected that the Federals in the Mississippi Valley held a winning hand if they played it right.

He was later shown to be right, after the shedding of much blood in a high-stakes poker game between U.S. Grant and the Confederates. The Union had three options to reduce Vicksburg, where they were fighting against Confederate-favoring geography as much as gun-toting Confederates:

  1. A direct attack from the Mississippi,
  2. Pull back on Memphis, going overland, or
  3. March the army down the west side of the Mississippi, cross the river south of Vicksburg, and attack from the south and the east.

North and east of Vicksburg was the Yazoo Delta, 200 miles high and as far as fifty wide, a practically impenetrable swamp. General Sherman had tried to go this way, blundering hopelessly. About 12 miles up the Yazoo were powerful Confederate batteries at Haines Bluff[?].

The Louisiana shore west of Vicksburg was not much more forgiving, riven with streams and poor country roads, and on the wrong side of the river. Retreating to Memphis, Tennessee and taking the railroad down, east of the primeval Yazoo Delta made sense, but that would be an admission of defeat, and Northern public opinion would condemn the already-shaky Grant. He chose the third plan.

Grant had political considerations with which to deal as well. Henry Halleck[?] ("Old Brains," above him in Washington) was of a cautious bent, and Grant knew he might oppose the dangerous naval expedition. The Union fleet could be lost or crippled; Grant was to place his troops where a Confederate force of unknown size might destroy them; and the Union supply line down the Mississippi was in grave danger of being snapped, leaving an entire Union army cut off.

Some on Grant's staff and other Union generals such as Sherman and General James B. McPherson[?] opposed the dangerous plan. Sherman recommended falling back to Memphis and going down from there.

Grant's plan was thus far more dangerous than one gets from one-paragraph summaries in American history texts.

General U.S. Grant's risky plan was to thus march his army west and south of the fortified cliff of Vicksburg, cross the river, and assault Vicksburg from behind. While he could march troops well west of the west-facing fortified bluff, getting his boats below to ferry them across the mile-wide river required running the bluff, a task that fell to Admiral David Dixon Porter[?]. While neither was under the command of the other, Porter accepted the assignment.

On March 29, Grant's arch-enemy in the Union army, the over-ambitious General John A. McClernand[?]'s troops went to work corduroying roads and making bridges. They filled in the swamps in their way as well, and in but weeks had a 70-mile road from Milliken's Bend[?] to Hard Times[?] below Vicksburg. It wasn't the best, but sufficed to march troops. Now it was Porter's turn.

Porter knew that he may be able to get south of the bluff, as it had been run before, but his low-powered craft would never be able to make it upriver again until the bluff had been reduced. Thus he would be crossing the Rubicon -- no going back.

On April 16, 1863, a clear night with no moon, Porter sent seven gunboats loaded with seventy-nine big guns and three empty troop transports loaded with stores to the run the bluff. Boat furnaces were hidden; all lights were out; the boats sailed slow to mask noise; there were no animals.

To no avail. Confederate sentries sighted the boats and the bluff exploded. The Union gunboats answered back. Porter noted the Confederates mainly hit the high parts of his boats, reasoned that they couldn't depress their guns, and had them hug the east shore, so close he could hear rebel commanders giving orders, shells flying overhead. The fleet survived with suprisingly little damage, and only thirteen men had been wounded; none killed. The Henry Clay was disabled and burned to the water's edge, the crew deserting. On April 22, six boats loaded with supplies made the run; one did not make it, though no one was killed, the crew having floated downstream on the boat's remnants.

Grant's big riverboat gamble succeeded. Now the Union had to confuse the Confederates as to their intentions and prevent their opposing Grant's landing.

On April 30, General Sherman with ten regiments and what of the navy Porter had not sent below Vicksburg's bluff took off up the Yazoo River[?] for Haines Bluff losing little (for the Civil War), but gaining nothing. This feint was to keep a substantial portion of the Vicksburg garrison north of the Union main effort to the south. This an other feints were, in Shelby Foote's words to "confuse and distract" the Confederates prior to Grant's crucial landing.

The big feint however, the one that most threw the Confederates off balance, was Grierson's Raid[?]. In this discussion it will be very summarized. It ran from April 17, to May 2, 1863. Confederate cavalry commanders such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, John Hunt Morgan and J.E.B. Stuart[?] had so far rode circles around the Union (literally, in Stuart's case; see the Seven Days Campaign), and it was time to out-do the Confederates in cavalry expeditions, and the task fell to Colonel Benjamin Grierson[?], who, oddly, hated horses.

