The Civil War Siege of Vicksburg

U.S.Grant at the Siege of Vicksburg.

Stratton, Ella (Hines), Mrs. [from old catalog] / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The siege of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, was a significant battle of the United States Civil War and the culmination of one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the war.

Vicksburg was a fortress with massive artillery located on a sharp bend in the Mississippi River. Known as the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy," Vicksburg controlled movement and trade along the Mississippi and linked Texas and Louisiana to the rest of the Confederacy.

It was the second-largest city in Mississippi after Natchez, with an economy based on cotton, as well as riverboat trade and transportation. The 1860 census reports that Vicksburg had a population of 4,591 people, including 3,158 whites, 31 free blacks, and 1,402 slaves.

Failed Attempts and a Plan

Early in the war, the north recognized Vicksburg as a pivotal point. The first northern siege of the city was attempted in the summer of 1862 by Admiral David Farragut.

General ​Ulysses S. Grant tried again in the winter of 1862 and1863. After two more unsuccessful assaults in May of 1863, Grant began to plan a long-term strategy. To take the fort, there needed to be weeks of bombardment and isolation of Vicksburg from its sources of food, ammunition, and soldiers.

Federal forces held the Mississippi River. As long as the Union forces held their position, the encircled Confederates, led by Major Maurice Kavanaugh Simons and the Second Texas Infantry, faced decreasing resources.

Assembled Union forces began making their way south to Vicksburg during the summer of 1863, masked by occasional forays from gunboats shelling random targets and cavalry raids.

By June, many of Vicksburg's residents hid in underground caves and all the people and soldiers were on short rations. The Vicksburg press reported that there would soon be forces coming to their rescue. General John C. Pemberton, who was in charge of Vicksburg's defense, knew better and began to scale down expectations.

Progress and a Literary Reference

Intermittent shelling from the river increased and intensified during the first week of July. Vicksburg fell on the fourth. Troops marched in and the stronghold of 30,000 men was ceded to the Union.

The battle had 19,233 casualties, of which 10,142 were Union soldiers. However, control of Vicksburg meant that the Union commanded traffic on the Mississippi River's southern reaches.

With the loss of Pemberton’s army and this vital stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy was effectively split in half. Grant's successes in the West boosted his reputation, leading ultimately to his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Mark Twain and Vicksburg

Twenty years later, American satirist Mark Twain used the siege of Vicksburg to craft his Battle of the Sand-Belt in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." According to Mark Twain aficionado and science fiction writer Scott Dalrymple, Grant is represented in the novel by its hero "Boss" Hank Morgan.

Like reports of the Siege of Vicksburg, the Battle of the Sand-Belt is, says Dalrymple, a "relentlessly realistic portrayal of war, a clash between a chivalric, slave-owning, agrarian society and a modern, technologically advanced republic led by a general-president."

Sources

  • Braudaway, Douglas Lee. "A Texan Records the Civil War Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi: The Journal of Maj. Maurice Kavanaugh Simons, 1863." The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 105, No. 1, JSTOR, July 2001, https://www.jstor.org/stable/30240309?seq=1.
  • Dalrymple, Scott. "Just War, Pure and Simple: 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' and the American Civil War." American Literary Realism, Vol. 29, No. 1, University of Illinois Press, JSTOR, 1996, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27746672?seq=1.
  • Henry, Ginder. "A Louisiana Engineer at the Siege of Vicksburg: Letters of Henry Ginder." Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, L. Moody Simms, Jr., Vol. 8, No. 4, Louisiana Historical Association, JSTOR, 1967, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4230980?seq=1.
  • Osborn, George C. "A Tennessean at the Siege of Vicksburg: The Diary of Samuel Alexander Ramsey Swan, May-July, 1863." Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4, Tennessee Historical Society, JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/42621255?seq=1.