Siege of Vicksburg (May 25 – July 4, 1863)

Updated: January 31, 2011

By late 1861, President Abraham Lincoln was pressuring Union commanders in the west to invade the South. On January 30, 1862, the Western Theater commander, General Henry Halleck, reluctantly approved Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant's request to attack Fort Henry, located on the Tennessee River.

By late 1861, President Abraham Lincoln was pressuring Union commanders in the west to invade the South. On January 30, 1862, the Western Theater commander, General Henry Halleck, reluctantly approved Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant's request to attack Fort Henry, located on the Tennessee River. Eager to move, Grant left Cairo, Illinois on February 2, with 15,000 soldiers, plus a flotilla of seven gunboats, commanded by United States Navy Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote. On February 6, Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman surrendered Fort Henry after a seventy-five minute bombardment by Foote's gunboats. Following the surrender of Fort Henry, Grant turned his attention toward investing Fort Donelson, which was located just twelve miles to the east of Fort Henry on the Cumberland River. After a failed breakout on February 15, the Confederate commander of Fort Donelson, General Simon B. Buckner, surrendered Fort Donelson to Grant the next day.

With two of the three main rivers connecting the North and South under Union control, the Federals turned their attention to the Mississippi River. If the Union could gain control of the Mississippi, the Confederacy would be denied easy access to supplies from the Gulf of Mexico and territories in the American West. Admiral David Farragut captured the port city of New Orleans on May 18, 1862, closing down Confederate access to the Gulf. In June, the Union tightened its grip on the Mississippi, when Federal forces captured the river city of Memphis, Tennessee. Nevertheless, the South still controlled traffic on much of the river because of its strong fortifications at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Vicksburg is located on the eastern side of the Mississippi, south of the mouth of the Yazoo River. The city was known as "The Gibraltar of the Confederacy," because it is situated on a high bluff overlooking a horseshoe-shaped bend in the river. The bluff upon which the city sits made it nearly impossible to assault from the river. Farragut made two attempts to do so in May and June 1862, but both excursions failed. To the north, nearly impenetrable swamps and bayous protected Vicksburg. To the east, a ring of forts, mounting 172 guns, shielded the city from an overland assault. The land on the Louisiana side of the river, opposite Vicksburg, was rough, etched with poor roads and many streams.

In July 1862, General Henry Halleck was called to Washington and promoted to chief of all Union armies, leaving Grant in charge of operations in the Western Theater. In December, Grant launched his first attempt to capture Vicksburg, which proved unsuccessful. During the winter, he made several attempts to approach Vicksburg from other directions that also proved fruitless. When spring arrived, Grant set a new plan into motion. On March 29, 1863, Grant began the arduous task of moving the Army of the Tennessee around Vicksburg on the Louisiana side of the river. Upon arriving at his destination downriver, Grant moved his army back across the Mississippi and prepared to invest Vicksburg from the south.

Before assaulting Vicksburg, Grant turned his attention to an army that General Joseph Johnston was assembling in Jackson, Mississippi, forty miles to the east of Vicksburg. On May 12, the Army of the Tennessee captured the rail line connecting Jackson and Vicksburg at the Battle of Raymond, further isolating Vicksburg and preventing Pemberton and Johnston from linking their forces. On May 14, the Federals arrived at Jackson. With only about 6,000 soldiers available to defend the city, Johnston ordered the citizens of Jackson to evacuate. The Federals attacked at 10:00 a.m. After brief but heavy fighting, Johnston ordered a retreat, allowing Jackson to fall into Union hands. Grant ordered the destruction of anything in the city that could be used to support the Southern war effort and, then, began marching his army back toward Vicksburg on May 16.

On May 16, Pemberton, under orders from Johnston, attempted to stop Grant's advance on Vicksburg by attacking the Union army at Champion Hill, twenty miles east of Vicksburg. The assault was unsuccessful, and Pemberton was forced to retreat with his remaining forces back toward Vicksburg. The Confederates made a final stand at Big Black River, which was futile. With no other options, Pemberton ordered his men to burn the bridges spanning Big Black River, to gather everything edible in their path, and to retreat to the safety of Vicksburg.

Pemberton's army was now trapped inside of Vicksburg. Grant made two attempts to storm Vicksburg on May 19, and on May 22. Neither assault was successful, costing the Federals 639 killed, 3,277 wounded and 155 missing men. Rather than suffer further Union casualties, Grant decided to besiege Vicksburg. On May 25, the Army of the Tennessee started to dig in, creating entrenchments around the city. On May 19, William T. Sherman's cavalry forced the Confederates to evacuate their gun battery at Hayne's Bluff, enabling Grant to establish a direct supply line on the Mississippi River and to put his gunboats in position to shell Vicksburg from the river. Facing an army that eventually swelled to about 75,000 Union soldiers surrounding the city and a fleet of Federal gunboats on the river, Pemberton's only hope for escape was the possibility of General Johnston raising an army and marching on Grant from the east to relieve the city. Johnston did not share the belief held by others about Vicksburg's military importance, so help never came.

With no supplies coming into the city, citizens and soldiers alike suffered from a lack of food. Gradually the poor diet led to the onset of diseases, including scurvy, malaria, dysentery and diarrhea. To add to the misery, Union troops lobbed thousands of shells into the city, forcing citizens to dig and inhabit over 500 caves for shelter. Finally, on July 3, Pemberton asked for terms of surrender. Initially, Grant demanded unconditional surrender, as he had done at Fort Donelson. Upon further refection though, Grant decided that he did not want to be burdened with caring for nearly 30,000 starving Confederate soldiers who were in poor health. Instead, he offered to parole all of his prisoners, hoping that they would never take up arms against the Union again. Pemberton surrendered the city and his army on July 4, 1863. The Confederate government later challenged the terms of the parole on technical issues, and some of the prisoners who Grant released fought against the North at Chattanooga and during Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.

The surrender of Vicksburg was a significant turning point in the American Civil War. Before the campaign began, President Abraham Lincoln stated, "Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket." Confederate President Jefferson Davis said, "Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South's two halves together." Both were correct. Vicksburg's fall gave the Union complete control of the Mississippi River, reestablishing trade through the Gulf of Mexico. It also severed the Confederacy's connections with territories in the American West, denying the South essential agricultural supplies. The success of the Vicksburg Campaign also restored Grant's reputation, which had suffered after the surprise Confederate attack at Shiloh. The renewed confidence in Grant would have a decisive impact on later events in the Eastern Theater and on the final chapters of the war.

Ohio units that participated in the Siege of Vicksburg Campaign included:

Infantry units:

  • 16th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 22nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 30th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 32nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 37th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 42nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 46th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 47th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 48th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 53rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 54th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 56th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 57th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 68th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 70th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 72nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 76th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 78th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 80th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 83rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 95th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 96th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 114th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 120th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

  • 2nd Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 3rd Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 4th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 5th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 7th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 8th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 10th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 11th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 15th Ohio Light Artillery Battery
  • 16th Ohio Light Artillery Battery

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Siege of Vicksburg," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 17 Oct 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=189>

APA Style

"Siege of Vicksburg." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved October 17, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=189

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Siege of Vicksburg

By late 1861, President Abraham Lincoln was pressuring Union commanders in the west to invade the South. On January 30, 1862, the Western Theater commander, General Henry Halleck, reluctantly approved Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant's request to attack Fort Henry, located on the Tennessee River. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton surrendered the city and more than 29,000 soldiers of the Army of Mississippi to Grant on July 4, 1863.

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