Grierson's raid from southern Tennessee, through the state of Mississippi and to Union-held Baton Rouge, Louisiana, entered the realm of legend, later inspiring an historically inaccurate John Wayne movie titled The Horse Soldiers.

Grierson and his 1,700 horse troopers rode through over six hundred miles of hostile territory, over routes no Union soldier had traveled before. He tore up railroads and burned crossties, freed slaves, burned Confederate storehouses, inflicted ten times the casualties he received, destroyed locomotives and commissary stores, ripped up bridges and trestles, burned buildings, all while detachments of his troops made feints confusing the Confederates as to his actual whereabouts and direction.

Pemberton was short on cavalry and could do nothing to Grierson, and entire division of Pemberton's graybacks were tied up defending the Vicksburg -- Jackson railroad from the slippery Grierson, and consequently did nothing to stop Grant's landing. The premier Confederate cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was off chasing another Union raider named Abel Streight[?] in Alabama, and did nothing to stop Grierson.

While Streight's raid[?] failed, occupying the deadly Forrest perhaps sealed the success of Grierson's Raid. Of course every Confederate in the state -- save perhaps Forrest -- was hot in Grierson's trail. All they gained was mass confusion. Grierson and his troopers ultimately pulled in to Baton Rouge; combined with Sherman's feint, the befuddled Confederates did not oppose Grant's landing on the east side of the Mississippi.

General Grant did not even know what Grierson was doing. Porter had grown increasingly doubtfull of this dangerous plan of Grant's, firing notes to his Washington superiors to absolve himself in the expected debacle; an April 29 attempt to land at the 75-foot Confederate-held bluff of Grand Gulf[?] was a dismal failure, leading to 18 (or 19 -- U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs) Union dead of seventy-five casualties.

Grant needed information -- where to land? Slaves seldom felt sympathy for the Confederacy, and in the evening of April 29, a slave gave Grant what he needed. An east-bank slave was brought -- at gunpoint -- to Grant's headquarters tent, where as Shelby Foote described it, he "turned co-operative." Foote partially described it thus (Fredericksburg to Meridian, pg. 343):

"Look here," Grant said. "Tell me where this road leads to -- starting where you see my finger here on the map and running down that way," The Negro studied the problem, then shook his head. "That road fetches up at Bayou Pierre," he said. "But you can't go that way, 'cause it's plum full of backwater."

More questions ensued, the slave pointed to Bruinsburg, Mississippi[?] on the map, where there was a good road, well away from trackless swamps. This was one of many important services a slave or "contraband" (Civil War terminology) did the Union army; this subject is large and subject to much scholarship. Grant may have been lukewarm on the issue of slavery, but he knew a freed slave was one less soldier in the rebel army. This one gave him his landing point.

Grant does not tell the whole story as Foote does, only saying in his work Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, ch. 33,

... that night a colored man came in who informed me that a good landing would be found at Bruinsburg, ... The information was found to be correct, and our landing was affected without opposition, ...

On April 31[?], 1863, as Sherman attacked Haines Bluff, as Grierson was confusing the Confederates throughout the region, Grant completed his landed of about 23,000 troops at Bruinsburg. The great gamble was soon to begin, but Grant felt himself past the worst. He was on the east side of the river facing the enemy. In his Personal Memoirs, ch. 33, Grant observes,

When this was effected I felt a degree of relief scarcely ever equalled since.

So far, Pemberton had done an effective job, and was highly regarded in the Confederacy, despite his northern birth. Grant's seven earlier flops[?] had left Vicksburg untouched. Now the past 24 hours saw blue troops under Grierson to the east, under Grant to the south, and under Sherman to the north, all up to no good. He was absolutely befuddled, and by the time he realized that the real poison flowed from Bruinsburg, it was too late. Grant had his whole army ashore.

Pemberton's high regard in the Confederacy was soon to change. The gambler who in Spring 1864 became the highest officer in the entire Union army was opposing him with an army of twenty-three thousand. In the vicinity of Jackson, Mississippi was Confederate general Joe Johnston with an army of about 30,000, some untrained.

