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The Battle Of Vicksburg History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The Battle of Vicksburg, or Siege of Vicksburg, was the final significant battle in the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War. In a series of skilled maneuvers, Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee crossed the Mississippi River and drove the Confederate army of Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton into defensive lines surrounding the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grant besieged the city from May 18 to July 4, 1863, until it surrendered, yielding command of the Mississippi River to the Union and thus securing one of its major objectives for achieving victory in the war; splitting the southern states at the Mississippi River. The simultaneous victory the day before, at Gettysburg, gave cause for great excitement in the Northern states. However, almost two more years of bloodshed stood between this victory and the end of the war on April 9, 1865.

Background

Grant had captured Jackson, the Mississippi state capital, in mid-May 1863, forcing Pemberton to retreat westward. Attempts to stop the Union advance at Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge were unsuccessful. Pemberton knew that the corps under William T. Sherman was preparing to flank him from the north; he had no choice but to withdraw or be outflanked. Pemberton burned the bridges over the Big Black River and 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 the guns of Vicksburg, now able to dock by the dozens up the Yazoo River. Grant could now receive supplies more directly than the previous route around Vicksburg, over the crossing at Grand Gulf, and back up north.

Over half of Pemberton’s army of 17,500 had been lost in the two preceding battles, and everyone in Vicksburg expected General Joseph E. Johnston, in overall command of Confederate forces in Mississippi, to relieve the city—which he never did. Large masses of Union troops were on the march to invest the city, repairing the burnt bridges over the Big Black River; Grant’s forces were across on May 18. Johnston sent a note to Pemberton, asking him to sacrifice the city and save his troops, something Pemberton would not do (Pemberton, a northerner by birth, was probably influenced by his fear of public condemnation as a traitor if he abandoned Vicksburg). Pemberton assured him that Vicksburg was vital to the Confederacy, though it was really more of a symbol at this point, which would bolster moral if it could be held.[3] Vicksburg was under siege.

In the twenty days since the river crossing at Bruinsburg, Mississippi, 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 Bridge—and not losing a single gun or stand of colors.

As the Union forces approached Vicksburg, Pemberton could put only 18,500 troops in his lines. Grant had over twice that, with more coming.

Assaults

Grant wanted a quick end and prepared for an immediate assault, performing only a cursory reconnaissance. His troops prepared a position in front of the town, and on May 19, Sherman’s corps conducted a frontal assault against the Confederate works, marching from the north along Graveyard Road into murderous fire from Stockade Redan. Many of the Federals found something under which to hide, sneaking back to Union lines after dark. Grant inflicted fewer than 200 casualties at a cost of 942. The Confederates, assumed to be demoralized, had regained their fighting edge.

True to his aggressive nature, Grant planned his next assault, but this time with greater care; they would first reconnoiter thoroughly and soften up the rebels with artillery fire. 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, now well-fed with provisions 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, beans, and coffee that night. Everyone expected that Vicksburg would fall the next day.

Union forces bombarded the city all night, including naval gunfire from the river, and while causing little property damage, they damaged Confederate morale. On the morning of May 22, the defenders were bombarded again for four hours before the Union attacked once more along a three-mile front. Sherman attacked once again down the Graveyard Road, James B. McPherson in the center along the Jackson Road, and John A. McClernand on the south along the Baldwin Ferry Road and astride the Southern Railroad of Mississippi. They broke through a few times, but were beaten back by the Confederates, who could move reinforcements easily on their shorter interior lines. McClernand’s corps achieved a small breakthrough at the Railroad Redoubt and requested reinforcements. Encouraged by McClernand’s messages that exaggerated his success and suggested he could break through if properly supported, Grant ordered a diversionary attack, first by Sherman’s corps, then McPherson’s, both bloodily repulsed. McClernand attacked again, reinforced by one of McPherson’s divisions, but with no success. The day saw over 4,000 Union casualties. Enraged, Grant blamed McClernand for the misleading dispatches.

Siege

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Grant’s optimism grew as he realized he had the city invested. With their backs against the Mississippi and Union gunboats firing from the river, Confederate soldiers and citizens alike were trapped. Grant’s troops dug in and started a siege. Pemberton was determined to hold his few miles of the Mississippi as long as possible, hoping for relief from Johnston, or elsewhere.

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 deceased men and horses fouling the air, 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 recovered the wounded and dead, soldiers from both sides mingling and trading as if no hostilities existed for the moment. Meanwhile, recent copies of the St. Louis Democrat coming into the trenches would laud McClerland for his supposed feats and articulate an order from him to his soldiers commending their actions. Grant and his officers were infuriated at McClerland’s false statements and his attempts to bolster his political fortunes. (He would be replaced with Maj. Gen. Edward O. C. Ord, who would run the XIII Corps with far greater efficiency than his predecessor after assuming command June 20).

