Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Stewart L. Udall, Secretary
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Conrad L. Wirth, Director
HISTORICAL HANDBOOK NUMBER TWENTY-ONE
This publication is one of a series of handbooks describing thehistorical and archeological areas in the National Park Systemadministered by the National Park Service of the United StatesDepartment of the Interior. It is printed by the GovernmentPrinting Office and may be purchased from the Superintendent ofDocuments, Washington 25, D. C. Price 25 cents.
National Military Park, Mississippi
by William C. Everhart
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE HISTORICAL HANDBOOK SERIES No. 21
Washington, D. C., 1954
The National Park System, of which Vicksburg NationalMilitary Park is a unit, is dedicated to conserving the scenic,scientific, and historic heritage of theUnited States for the benefit andinspiration of its people.
- Vicksburg and the Mississippi 1
- The First Moves Against Vicksburg 3
- Grant’s First Failure at Vicksburg 6
- THE BAYOU EXPEDITIONS: GRANT MOVES AGAINST VICKSBURG—AND FAILS 8
- The Geographical Problem of Vicksburg 8
- Grant’s Canal 10
- Duckport Canal 12
- Lake Providence Expedition 12
- The Yazoo Pass Expedition 14
- The Steele’s Bayou Expedition 14
- THE VICKSBURG CAMPAIGN: GRANT MOVES AGAINST VICKSBURG—AND SUCCEEDS 16
- Porter Runs the Vicksburg Batteries 16
- The River Crossing 19
- The Battle of Port Gibson 21
- The Strategy of the Vicksburg Campaign 21
- The Battles of Raymond and Jackson 23
- The Battle of Champion’s Hill 26
- The Battle of Big Black River 30
- The Campaign Ended 31
- THE SIEGE OF VICKSBURG 33
- The Confederate Defense Line 33
- The Assault of May 19 34
- The Assault of May 22 35
- Union Siege Operations 40
- Confederate Trench Life 41
- Civilian Life in Vicksburg During the Siege 45
- Fraternization 45
- Johnston’s Dilemma 47
- The Surrender of Vicksburg 49
- The Significance of the Fall of Vicksburg 52
- GUIDE TO THE AREA 54
- THE PARK 60
- HOW TO REACH THE PARK 60
- ADMINISTRATION 60
- RELATED AREAS 60
- VISITOR FACILITIES 60
Merchant steamers unloading supplies at Vicksburg after the surrender. CourtesyLibrary of Congress.
Across the imperishable canvas of the American CivilWar are vividly recorded feats of arms and armies, and acts ofcourage and steadfast devotion which have since become a treasuredheritage for all Americans. Among the military campaigns, few, ifany, present action over so vast an area, of such singular diversity, andso consequential to the outcome of the war, as the great struggle forcontrol of the Mississippi River. Seagoing men-of-war and ironcladgunboats engaged shore defenses and escorted troops along river andbayou; cavalry raids struck far behind enemy lines as the armies of theWest marched and countermarched in a gigantic operation whichculminated in the campaign and siege of Vicksburg. Protected byheavy artillery batteries on the riverfront and with land approaches tothe north and south guarded by densely wooded swamplands, Vicksburgdefied large-scale land and river expeditions for over a year.Finally the tenacious Grant, in a campaign since accepted as a modelof bold strategy and skillful execution, forced the surrender of Vicksburgon July 4, 1863, splitting the Confederacy in two and securing forthe North its great objective in the Western Theater.
VICKSBURG AND THE MISSISSIPPI.