For a time, Pemberton thought Grant was abandoning the whole operation and withdrawing to Mephis, but he soon realized he was wrong (see Foote, Frdericksburg to Meridian, pg. 345). Grant soon met opposition from Brigadier General John S. Bowen[?]. On April 30 -- May 1, 5,500 rebel troops (Bruce Catton says 8,000) met Grant's forces under the over-ambitious General McClernand, east of Bruinsburg at Port Gibson[?], on ground Grant in his Personal Memoirs (ch. 33 ) described as qz

... makes it easy for an inferior force to delay, if not defeat, a far superior one.

Bowen hoped to bog Grant down until reinforced, which he was, to about 9,000 -- not enough.

Considering the disparity in numbers, the rebels put up an amazing defense, which Grant described somewhere (didn't find it in his Personal Memoirs, but Foote mentions it) as "... very bold ... and well carried out," but the rebel position was hopeless. Shortly the Union held the field; they were later reinforced by Sherman to a total of 40,000. The rebels fell north behind the Big Black River[?], abandoning their fortifications at Grand Gulf[?] exactly as Grant expected.

Pemberton now knew that Grant's entire army was across the river, and thought it would make sense to drive straight at Vicksburg, but Grant was too foxy. Joe Johnston's army at Jackson and could attack on the Union rear. Grant moved quickly. "Every day's delay is worth 2,000 men to the enemy," he had said. In early May, a load of Union stores had just been lost to Vicksburg's now-more-accurate batteries on a moonlit night.

The Confederates had to move quickly too. Orders went out for the state archives to be moved from Jackson; all guns and munitions possible were sent to Vicksburg for a last-ditch defense. The Confederates expected that Grant, soon to be cut off from a tenuous supply line, would be defeated by a combined attack of rebel troops from throughout the Confederacy. "I am a Northern man; I know my people," Pemberton observed. He seemed to not know Grant and Sherman.

Sherman protested Grant's order for his troops to come downriver. The road from Milliken's Bend to Hard Times was so poor that they couldn't hope to supply their huge army over it. Grant had other ideas about supply than the bad road -- very different ideas indeed. Sherman's forces duly arrived on May 7.

In a move that presaged Sherman's controversial post- Atlanta campaign of "scorched earth" (see also Total war), Grant cut loose from his supplies to live off the land. As Yankee soldiers lived high, little in his path survived as he drove for not Vicksburg, but Jackson, connected by rail to Vicksburg and the rest of the Confederacy. All plantations were stripped bare, a Draconian policy that later led to many questions about Union conduct -- civilians lacked food, but Grant's approximately 45,000 troops didn't; many Southern farmers were left with nothing.

Grant's rapid movements caught the Confederates off guard. Johnston wanted Pemberton's troops, but Pemberton, unwilling to leave Vicksburg undefended, demurred. The rest of the Confederacy was in a state of alarm by now, building a force to help Johnston defend Pemberton.

Re-inforced by Sherman, Grant had 40,000 troops, but his heavyweight force jabbed and ducked like a lightweight fighter. Pemberton only knew he was being hit from many directions at once. Low on cavalry, he had no idea of Grant's plans. He had to defend the Big Black lest Grant attack Vicksburg from there; he had to defend the railroad; he had to defend his north, as he expected Union troops to come down from Tennessee. Johnston wanted him to strike Grant, even if he abandoned Vicksburg, but Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered the holding of Vicksburg at all costs.

McClernand had driven for the city of Bolton, close by a 70-foot prominence called Champion Hill, on the railway midway between Vicksburg and Jackson, McClernand now in the army's rear, to be it's front after the reduction of Jackson. McClernand was to hold Pemberton back while Grant and Sherman reduced Jackson to ashes.

On May 14, Sherman and General McPherson had already attacked Jackson and were burning the city -- the first of three times the city burned during the war. It tellingly gained the nickname Chimneyville. The home-state capital of Confederate President Davis was in Union hands. All Johnston managed was a delaying action, retreating north.

Not six months before, Davis had predicted they would "meet and hurl back these worse than vandal hordes." The "vandal hordes" were at Davis's old doorstep, and were behaving like Vandals. The Stars and Stripes flew over the statehouse.

