Vicksburg National Military Park

Location: Vicksburg, Mississippi

Webpage: National Park

General Description: By the summer of 1862, the Union had captured New Orleans and Baton Rouge and General Grant had occupied Memphis, thus gaining control of most of the Mississippi.  However, there was one Confederate strongpoint left on the river, Vicksburg.  Vicksburg was situated on tall bluffs on the east side of the Mississippi River, which at that point in time made a large turn to the northeast before turning south along the city.  Thus Union gunboats were easily in range of the Vicksburg cannons for a significant amount of time.  The fortifications protecting the landward side of Vicksburg were also formidable with a defensive line of over 6 miles surrounding the city on the high ground.  Vicksburg was the key in the west to finally split the Confederacy in two.  By December of 1862, Grant planned on attacking Vicksburg from Memphis with General Sherman advancing along west side of the Mississippi to attack Vicksburg from the rear.  However, Confederate General Pemberton repulsed Sherman at Chickasaw Bayou on December 26-29, 1962 and Grant was bogged down with the terrain leading south to Vicksburg.  In January of 1863, work on a canal, now called Grant’s Canal, was resumed that would effectively provide a channel eliminating the threat of Vicksburg to movement on the Mississippi River.  However, a combination of repositioned cannon that could reach the end of the canal and a sudden rise of the water levels breaking the dam and flooding the canal ended this effort.  By this point, Grant was frustrated with his ability to approach Vicksburg from the north.  So instead he took his 40,000 man army south through Louisiana to cross the river south of Vicksburg.  On April 16, Grant ordered Admiral Porter’s gunboats to make the run by Vicksburg to ferry his army across the river.  Only one gunboat was lost running the gauntlet and Grant was now across the river at Bruinsburg, Mississippi, deep behind enemy lines.  He easily defeated small Confederate forces at Port Gibson and Raymond, however, decided he need to drive the Confederates out of Jackson before moving on to Vicksburg.  On May 4, 1863 Grant successfully captured Jackson forcing General Johnston to flee whereupon they destroyed most of the fortifications and supplies.  Advancing west towards Vicksburg, Grant easily beat Pemberton’s army at Champion Hill and again at Black River Bridge.  With Sherman threatening to flank him on the north, Pemberton withdrew into the defenses in Vicksburg.  Over half of Pemberton’s forces were lost in these two battles reducing his forces to fewer than 10,000 against the 40,000 Union soldiers.  They hoped for reinforcements from General Johnston in Jackson, who was attempting to recollect his soldiers after their defeat.  Grant wanted to overwhelm the Confederates before they had a chance to organize their defense so on May 19 they assaulted Stockade Redan.  Sherman’s Corps had a difficult time making the advance due to a steep ravine and 6 foot deep ditch and were easily repulsed.  After softening them up with cannon artillery, they attempt the assault again with no better results.  Grant planned another attack on May 22 along a wide front with all of his soldiers at the same time to gain a quick victory.  For four hours the cannon fired along a 3 mile front until 10 am.  Grant’s soldiers attacked all along the front, however by 11 am it was obvious a breakthrough was not forthcoming and the assault ground to a halt.  Union losses were heavy with over 3000 killed or wounded versus less than 500 Confederates.  On May 25, Grant reluctantly agreed to a siege and began to dig in.  With the gunboats on the river and cannon surrounding the city, they bombarded Vicksburg for the next 40 days.  Citizens of Vicksburg survived the best they could in earthen caves they quickly dug wherever they could.  Food and medicines quickly ran low and the suffering of the townspeople and soldiers was grave.  Although General Johnston was by then attempting to relieve Vicksburg from Jackson, they were faced with Union troops positioned along the road and were unable to reach Vicksburg.  On July 4, 1863 Confederate General Pemberton had no choice but to surrender Vicksburg to Grant.  Along with the fall of Fort Hudson on July 9, the Union now controlled the entire Mississippi River and effectively cut the Confederacy in two.  Along with Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg on July 3, this was viewed as the ultimate turning point of the Civil War.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) Be sure to start your visit at the Visitor Center where they have a great video about the siege of Vicksburg, as well as, exhibits of Civil War memorabilia and gift shop.  We purchased the audio CD of the driving tour which adds some interesting stories about the siege.  Unlike most Civil War battlefields, Vicksburg is more about the siege, so there is very little about military action covering a few days of a battle.  Rather it is mostly about the positions of the Union and Confederate forces and monuments all over the area.  The National Military Park only covers from the north around to the southeast of the fortifications.  The southern part is no longer part of the park as it was given up for the construction of I-20, so there are some monuments outside of the park boundaries to the south.  That is not to say there was no fighting during the siege.  There were a number of small skirmishes and the Union continued to construct zig-zag trenches towards the Confederate positions including mines to be packed with explosives to create breaches in the defenses.  There is a nice driving tour of the area that begins with following the Union line and circling back along the Confederate line.