In an effort to cut Grant’s supply line, the Confederates attacked Milliken’s Bend up the Mississippi on June 7. This was mainly defended by untrained colored troops participating in the first major battle of the war in which African American soldiers were extensively involved. These troops fought bravely with inferior weaponry and finally fought off the rebels with help from gunboats, although at horrible cost; the defenders lost 652 to the Confederate 185. The loss at Milliken’s Bend left the rebels with no hope for relief but from the cautious Johnston.

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.

Pemberton was boxed in with lots of inedible munitions and little food. The poor diet was showing on the Confederate soldiers. By the end of June, half were out sick or hospitalized. Scurvy, malaria, dysentery, diarrhea, and other diseases cut their ranks. At least one city resident had to stay up at night to keep starving soldiers out of his vegetable garden. The constant shelling did not bother him as much as the loss of his food. As the siege wore on, fewer and fewer horses, mules, and dogs were seen wandering about Vicksburg. Shoe leather became a last resort of sustenance for many adults.

As the bombing continued, suitable housing in Vicksburg was reduced to a minimum. A ridge, located between the main town and the rebel defense line, provided a diverse citizenry with lodging for the duration. Whether houses were structurally sound or not, it was deemed safer to occupy these dugouts. People did their best to make them comfortable, with rugs, furniture, and pictures. They tried to time their movements and foraging with the rhythm of the cannonade, sometimes unsuccessfully. Because of these dugouts or caves, the Union soldiers gave the town the nickname of “Prairie Dog Village.” Since the fighting line was fairly close, soldiers made their way rearward to visit family and friends, a boost to morale.

Mine explosions

One of the major roads into Vicksburg was the Jackson Road. To guard this entrance the 3rd Louisiana Infantry built a large earthen redan, which became known as the 3rd Louisiana Redan. Union troops tunneled under the redan and packed the mine with 2,200 pounds of black powder. The explosion blew apart the Confederate lines on June 25, while an infantry attack made by troops from Maj. Gen. John A. Logan’s XVII Corps division followed the blast. Logan’s troops, led by Col. Jaspar Maltby’s 45th Illinois Regiment, charged into the crater with ease. They were, however, stopped by rearward Confederate infantry and became pinned down in the crater. Short fuse shells were simply rolled into the crater with deadly results. Union engineers worked to set up casement in the crater in order to extricate the infantry and soon the soldiers fell back to a new defensive line. From the crater left by the explosion on June 25, Union miners worked to dig a new mine to the south. On July 1, this mine was detonated but no infantry attack followed. Pioneers worked throughout July 2 and July 3, to widen the initial crater large enough for an infantry column of four to pass through for future anticipated assaults. However, events the following day negated any further assaults.

Surrender and aftermath

Joseph E. Johnston, the only possibility for a Confederate rescue, felt his force at Jackson was too small to attack Grant’s huge army. While Johnston’s force was growing (at cost to the rest of the hard-pressed Confederacy), Grant’s was growing faster, supplied via the now-open Yazoo River. Johnston, lacking in supplies, stated, “I consider saving Vicksburg hopeless.” The Confederate government felt otherwise, asking the cautious Johnston to attack; requests he resisted. Robert E. Lee had remarked that the Mississippi climate in June would be sufficient to defeat the Union attack and he resisted calls to ride to the city’s rescue from the Eastern Theater; his Army of Northern Virginia instead invaded the North in the Gettysburg Campaign with the partial objective of relieving pressure on Vicksburg. Finally on July 1, Johnston’s relief column began cautiously advancing due west toward Union lines. On July 3, he was ready for his attack, but on July 4, Independence Day, the Union guns were oddly quiet.

On July 3, Pemberton had sent a note to Grant, who, as at Fort Donelson, first demanded unconditional surrender. But Grant reconsidered, not wanting to feed 30,000 hungry Confederates in Union prison camps, and offered to parole all prisoners. Considering their destitute state, dejected and starving, he never expected them to fight again; he hoped they would carry home the stigma of defeat to the rest of the Confederacy. In any event, it would have occupied his army and taken months to ship that many troops north. Pemberton would turn over to Grant an army of nearly 30,000 men, 172 cannons, and 60,000 arms, including many Enfield rifles that Grant used to outfit his volunteers, who had been carrying outdated smoothbore muskets.

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.'”

Union Soldiers rejoiced as they celebrated the Fourth of July with great pomp following their major victory at Vicksburg. Some even went so far as to share their rations with local citizens who had been lingering on the brink of starvation for some time by this point.

Although there was more action to come in the Vicksburg Campaign, the fortress city had fallen and, with the capture of Port Hudson on July 8, the Mississippi River was firmly in Union hands and the Confederacy split in two.

The battle would prove decisive in the career of Grant, as well. He would be glorified for his aptitude in battle and unhesitant approach towards the Confederate Army. This would pave the way for him to achieve the status of Lieut. Gen. and later become the commander of the entire Federal Army.

The Fourth of July holiday was not celebrated by most of the citizens of Vicksburg until World War II, because of the surrender of the city on July 4.

The works around Vicksburg are now maintained by the National Park Service as Vicksburg National Military Park.


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