Some of the destruction was enacted by poorer residents of the city (many rich had gotten out), white and black, eager to make off with anything they could steal. The prison had been emptied, and was promptly on fire with much of the rest of the town; despite many pleas from townspeople, Grant did not consider it his job to protect the property of those who had rebelled against the Union, before or after the war. In his Personal Memoirs, Grant tells a revealing story (ch. 35):

Sherman and I went together into a manufactory which had not ceased work on account of the battle nor for the entrance of Yankee troops. Our presence did not seem to attract the attention of either the manager or the operatives, most of whom were girls. We looked on for awhile to see the tent cloth which they were making roll out of the looms, with "C.S.A" woven into each bolt. There was an immense amount of cotton in bales, stacked outside. Finally I told Sherman I thought they had done work enough. The operatives were told they could leave and take with them what cloth they could carry. In a few minutes the cotton and the factory were a blaze. The proprieter visited Washington while I was President to get his pay for this property, claiming that it was private. He asked me to give him a statement of the fact that his property had been destroyed by the National troops, so he might use it with Congress where he was pressing, or proposed to press, his claim. I declined.

"C.S.A" means Confederate States of America.

All railroads and all that aided the military of the Confederacy was destroyed. Grant slept in a bed on which presumably Joe Johnston had slept the night before, though shortly prior to Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Grant slept in a bed in which the manager lied to him of Lee's having slept in the night before.

Pemberton's had to move fast and attack, ultimately leaving a force of about 9,000 to protect the front of Vicksburg, a force so small that if any large group of Union troops bumbled in that direction, Vicksburg might be doomed. West of Grant was McClernand's force at Raymond, advancing north on Bolton, a few miles from Champion Hill; McPherson's troops defeated a rebel force two miles from Raymond.

Pemberton was befuddled. He couldn't lose Vicksburg by marching away from it, but Johnston wanted to meet him at Clinton and his army for a decisive blow on the Union close by Jackson. Pemberton preferred to wait in a fortified position behind the Big Black River, drive back the Yankees from their expected attack against Vicksburg, then annihilate them. Three conflicting plans swam in his head; trying to reconcile them led to disaster.

Pemberton marched southeast to Dillon to cut Grant's now-nonexistent supply line, after which he would be forced to either fight on a field of Pemberton's choice, or withdraw. Johnston expected Grant to remain in Jackson, giving him time to unite with Pemberton. Pemberton abandoned his Dillon expedition to march on Clinton, Johnston's original plan.

A Confederate turncoat had kept Grant supplied with the notes running between Pemberton and Johnston. Shortly McPherson was marching from Jackson to Bolton to meet the unlucky Pemberton. Other Confederate turncoats informed Grant of Pemberton's movements, overestimating Pemberton's army's size. Even though Grant had 10,000 more on hand than this overestimate, Grant still strengened his army at Bolton by more of Sherman's men, knowing full well that "God is on the side of the biggest battalions."

Champion Hill, May 16. Champion Hill was a big, decisive battle, and will only be here summarized. Shelby Foote points out that least one western-thinking historian has called it "the most decisive battle of the Civil War." The hill runs roughly from north-northeast to south-southwest and is more of a long thin plateau.

Grant observed in his Personal Memoirs (ch. 35),

... where Pemberton had chosen his position to receive us, whether taken by accident or design, was well selected. It is one of the highest points in that section, and commanded all the ground in the range.

McClernand found itself facing a solidly-held Champion Hill, a ridge teaming with graybacks. This 70-foot prominence had great defensive strength. Other times in the Civil War -- Malvern Hill during the Seven Days Campaign , the soon-to-happen Battle of Gettysburg, Marye's Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain[?], attempts to take well-entrenched hills had led to disaster for the attacking army, even when the defenders were outnumbered.

So in reverse of Gettysburg, the Confederates had taken the high ground first, but the results were different. There were roughly 20,000 rebels under generals (north to south on the hill) Stevenson, Bowen, and Loring facing 29,000 Federals under (north to south, east of the hill) McPherson and McClernand. Grant shortly reached the front, and as at the Battle of Belmont[?], Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, he kept his cool.

McClernand, true to his nature that Grant so hated, had been less than aggressive in the south, and Pemberton had correspondingly shifted his weight to the north. The "scared turkey" Loring was cut off in the south, protesting that he couldn't move north and abandon his position. McPherson was pressing harder and harder in the north against Stevenson, and at about 4:00, the entire north end of the Confederate line collapsed. The Confederates managed to escape with most of their now-disorganized army, but the damage was done. Loring's whole division lost contact with what remained of their army, circling Grant and bumbling into Johnston.

