Vicksburg Campaign (December 26, 1862 – July 4, 1863)

Updated: November 23, 2016

The Vicksburg Campaign was a series of operations and battles conducted by Union forces during the American Civil War. The goal of the campaign was to capture the strategic city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, located on the Mississippi River.

At the onset of the American Civil War, the State of Tennessee comprised the majority of the northern border of the Confederate States of America in the West. Defending that border was difficult for the Confederacy because three major rivers (the Mississippi, which flows south to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which flow north to the Ohio River) provided relatively easy access to the South.

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. He sent three divisions, commanded by his most trusted subordinate, General William T. Sherman, down the river from Memphis to attack Vicksburg from the north. Meanwhile, Grant approached the city with the bulk of his army from the east, but Rebel cavalry cut his supply lines, forcing him to retreat before launching an assault. Unaware that Grant had pulled back, Sherman attacked and was defeated at the Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs (December 29, 1862). 

During the winter, Grant made several attempts to approach Vicksburg from other directions, including dredging an old canal that by-passed the bend in the river upon which the city was located. None of these attempts were successful. When spring arrived, Grant set a new plan into motion. On March 29, 1863, he put part of his army to work constructing bridges, draining bayous and constructing a road past Vicksburg on the west side of the Mississippi. By mid-April, his men had carved a path through the Louisiana wilderness that would enable Grant to march the Army of the Tennessee past Vicksburg, cross the river, and then attack the city from the south. To complete the river crossing however, Grant needed the assistance of his naval forces. On the night of April 16, seven gunboats and three supply ships under the command of Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter ran the gauntlet of Confederate batteries along the river. Despite heavy Rebel fire, Porter passed the city, losing only one ship. On April 22, six more boats made it through, bringing Grant the supplies he needed to launch his assault on Vicksburg.

To divert attention from his main operations, Grant ordered Sherman to feign an attack against Confederate forces stationed at Snyder's Bluff, upriver from Vicksburg, from April 29 through May 1. Grant also ordered Colonel Benjamin Garrison to stage a daring cavalry raid through central Mississippi, which forced Confederate Commander of the Army of Mississippi, John C. Pemberton, to divert troops away from Vicksburg.

On April 29, Grant put his grand scheme into action. With the aid of Admiral Porter's gunboats, Grant attempted to move his army across the Mississippi River at Grand Gulf, below Vicksburg. When the Confederate resistance proved to be too formidable, Grant chose to bypass the Rebel works and move the crossing nine miles farther down the river at Bruinsburg. The crossing at Bruinsburg was successful, and by April 30, the Federal army began moving inland. After a brief encounter with Rebel forces on May 1, Grant established a base of operations at Port Gibson. Fearing that the Confederate defenders at Grand Gulf would be surrounded, Pemberton abandoned his batteries there.

Once back in Mississippi, Grant had three options. He could move directly north and launch an assault on Vicksburg. To do so, however, would expose his army to attack from a Confederate army that General Joseph Johnston was assembling at Jackson, Mississippi, forty miles to the east of Vicksburg. Alternatively, Grant could turn and face Johnston's army and then assault Vicksburg. Finally, Grant could follow his original orders and march his army south to combine with General Nathaniel P. Banks' Army of the Gulf, capture the river town of Port Hudson, and then return to assault Vicksburg. Choosing the latter would place Grant under the command of the more senior Banks, an option that probably did not appeal to Grant. When Banks informed Grant that he was not yet prepared to assault Port Hudson, Grant choose to turn his attention to Jackson.

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 towards 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 reflection 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 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
  • 58th 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
  • 17th Ohio Light Artillery Battery

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Vicksburg Campaign," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 23 Jul 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=190>

APA Style

"Vicksburg Campaign." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved July 23, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=190

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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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