Battle of Vicksburg
Siege of Vicksburg / Vicksburg Battle
The Battle of Vicksburg virtually “broke the back” of Confederate resistance in the western theater during the American Civil War. It is also known as the Siege of Vicksburg as it was a drawn out battle of attrition in which the besieged city of Vicksburg of the Confederate army withing held out against the attacking Union Army of the Tennessee.
It all started when Union major General Ulysses S. Grant crossed the Mississippi River north of Vicksburg with 77,000 troops and engaged the Confederate force of 33,000 led Lt. General John C. Pemberton. They were pushed back to the defensive positions in and around the city and the siege at the Battle of Vicksburg had begun.
Greatly outnumbered, the Confederate force chose to dig in and wait for Grant’s next move. They wouldn’t have to wait long as Grant launched an attack the next day on May 19, 1863. He wanted to strike at the Confederates before they could fortify their defensive positions.
* All maps by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW
The Initial Assaults
General William Tecumseh Sherman was ordered to attack with his Corps at a place called Stockade Redan. His men would have to navigate a steep ravine then cross a 6 foot-wide ditch before assaulting a 17 foot-high wall. They mounted two separate assault and both were repulsed with heavy losses.
The next attack was carefully planned by Grant and would take place on May 22. The Union navy was anchored in the Mississippi adjacent to Vicksburg and they would help soften up the Confederate defenses with artillery fire to support the land artillery as well. The Confederates were bombarded all that night with 220 artillery pieces as their morale began to suffer.
With Sherman’s men now supplied with planks and ladders, he concentrated his attack across a narrow band hoping to create a breakthrough. The Confederate fire was murderous, yet the Union troops kept up the attack.
Major General John A. McClernand was at the same time heavily engaged to the east of Vicksburg and ask for reinforcements to help kindle the attack. This attack however was met with fierce resistance as was Sherman’s to the north and the casualties kept mounting. When Grant heard news of the failed attacks he proclaimed, "This is murder; order those troops back."
General Grant did not want the Battle of Vicksburg to turn into a siege but that is exactly what it would become. He had attempted various assaults and all ended miserably with too many casualties to justify another try. After the war Grant would write about Vicksburg, "I now determined upon a regular siege—to 'out-camp the enemy,' as it were, and to incur no more losses."
The Confederate troops and citizens alike were virtually trapped as they Union gunboats blocked escape by the river, and the Union army protected most roads in and out of the city at the Battle of Vicksburg. To be sure that there could be no escape, more Union troops were ordered into the region to protect the remaining roads which brought Grants force close to 80,000 men.
The stench of the dead and dying men began to overtake Pemberton and his troops and he requested a short cease in hostilities so that they could be col;ected. Grant at first refused, then finally agreed as the dead were carried from the field.
Once this was done, Grant positioned his men around the 12-mile ring surrounding Vicksburg. Attempts were made on June 7 by Confederate General John G. Walker to cut Grant’s supply line that was protected by free blacks who had taken up arms for the Union. Although untrained, they fought bravely and took heavy casualties but for the time being the supply line was secure.
The lack of food and medicine began to take its toll on the Confederates as dysentery, malaria, scurvy and diahrrea began to overtake many of the men. The citizens of the city and equal victims of the Vicksburg battle fared no better as food became scarce and homes were destroyed by the constant Union shelling. It is estimated that 22,000 shells were fired on Vicksburg over the course of the siege as residents began living in caves that were cut into the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.
Union troops packed one of the mines under the Confederate lines with 2,000 lbs of explosives and on June 25, the explosion blew a large hole in the Confederates mines. This was followed by a Union attack through the large crater and unfortunately for them, they became trapped.
The Confederates relentlessly attacked the trapped Union troops and rolled shells with short fuses to punish the aggressors. Finally the remaining troops were able to escape out the back end as yet another attack had ended badly.
The Surrender and Aftermath
Finally on July 3, with his army ravaged by disease and starvation, Pemberton sends a note to Grant offering the unconditional surrender of his entire army to end the Battle of Vicksburg. Rather than accept these terms, Grant though about the prospect that he would have to feed and process these men had they surrendered and that would have taken him months to achieve.
Instead he agreed to parole the Confederates, and by this agreement, they were to return to their homes and not take arms against the Union for the remainder of the war. On July 4 these terms were accepted and the Battle of Vicksburg was effectively over. Unfortunately for the Union, many of these arms did take up arms again and fought again in many engagements before the war was over.
The Union had taken control of the Mississippi River and would maintain control for the remainder of the war. This would effectively split the Confederacy in two thereby achieving a major objective of the Union army entering the war. Lincoln would later say, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."
The day before the Confederate surrender at the Battle of Vicksburg, General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia lost a significant engagement at the Battle of Gettysburg. It can be argued that these two Union victories marked the turning point of the American Civil War in the Union favor.
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