Rebel fighting spirit had been pulverized at a loss of 3,624 (Catton says 3,800) troops, and Loring's entire division. Grant lost 2,441 troops and gained the initiative.

Grant of course sniped at the lack of fighting spirit of his enemy McClernand, peeved that he hadn't killed or captured Pemberton's entire force so as to unstoppably march into Vickburg; McClernand's casualties were low to nonexistent in the far south, but McPherson's troops paid dearly in blood. The ambitious McClernand, who knew the path to the White House passed through Vickburg, -- it did, but for Grant, not McClernand -- managed to take main credit for the victory. Pemberton's army fell back to a defensive position at the Big Black River in front of Vicksburg.

It was a bloody, if decisive, Union victory. In his Personal Memoirs," (ch. 35) Grant observed,

While a battle if raging, one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure; but after the battle these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to alleviate the sufferings of an enemy as a friend.

After the battle, Union soldier Wilbur Crummer of the 45th Illinois Infantry walked the field, noting,

There they lay, the blue and the gray intermingled; the same rich, young American blood flowing out in little rivulets of crimson; each thinking he was in the right.

Several months later, Union troops passing by part of the battlefield noted four-foot high corn in rank rows, as if nothing had happened there.

The path to Vicksburg was open, and more blood would flow.

The siege of Vicksburg

Pemberton had withdrawn to a position of great strength behind the Big Black River. Grant, despite over-aggressiveness in future catastrophes like Cold Harbor[?], knew that a frontal assault would be disasterous.

Grant knew it was a matter of time, as did the Confederates, unless they were reinforced. Vicksburg was the keystone of the Confederacy. Things looked grim for the rebels. A nearly impenetrable line of blue troops constricted Vicksburg. For insurance notes were smuggled in and out by three rebel soldiers, all of which Grant read due one courier who was a Confederate turncoat, but no food got in.

Pemberton got a message through the blue cordon to Johnston that he could not hold out unless Johnston attacked the Union from the rear.

Confederate command in Richmond promised Johnston troops that never arrived. Confederate General Braxton Bragg[?] could spare no more troops. Robert E. Lee needed all his troops for his impending invasion of Pennsylvania (see Battle of Gettysburg). Down in Lousiansa, Confederate general Richard Taylor[?] (son of president Zachary Taylor) could spare no troops. The Confederates in Vicksburg were trapped by a blockade of blue troops and their own perennial lack of resources.

An assault would be dangerous against the dug-in Confederates, but Grant had to "do something." Sherman was heading north for a flank attack, so all Grant had to do was put up a show of force to keep the rebels in front of him occupied while Sherman did the rest. The ever-aggressive Grant had his troops rush the rebels in the Battle of Big Black River[?], driving them back towards Vicksburg with suprisingly few losses, burning a bridge behind them, stopping the Yankees. Pemberton knew that Sherman was coming from the north; he had no choice but to withdraw or be outflanked. Pemberton took everything edible in his path, animal and plant, as he retreated to the well-fortified city of Vicksburg.

The Confederates evacuated Haine's Bluff, attacked by Sherman, and Union steamboats no longer had to run Vicksburg's bluff, now able to dock by the dozens up the Yazoo River. Grant of course couldn't live off the land in front of Vicksburg, but supplies were no longer shot at.

Over half of Pemberton's army of 17,500 as of just 30 hours ago was gone, and every rebel expected Joe Johnston to ride in and save the day -- which he never did. Large masses of Union troops were on the march to invest the city, repairing the burnt bridge; Grant's forces were across on May 18. Joe Johnston sent a note to Pemberton, asking him to sacrifice the city and save his troops, something Pemberton would not do. Vicksburg was under siege.

In the twenty days since the Bruinsburg crossing, Grant had marched his troops 180 miles, inflicting 7,200 casualties at a cost of 4,300 of his own, winning five of five battles: Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and Big Black River, and not losing a single big gun or stand of colors.

Now it was time for the Union to take Vicksburg itself, and for the Confederacy's last-ditch defense. According to Bruce Catton, Pemberton could put only 18,500 troops in his lines. Grant had over twice that, with more coming.

