General Ulysses S. Grant’s brilliant siege of Vicksburg had a significant impact on the surrender of the Confederacy. This Vicksburg campaign was significant due to the fact that it basically gave the Union total control of the Mississippi River. This meant the isolation of the West and basically a clear waterway for supplies to reach the Deep South. Once this waterway was open arms, food, and soldiers could be provided for the Union soldiers in the South and open a devastating wound in the heart of the Confederacy. Once Vicksburg had been taken the West would basically be isolated and under the Unions control; in addition Grant could focus on the heart of the South. Once Vicksburg was captured, and Grant advanced to the battle of the Wilderness, his inability to be stopped by the Confederates was clearly shown. Vicksburg basically signaled the beginning of the end of the Civil War.
Vicksburg was an essential position for the Confederacy because of its strategic geography. Vicksburg was far enough away from the Mississippi that it was very difficult for naval ships to bombard the city, secondly hills and swamps surrounded it so that it was very hard to reach by land. The city lay on top of the hills so that it was possible for the Confederates to bomb Union naval vessels that wanted to sail down the Mississippi. This made the Vicksburg campaign very difficult for the Union armies that were trying to take Vicksburg from the north. Grant describes the terrain as,
“The ground about Vicksburg is admirable for defense. On the north it is about two hundred feet above the Mississippi River at the highest point and very much cut up by the washing rains; the ravines were grown up with cane and underbrush, while the sides and tops were covered with dense forest. Farther south the ground flattens out somewhat, and was in cultivation. But here, too, it was cut up by ravines and small streams…”
Grant then continues to describe the enemy’s positions upon the high bluffs of Vicksburg. It is very important to understand the extreme defensive location of Vicksburg, to perceive the superior leadership of General Grant to capture it.
“When New Orleans fell in the spring of 1862, the triumvirate Vicksburg, Grand Gulf and Port Hudson was destined to become the last obstacle to the total Federal control of the Mississippi.” Abraham Lincoln thought Vicksburg was ‘the key,’ so Vicksburg was the focal point of Union strategy. Obviously, Vicksburg was one of the most important objectives of the Union army. General Ulysses S. Grant was placed in charge of the Vicksburg campaign. He was an exceptional strategist and arguably one of the best generals this country has ever seen.
“His campaign, while often overlooked by the general public, is considered by some historians to be brilliant. In this highly readable treatment of the Vicksburg campaign, historian James R. Arnold, makes the case that Grant’s adroit military maneuvers were the equal of Napoleonic campaigns.”
The Confederates also realized the extreme importance of Vicksburg and were going to do anything in their power to hold on to Vicksburg. Confederate President Jefferson Davis said, “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” General John C Pemberton was in charge of the defense of Vicksburg. Some may question his competency; “We had a very low opinion of the John C Pemberton whose incompetence lost Vicksburg.” This however, is not entirely accurate; Grants superior military strategy made it impossible for the Confederates to hold Vicksburg, no matter who was in charge of the defense.
Grant military campaign in Vicksburg took place in May of 1863 it began with a series of victories around Vicksburg so that he could ultimately reach the city. Grant had opened up most of the Mississippi River from Cairo to below Memphis. Grant took forts Henery, Donelson, Buell, captured Nashville, and Shiloh. Once Grant reached Vicksburg his plan was to take Vicksburg by storm where he could win a short decisive victory. Grant surrounded the city of Vicksburg and opened up a series of artillery bombardment. This came from siege artillery and Admiral David D Porter’s Gunboats. After this series of bombardment Grant assembled at 10:00 am on May 22, 1863 Grants troops attacked the city of Vicksburg. The attack was a long and bitter on costing the Union 3,199 casualties. The attack showed some signs of success in the beginning but Grant realized that he would not be able to take Vicksburg in this assault type fashion.
Grant, after failing in the attack of Vicksburg, with his brilliant military stratagem decided to prepare a siege on Vicksburg. Grant describes the battle in this letter,
“Vicksburg is now completely invested. I have possession of Haynes’ Bluff and the Yazoo; consequently have supplies. Today an attempt was made to carry the city by assault, but was not entirely successful. We hold possession, however, of two of the enemy’s forts and have skirmishers close under all of them. The nature of the ground of Vicksburg is such that it can only be taken by a siege. It is entirely safe to us in time, I would say one week if the enemy do not send a large army upon my rear.”
The initial preparation for the siege was “to secure a footing on dry ground on the east side of the river from which the troops could operate against Vicksburg.” Grant’s siege would enable him to make the Confederates surrender with out having a major battle, thus conserving human lives. Grant surrounded the city and began building a series of trenches and barricades. The city was cut off of all supplies; then it was just a matter of time before they would surrender. As the days went on Grant’s guard of the city became nearly impenetrable, “When the real investment began a cat could not have crept out of Vicksburg without being discovered.” The
Confederates began withdrawing as Union trenched were moved closer and closer towards Vicksburg. There was constant Union bombardment from their cannons to further disrupt the sick and starving Confederates inside of Vicksburg. The Confederates, knowing how important Vicksburg was, were reluctant to surrender. General Pemberton stubbornly stated that the,
“Cost at which I will sell Vicksburg. When the last pound of beef, bacon, and flour, the last grain of corn, the last cow and hog and horse and dog shall of been consumed, and the last man shall have perished in the trenches, then, and only then will I sell Vicksburg.”
This statement, although a little extreme, was exactly what Grant had strategically planned. He planned to starve the Confederates into surrendering. After about Forty-eight days Grants siege had proved successful. Grant had assumed it would have only taken a week but his penetrating idea had proved successful. On the morning of July 3 the Confederates were waving white flags and the shooting was ceased.
After a day of negotiations Grant allowed the Confederate soldiers to be paroled and sent back to their homes. Grant decided to parole the soldiers because, “Paroled soldiers were an immense problem to their own authorities… Paroled men were very hard to handle, because the soldiers assumed that when they had been captured and paroled they were out of the war.” This was another resourceful idea that put the Union one step above the Confederates in leadership, especially Grants. Paroling the soldiers made it much easier on the Union because they would not have to waste their time trying to move the 30,000 soldiers at Vicksburg into Ohio. Instead they would turn them back to the Confederacy with destroyed morals and no will to fight.
Ulysses S Grant’s leadership in the Vicksburg campaign was one of superior skill, stubbornness, and courage. Grant decided what he thought would work and stuck with it, his decisions were correct and and he led an extremely honorable and intelligent campaign at Vicksburg and through out the war. The capture of Pemberton’s army and the loss of the strategic city of Vicksburg split the Confederacy. This victory at Vicksburg sparked a fear in Confederacy, that they could not stop Grants army and that they were essentially doomed in this war. After Vicksburg, Grant gained more popularity and this was the chief cause for his election as General-in-Chief. Once Grant took control of the entire Union army, with his skills, he easily conquered the rest of the Confederacy and single handedly was the most important military general in the Unions victory of the Civil War.
Catton, Bruce. Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1960.
Ballard, Michael. Pemberton, A Biography. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.
Simpson, Brooks. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1996.
Cramer, M. J. Ulysses S. Grant: Conversations and Unpublished Letters. New York: Eaton and Mains, 1897