Control of the Mississippi River,whose course meandered over 1,000 miles from Cairo, Ill., to the Gulfof Mexico and divided the Confederacy into almost equal parts, wasof inestimable importance to the Union from the outbreak of hostilities.The agricultural and industrial products of the Northwest, deniedtheir natural outlet to markets down the great commercial artery toNew Orleans, would be afforded uninterrupted passage. It wouldprovide a safe avenue for the transportation of troops and their suppliesthrough a tremendous area ill-provided with roads and railroads;the numerous navigable streams tributary to the Mississippi wouldoffer ready routes of invasion into the heart of the South. Union controlwould cut off and isolate the section of the Confederacy lying west of2the river—Texas, Arkansas, and most of Louisiana—comprising almosthalf of the land area of the Confederacy and an important source offood, military supplies, and recruits for the Southern armies. Forcefullyemphasizing the strategic value of the Mississippi was the dispatchof the General in Chief of the Union armies to Maj. Gen. U. S. Granton March 20, 1863, as Grant prepared to launch his Vicksburgcampaign:
“Johnny Reb.” A volunteer soldier ofthe Confederacy. Courtesy ConfederateMuseum, Richmond.
The great objective on your line now is the opening of the MississippiRiver, and everything else must tend to that purpose. The eyes andhopes of the whole country are now directed to your army. In myopinion, the opening of the Mississippi River will be to us of moreadvantage than the capture of forty Richmonds.
To protect this vital lifeline, the Confederacy had erected a series offortifications at readily defensible locations along the river from whichthe Union advance could be checked. Pushing southward from Illinois3by land and water, and northward from the Gulf of Mexico by river,Union army and naval units attacked the Confederate strongpointsfrom both ends of the line. They captured post by post and city bycity until, after the first year of the war, Vicksburg alone barred completeUnion possession of the Mississippi River. From the city ran theonly railroad west of the river between Memphis and New Orleans.Through the city most of the supplies from the trans-Mississippi wereshipped to Confederate armies in the East. The city’s batteries on thebluffs, commanding a 5-mile stretch of the river, effectively preventedUnion control of the Mississippi. Vicksburg was indeed the key,declared Lincoln, and the war could not be brought to a successfulconclusion “until that key is in our pocket.”
“Billy Yank.” A volunteer soldier of the Union. Courtesy Library of Congress.
THE FIRST MOVES AGAINST VICKSBURG.
David Farragut, first admiral ofthe United States Navy, early in May 1862, headed his Western GulfSquadron of oceangoing vessels up the Mississippi. In a spectacular4engagement he passed the forts protecting New Orleans and capturedthe South’s largest port city. Proceeding 400 miles up river, Farragutreceived the surrenders of Baton Rouge, capital of Louisiana, andNatchez, Miss., arriving before Vicksburg on May 18, just 1 yearbefore Grant’s army invested the city from the rear. At the same time,Flag Officer C. H. Davis was moving down the Mississippi River fromthe north, commanding a flotilla whose striking power was largelyprovided by a ram fleet under Col. Charles Ellet, Jr., and the seven“Pook Turtles”—ironclad gunboats, built on the Northern rivers,which mounted 13 guns in an armored casemate resting on a flat-bottomedhull.
After capturing Memphis in June 1862 and completely destroying theConfederate fleet of converted river steamboats, Davis pushed southwardand on July 1 dropped anchor beside Farragut’s fleet just northof Vicksburg. All of the Mississippi River was now in Union possession,except for a section at and below Vicksburg.
The batteries of Vicksburg had been passed for the first time onJune 28. On that day Farragut blasted the city and its defenses withbroadsides from his ships and a devastating fire from Comdr. DavidDixon Porter’s mortar boats in an unsuccessful attempt to reducethe city by naval attack. It was clearly evident from this experiencethat a powerful land force would be required to capture fortressVicksburg. Only 3,000 troops under Brig. Gen. Thomas Williamshad accompanied the expedition, and they were put to work withpick and shovel to dig a cut off which might permit river traffic tobypass the Vicksburg batteries. As the fleets idled above Vicksburg,the sweltering monotony was spectacularly interrupted by the shortbut battle-filled career of the Confederate ironclad ram Arkansas,which performed at Vicksburg one of the great feats of arms onthe Western waters.