Grant wanted a quick end and was preparing for an assault. His troops prepared a position in front of the town. On May 19, the order went out to attack, expecting success; according to Foote, it included the words, "When the works are carried, ..." Foote and Catton seem to disagree on the plan of attack -- Catton saying it was on the left of Sherman's troops on the north, Foote saying it was along the whole line. What happened isn't subject to argument.

The Union marched into an absolute hell of Confederate fire. Many blue troops found something under which to hide, not sneaking back to Union lines until darkness. Grant inflicted under 200 casualties at a cost of 942. The "demoralized" Confederates had re-gained their fighting edge.

True to his aggressive nature, Grant planned his next assault. They had attacked head-on, along the three main roads into the city (at least according to Foote). This time they would first soften up the rebels with artillery fire and scout out better positions. The attack was set for May 22. Grant did not want a long siege, and this attack was to be by the entire army.

Despite their bloody repulse, Union troops were in high spirits, and full of meat and vegetables they had foraged. On seeing Grant pass by, a soldier commented, "Hardtack."[?] Soon all Union troops in the vicinity were yelling, "Hardtack! Hardtack!" The Union served hardtack that night, beans, and coffee. Everyone expected that tomorrow Vicksburg would fall.

Shells rained on the city all night, and while causing little damage, they demoralized the rebels. In the morning, they poured on the rebel soldiers stationed around the city.

This time with the navy raining shells on the rebels, the Union was again bloodily repulsed. They pierced the rebel lines a few times, but were beat back by the mobile Confederates. McClernand attained a breakthrough, but Grant could not believe it. Still, he ordered an attack, first by Sherman's troops, then McPherson's, both bloodily repulsed. McLernand borrowed a division; many Union lives were wasted for his ambition. The day saw 3,199 Union casualties; 649 were killed or missing.

Enraged, Grant blamed McClernand for misleading dispatches. But his optimism grew -- he had the city invested. His troops picked up a new weapon -- the shovel. It was a siege.

Pemberton was determined to hold his few miles of the Mississippi as long as possible, hoping for help from elsewhere in the Confederacy -- help that never came.

A new problem confronted the Confederates. The dead and wounded of Grant's army lay in the heat of Mississippi summer, the odor of the dead assaulting the rebel noses, the wounded crying for medical help and water. Grant first refused a request of truce, thinking it a show of weakness. Finally he relented, and the Confederates held their fire while the Union cleaned up the horrific mess, blue and gray mingling and trading as if old friends.

This evidenced an odd trait in Grant's character -- he was a staunch advocate of animal rights, sometimes assaulting anyone he saw hurting an animal, and he could only eat meat when cooked clear through with no blood. But he accepted the violence of war for what it was, with relative aplomb.

In effort to cut Grant's supply line, the Confederates attacked Milliken's Bend up the Mississippi. This was mainly defended by untrained black troops, who fought bravely with inferior weaponry and finally fought off the rebels with help from gunboats, though at horrible cost; the defenders lost 652 to the Confederate 185.

Grant observed that despite their being green troops, they had "behaved well." Assistant Secretary of War Richard Henry Dana, Jr.[?] (the author of Two Years Before the Mast[?] and a determined abolitionist) wrote, in part, "The bravery of the blacks completely revolutionized the sentiment of the army with regard to the employment of negro troops." Having seen how they could fight, many were won over to arming them for the Union. By the time the Confederate high command realized they had no choice but to do the same thing, it was March 1865, and too late.

Confederates were reported as having simply murdered surrendering black troops at Milliken's Bend, angry at the arming of former slaves; this disgrace also happened at Fort Pillow[?], Poison Spring[?], and The Battle of the Crater[?] during the Siege of Petersburg.

The loss at Milliken's Bend left the rebels with no hope but relief from the cautious Johnston. Opinion within Vicksburg passed from "Johnston is coming!" to "where is Johnston?" The Confederates had a position of fantastic natural strength and interior lines, but Grant's three-to-one plurality in numbers had them in a chokehold.

Robert E. Lee had observed that the climate in June would defeat the Union attack. All through June, the Union dug lines parallel to and approaching the rebel lines. Soldiers could not poke their heads up above their works for fear of snipers. It was a sport for Union troops to poke a hat above the works on a rod, betting on how many rebel bullets would pierce it in a given time.

