The year 1863 is very significant for the people of Vicksburg. That’s the year when the Civil War came knocking on the city’s borders. About a year earlier, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant began his campaign for Vicksburg and eventually seized control of the city and, subsequently, of the Mississippi River. It marked one of the most important turning points of the entire war.
Today, this event is well-documented through thousands of historical monuments and markers in and around the city. To experience it for yourself, follow Visit Vicksburg’s Key to Civil War History trip itinerary. In the meantime, here’s a brief summary of the events that took place that fateful summer.
Phase 1: Lincoln Sets His Sights on Vicksburg
It all started with Abraham Lincoln. When southern states started to secede from the rest of the country, they took the Mississippi River with them. The north wanted to take back control of the great river, because it needed it to transport supplies and troops. The north also knew that claiming it would seriously weaken the confederate stronghold. Lincoln identified Vicksburg as the target, saying, “Let us take Vicksburg, and that land will be ours.”
Phase 2: Grant’s First Attempts
Grant spent many months trying to bypass Confederate forces and get into Vicksburg. He attempted to build canals that would open better navigation routes into the city. They all failed, but he didn’t give up. Later, he and his 45,000 men tried bombarding neighboring cities north and south of Vicksburg, including Grand Gulf and Raymond, and was victorious at Port Gibson and Raymond.
Phase 3: The Vicksburg Campaign Trail Continues
As Grant’s campaign trail continued, many months passed. On May 14th, Grant’s troops attacked and defeated Jackson, the state’s capital. It would only be a matter of time before it was Vicksburg’s turn to fall. Over the next few days, Grant attacked confederate forces, who were led by Gen. John C. Pemberton, at Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge. After overwhelming Pemberton there, the Union soldiers kept advancing, pushing Pemberton’s troops back to Vicksburg.
Phase 4: The Siege Begins
At this point, Grant issued assaults along Vicksburg lines, but both his early attempts failed. Instead of going forward with more futile attempts, Grant decided to lay siege over the city. He cut off the city’s communications and built trenches around the border to enclose the confederates inside. Meanwhile, within the city, both Pemberton’s soldiers and civilians were faced with rapidly deteriorating conditions. So after 47 days, on July 4th, 1863, the Vicksburg campaign trail came to a head and Pemberton surrendered to Grant. Now, for the first time since war first broke out, the Mississippi River was free.
Interested in learning more about the campaign trail or the siege? Take a trip to the Vicksburg National Military Park. In July 2019, the VNMP received over 800 acres in Champion Hill and Port Gibson to preserve and protect the Vicksburg Campaign story. You can take a 16-mile tour of the park and see historic places where Grant’s and Pemberton’s troops operated during the trail, including the only surviving wartime structure, the Shirley House, and the cemetery where 17,000 union soldiers are buried. You can do a self-guided tour using brochures and the free Vicksburg Battlefield App, or you can arrange for a licensed tour guide to take you.
There are plenty of places outside of the park that also speak to these events. To see them all, explore the Visit Vicksburg website or contact us with any questions.