The energy and skill of Lt. Isaac N. Brown, who commanded theArkansas, had enabled the ram to be readied for action despite almostimpossible handicaps in securing materials. Routing the Union vesselssent to apprehend her, the venturesome man-of-war stood for thetwo Federal fleets lying at anchor just above Vicksburg and, withguns blazing, passed entirely through the massed flotillas to safetyunder the Vicksburg batteries. Here the Arkansas withstood all attemptsto destroy her and presented a formidable threat to Farragut’swooden ships.
By the end of July, conditions indicated to Farragut that a withdrawalfrom Vicksburg was necessary. In the hot, fetid atmosphere ofthe river the disease rate had so increased that only 800 of Williams’3,000 men were fit for duty. At the same time, the steadily fallingwaters threatened to maroon his deep-draught vessels. Farragut, withWilliams’ troops aboard, moved down river to New Orleans, whileDavis steamed up river, leaving Vicksburg unopposed. The initialexpedition against Vicksburg had failed.
THE STRATEGIC SITUATION
Scene of Sherman’s assault against the Bluffs at Chickasaw Bayou. From Battles andLeaders of the Civil War.
With the Union withdrawal, communications between the sectionsof the Confederacy east and west of the Mississippi, which had beentemporarily curtailed, were resumed. From Vicksburg to Port Hudson,a distance of 250 miles by river, the Mississippi was now in Confederatehands. Into the Mississippi, just above Port Hudson, emptiedthe Red River which drained much of the trans-Mississippi South, anddown which great stores of food were being floated to supply thearmies of the Confederacy. It was imperative for the North to close offthis important supply route.
GRANT’S FIRST FAILURE AT VICKSBURG.
In October 1862, Grant, whohad won the sobriquet of “Unconditional Surrender” at Fort Donelsonand had rallied his army from near defeat at bloody Shiloh, wasplaced in command of the Department of the Tennessee with headquartersat Memphis; his objective—to clear the Mississippi River.The same month, Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, a West Pointer, bornand raised in Pennsylvania, who had served with Grant in the MexicanWar, was placed in command of the Confederate troops defendingthe Mississippi; his objective—to keep the Southern supply lineopen and prevent loss of the river. Vicksburg would be the focus ofmilitary operations for both commanders.
The first full-scale expedition against Vicksburg was initiated inDecember 1862, with Grant pushing southward through the State ofMississippi to strike Vicksburg from the rear as Maj. Gen. WilliamTecumseh Sherman, with an army of 32,000 men aboard 60 transports,proceeded down river from Memphis. Grant anticipated that his advancewould pull Pemberton’s army away from Vicksburg, permittingSherman to make a lodgment on the bluffs immediately north of thecity against a greatly reduced garrison. On December 20, Maj. Gen.Earl Van Dorn, with a striking force of 3,500 Confederate cavalry,swung in behind the Union line of march, capturing and burning$1,500,000 of military goods at Grant’s supply base in Holly Springs.Unwilling to wage a campaign without a base of supply, Grant abandonedhis campaign and returned to Memphis.
Sherman made his assault on December 29 at Chickasaw Bayou, 5miles north of Vicksburg. The land here was a low, swampy shelflying between the Yazoo River and the bluffs. The few dry causewaysover which the Federal infantry could advance were completelycovered by Confederate rifle and artillery fire from the bluffs 200 feetabove. The Union Army lost nearly 2,000 men against Confederatecasualties of less than 200. Tersely, Sherman reported his defeat: “Ireached Vicksburg at the time appointed, landed, assaulted and failed.”
GRANT’S FIRST MOVE AGAINST
Grant’s advance was halted andturned back when Van Dorn’scavalry raid destroyed the hugeUnion supply base at Holly Springs.
Sherman assaulted the bluffs atChickasaw Bayou, 5 miles northof Vicksburg and was repulsed.
The Confederate ironclad ram Arkansas engaging the combined Union fleets atVicksburg. From Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.
The Bayou Expeditions: Grant Moves Against Vicksburg—and Fails
By the end of January, Grant had arrived at the Union encampmentat Milliken’s Bend, 30 miles north of Vicksburg, and assumed leadershipof the operations against Vicksburg. His army, numbering about45,000, was divided