2) The driving tour begins with the De Golyer Battery which hammered the Confederate Great Redoubt which can be seen across the ravine.  At one time there were as many as 22 artillery pieces at this location.

BatteryDeGolyer

3) The next stop is the Shirley House, which is the only surviving structure from the war.  During the siege it served as the headquarters of the 45th Illinois Infantry.  There are some interesting pictures of the area filled with bomb-proof shelters.  This is also the location of the Illinois Monument, the largest monument on the battlefield.

4) The next stop is the Third Louisiana Redan which was a major Confederate fortification guarding the Jackson Road approach to Vicksburg.  The Union dug mines under the fortification and exploded packed gunpowder on June 25 and again on July 1, neither of which provided a successful breach in the redan.

ThirdLouisianaRedan

5) The fourth stop is the Ransom’s Gun Path to serve as an example of movement of cannon to reposition two 12- pounder cannon to a new position just 100 yards from the Confederates.

6) The next stop is the site of the Stockade Redan attack on May 19 prior to the siege when General Sherman attempted to overrun this redan in a failed frontal assault.  They tried again three days later as part of a broad attack all along the front and after heavy casualties decided on a siege instead.

StockadeRedanAttack

7) Thayer’s Approach where Brig Gen Thayer attempted to storm the hill on May 22.  Later his men dug a tunnel under the road to avoid Confederate fire from the hilltop on the road to begin their zig-zag trenches up the side of the hill.  This tunnel under the road is still there.  However, when we were there they were working on the road so we could only see one end of the tunnel from the Confederate position on top of the hill.

ThayersApproach

8) Battery Selfridge consisted of naval cannon and was manned by US sailors.  Once again road construction kept us from this stop.

9) The Vicksburg National Cemetery has the graves of over 17,000 Union soldiers of which 13,000 are unknown.  It was closed for burials in 1961, but contains graves from soldiers of all foreign wars up through the Korean Conflict.

NationalCemetery

10) The USS Cairo Museum is the highlight of the Vicksburg tour, in my opinion.  This gunboat was not part of the Vicksburg Campaign, since it was sunk up the Yazoo River on December 12, 1862.  It was one of the Union’s ironclad warships and was the first vessel sunk by an electrically controlled torpedo (mine).  Amazingly, no crew were hurt but the vessel sunk in only a few minutes.  It was discovered buried in the silt in 1956 and the silt, sand, and mud had preserved nearly the entire vessel and its cargo.  Today the skeleton of the Cairo has been restored and along with its artifacts are on display at the museum.  The skeleton of the ship itself is simply amazing.

11) Fort Hill was the Confederate anchor on the northern flank and was so formidable that no Union attack was ever made against it.  It commands an imposing view of both the river, but all the surrounding terrain.

FortHill

12) Stockade Redan was the focal point of the failed attacks on May 19 and 22.  It was the principal stockade protecting the Graveyard Road approach to Vicksburg.

13) The Great Redoubt is the centerpoint of the entire Confederate defense and along with the Third Louisiana Redan protected the Jackson Road.  The Union artillery kept it under almost continuous bombardment during the siege, so there is very little remaining except the hilltop.

GreatRedoubt

14) The Second Texas Lunette is a reconstructed fortification that guarded the Baldwin Ferry Road.  Due to its reconstruction it is the best example of what the earthen fortifications looked like during the siege.  You can also view the remains of the zig-zag trenches dug by the Union soldiers in approaching this position.

15) The Railroad Redoubt was built to protect the Southern Railroad of Mississippi.  During the second attack on May 22 the Union soldiers forced out the defenders only to be driven back out by strong counterattack with fierce hand-to-hand combat.

16) Fort Garrott was one of the few Confederate positions that was not positioned on the local high ground and subsequently was the site of casualties from Union sharpshooters.

17) At Hovey’s Approach you can see reconstructed sections of the two approach trenches.

HoveyApproach

18)  There are 4 other locations that are part of the National Park, but outside the main boundary of the park.  Three of these locations are along the Mississippi river at the extreme south end of the Confederate and Union lines that are no longer part of the National Park which was given up for the Interstate.  Navy Circle is a southern anchor of the Union line, South Fort the southern anchor of the Confederate line, and Louisiana Circle which was a Confederate cannon location that guarded the river approach to Vicksburg.  The fourth location is a small section of Grant’s Canal which was designed to bypass Vicksburg altogether, but was abandoned when the dam on the unfinished canal broke during the winter of 1862-1863.  Grant’s Canal is located across the Mississippi in Louisiana.