Union troops set off explosions below Confederate lines. The Confederates always healed the breaches, but were pulling tighter.

Weeks passed and Confederate food grew short. The soldiers were on quarter rations. Rats were openly sold in town. Pets disappeared. Mule meat seemed nutritious. More urgent notes were snuck through lines -- where was their deliverer? Johnston told them to cross the river -- and give target practice to the Union navy?

Johnston felt his force too small to attack Grant's huge army. While Johnston's force was growing, (at cost of the rest of the hard-pressed Confederacy) Grant's was growing faster, supplied by the now-open Yazoo.

Pemberton was boxed in with lots of munitions and little food. After Pemberton later surrendered his starving force, many Confederates clucked that the Yankee convert Pemberton was a coward. The poor diet was showing on the rebels. By the end of June, half were out sick or hospitalized. Scurvy, malaria, dysentery, diarrhea and other disease were cutting their ranks. At least on city resident had to stay up at night to keep starving soldiers out of his vegetable garden. The constant shelling didn't bother him as much as the loss of his food.

It wasn't only the Confederates under strain. In early June, for perhaps the only time in the war, Grant (reputably) went on a bender up the Yazoo River. The subject of Grant's drinking[?] is controversial and complex, and most of the stories are false or questionable, concocted by political enemies; any reverse he had on the battlefield led to accusations of drunkeness. Of this "Yazoo-Vicksburg adventure," on pg 589 historian James M. McPherson in his book Battle Cry of Freedom writes in a footnote,

The only detailed eye-witness account of Grant binge drinking during the war was written thirty years later ...

Grant undeniably was a problem drinker and likely fit the medical definition of an alcoholic (his pre-war drinking is briefly touched upon under Fort Donelson), yet Richard Henry Dana, sent by Washington to watch over him, had nothing but high marks for Grant. In his nearly-3,000 page Civil war trilogy, this is the only time that Shelby Foote speaks of Grant going on a bender -- and he is sometimes accused of Confederate bias. He certainly never drank during critical military operations. His drinking problem oddly may have made him a better general -- battling it made him understand discipline, and his reputation as the pre-war failure "Useless" Grant may have made him less risk-averse, a problem in cautious Union generals like George McClellan and Joseph Hooker that Confederates like Lee and Thomas Stonewall Jackson did not have, to the sorry detriment of the Union. Read Shelby Foote's Fredricksburg to Meridian, pp. 416-21 for an account of the presumed "Yazoo-Vicksburg adventure."

Whether he was intoxicated up the Yazoo or not, Grant's next move was calculated with the precision of a wildcat pouncing on unsuspecting prey -- and it wasn't Confederate prey. General McClernand wrote a self-adulatory note to his troops, claiming much of the credit for the soon-to-be victory, and after waiting six months for him to slip, Grant finally, carefully and with forethought, pounced. He sacked McClernand. Grant so diligently prepared his trap that McClernand was left without recourse. McClernand's troops were inherited by General Edward O.C. Ord[?]. In May 1864 McClernand was again restored to command in far-away Texas.

The Union continued to strangle the Confederates, digging under Confederate positions and setting off explosives, on June 25 adding to the siege's celebrity by lofting a black cook clear from rebel lines to land safe and intact behind Union lines, but horribly frightened. Grant describes the incident in his Personal Memoirs as such (ch. 38):

Some one asked him how high he had gone up. "Dun no, massa, but t'ink 'bout t'ree mile," was his reply.

Some enterprising Yankees put him in a tent, charging five cents to see him. He remained General McPherson's cook until McPherson's death at the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.

The Confederates wilted in the late June heat, losing all will to fight. They knew they were going to lose; why take risks? Blue and gray soldiers traded with each other in offhand truces.

Joe Johnston in Grant's rear had been reinforced, but was lacking in supplies, stating, "I consider saving Vicksburg hopeless." Confederate command in Richmond felt otherwise, asking the quiescent Johnston to attack, requests he resisted. Finally on July 1, Johnston began cautiously advancing toward Union lines. On July 3 he was ready for his attack. The next day was July 4, the defining Yankee holiday, Independence Day, but Yankee guns were oddly quiet. All was silent.

In the city, on July 3, Pemberton sent a note to Grant, who, as at Fort Donelson, first requested unconditional surrender. But Grant reconsidered, not wanting to feed 30,000 hungry Confederate mouths in Union prison camps, and offered to parole all prisoners. Clothed in their butternut[?] rags, dejected and starving, he never expected them to fight again, and carry home their defeat to other Confederates. It would have taken months to ship that many troops north. Considering how liberal Grant was to Pemberton, paroling his whole force, Pemberton was rude to Grant in return.

Surrender was formalized by an old oak tree, "made historical by the event." In his Personal Memoirs, Grant described the fate of this luckless tree:

It was but a short time before the last vestige of its body, root and limb had disappeared, the fragments taken as trophies. Since then the same tree has furnished as many cords of wood, in the shape of trophies, as the "True Cross."

All slaves were of course freed (see Emancipation Proclamation; this was enacted about six months previous).


This was the second of a one-two punch to the Confederacy. July 3 saw the final collapse of the Confederate attempt to invade Pennsylvania at Battle of Gettysburg. July 4 saw the fall of Vickburg, the Stars and Stripes rising over Vicksburg on Independence Day.

To the Confederates, surrendering on Independence Day was a bitter defeat. Union troops behaved well, mixing with Confederates and giving rations to starving soldiers who days before would have been glad to kill them. Speculators who had been hording food for higher prices saw their stores broke open and the contents thrown on the streets for the starving rebels. Several brothers and any number of cousins on opposite sides met.

In his Personal Memoirs, ch. 38, Grant observed,

The men of the two armies fraternized as if they had been fighting for the same cause.

On a less positive note, Confederate casualties were 2,872; Union were 4,910. Grant had captured his second Confederate army in its entirety (see Fort Donelson). One rebel officer and 708 men of a total of 2,166 officers, 27,230 men, and 115 civilian workers choose to go to Union prison camps to fight no more. The Union also bagged 172 cannon, much ammunition, and close to 60,000 rifles and muskets, many of the small arms superior to the Union's.

But the big prize was the soon-to-be entire Mississippi Valley (see Port Hudson[?], which fell a July 8, likewise starved out).

Someone had to get the blame for losing Vicksburg, and it fell square on the cautious Joe Johnston, Jefferson Davis saying of the defeat, "Yes, from a want of provisions inside and a General outside who wouldn't fight" (quoted in James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, pg. 637.) Accusations of cowardice which had dogged him since the Seven Days Campaign continued to follow him as he later defended Georgia from the invasion of Sherman, and after he was sacked in front of Atlanta and later restored to command to oppose Sherman in the Carolinas. Having fled to North Carolina in 1865, Confederate diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut[?] observed, "I am in the regular line of strategic retreat." She also told the story of when Johnston, a crack shot with a rifle, went bird hunting and never fired a shot, as he never had "the perfect shot." Shelby Foote said of Johnston,

Old Joe's talent seemed primarily for retreat; so much so, indeed, that is left to his own devices he might be expected to wind up gingerly defending Key West and complaining that he lacked transportation for a withdrawal to Cuba ...

But Johnston was far outnumbered, and while Johnston was one of few Confederate generals whom Grant respected (he only feared Nathan Bedford Forrest), he was out-generaled.

President Abraham Lincoln announced, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea." The Confederacy now cut in two; one week after, an unarmed ship arrived in Union-held New Orleans from St. Louis after an uneventful trip down the river.

Grant ordered Sherman and 50,000 troops after Johnston's 31,000, and Johnston tried to lure Sherman into a frontal assault, but Sherman had seen the results of such at Vicksburg. He demurred, and began surrounding the city. Johnston escaped with his army, which was more than Pemberton had done, but all of central Mississippi was now given to the controversial commander Sherman, who would wreak much havoc indeed upon the south, at Meridian, Mississippi, later in Georgia, where his troops burned one-third of Atlanta, and in South Carolina, where they would destroy everything in their path in the waning days of the war, burning two-thirds of Columbia, South Carolina. And the Confederacy was now a divided nation -- picture the United States with Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico in enemy hands.

As usual, the Western theater received less attention than the east. Robert E. Lee had just won his most magnificent victory at the expensive Battle of Chancellorsville against Joe Hooker, followed by his worst defeat against George Meade at Gettysburg, one day before Vicksburg fell.

External links and references

Major (alphabetical):

  • Grant, U.S., (1958), Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant
    • (ISBN 0306801728) The copyright has expired on this work and it is available on the Internet.




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