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A detailed analysis of the end of the Vicksburg Campaign and the forty-day siege
Vicksburg, Mississippi, held strong through a bitter, hard-fought, months-long Civil War campaign, but General Ulysses S. Grant’s forty-day siege ended the stalemate and, on July 4, 1863, destroyed Confederate control of the Mississippi River. In the first anthology to examine the Vicksburg Campaign’s final phase, nine prominent historians and emerging scholars provide in-depth analysis of previously unexamined aspects of the historic siege.

Ranging in scope from military to social history, the contributors’ invitingly written essays examine the role of Grant’s staff, the critical contributions of African American troops to the Union Army of the Tennessee, both sides’ use of sharpshooters and soldiers’ opinions about them, unusual nighttime activities between the Union siege lines and Confederate defensive positions, the use of West Point siege theory and the ingenuity of Midwestern soldiers in mining tunnels under the city’s defenses, the horrific experiences of civilians trapped in Vicksburg, the Louisiana soldier's defense of Jackson amid the strains of piano music, and the effect of the campaign on Confederate soldiers from the Trans-Mississippi region.

The contributors explore how the Confederate Army of Mississippi and residents of Vicksburg faced food and supply shortages as well as constant danger from Union cannons and sharpshooters. Rebel troops under the leadership of General John C. Pemberton sought to stave off the Union soldiers, and though their morale plummeted, the besieged soldiers held their ground until starvation set in. Their surrender meant that Grant’s forces succeeded in splitting in half the Confederate States of America.

Editors Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear, along with their contributors—Andrew S. Bledsoe, John J. Gaines, Martin J. Hershock, Richard H. Holloway, Justin S. Solonick, Scott L. Stabler, and Jonathan M. Steplyk—give a rare glimpse into the often overlooked operations at the end of the most important campaign of the Civil War.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780809337835
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date: 06/11/2020
Series: Civil War Campaigns in the West Series
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 200
Sales rank: 468,024
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Steven E. Woodworth, a professor of history at Texas Christian University, has authored, coauthored, or edited more than thirty books on the Civil War era, including Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861–1865, and Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. He is a coeditor of the Civil War Campaigns in the West series.
Charles D. Grear, a professor of history at Central Texas College, has written extensively on Texas and the Civil War, including Why Texans Fought in the Civil War. In addition, he has edited several books, among them The Tennessee Campaignof 1864 and The Vicksburg Assaults, May 19–22, 1863. He is a coeditor of the Civil War Campaigns in the West series.

Contributions by Andrew S. Bledsoe, John J. Gaines, Charles D. Grear, Martin J. Hershock, Richard H. Holloway, Justin S. Solonick, Scott L. Stabler, Jonathan M. Steplyk, and Steven E. Woodworth 

Read an Excerpt

Charles D. Grear
From March 29 to May 22, 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant had success fully invaded the interior of Mississippi, defeated a Confederate force at Jackson, pushed Confederates from their positions at Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge, and forced General John C. Pemberton to entrench his Rebel army around Vicksburg. With his prize in sight and morale high throughout the ranks, Grant ordered an assault to break Confederate defenses on May 19. The assault failed to breach the Confederate works around Vicksburg. A second assault on May 22 failed to exploit a tenuous hold Union soldiers had on the Railroad Redoubt. With little ground gained and Union casualties totaling 4,131 men, Grant decided to besiege the Confederate “City on a Hill.” Within days Grant quickly ?nished surrounding Vicksburg and brought more men to reinforce his lines to keep Pemberton’s army in place. Determined to capture the Confederate army, control the length of the Mississippi River, and divide the South in half, Grant completed the Vicksburg Campaign that began in mid-November in less than six weeks from May 25 to July 4. Though the guns fell silent there were still threats to Grant’s army, and the impact of the siege in?uenced many people for months to come. This volume is not limited strictly to the days of the siege but the lasting impact in the months that followed as the Vicksburg Campaign came to its conclusion.
Both Union and Confederate leaders understood the importance of Vicksburg. President Abraham Lincoln famously wrote, “Let us get Vicksburg and all that country is ours. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.”1 Je?erson Davis, a native Mississippian, owned a plantation just south of Vicksburg, so its defense meant more to him than the loss of the Mississippi River. It was personal. Davis met with his cabinet and trusted general, Robert E. Lee, to discuss options for relieving Pemberton and his army at Vicksburg. Davis wanted a detachment from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to reinforce Joseph E. Johnston’s army that remained intact even after Grant forced it to evacuate Jackson, Mississippi, on May 14. Now dubbed the “Army of Relief,” it was the weapon with which Davis and Johnston hoped to attack Grant’s rear and force him to lift the siege. Lee, on the other hand, o?ered to invade Pennsylvania with the hopes that a threat on Northern soil would encourage the Union army to transfer men from the Western Theater and lift the siege. That was a longshot. Lee simply wanted to keep his men in the Eastern Theater where he felt the Confederacy needed them most.
With the lull in active ?ghting and in?ux of more men to his army, Grant began reorganizing his forces. This also gave him the opportunity to resolve his personal feud with General John A. McClernand by removing him from command and replacing him with General E. O. C. Ord. Though McClernand protested his removal to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and President Lincoln, it was to no avail. Unbeknownst to McClernand, it was these leaders who gave Grant full authority over his lieutenants during the campaign. Grant’s willingness to tolerate McClernand, until the proper moment, re?ects his style of command. Andrew Bledsoe’s chapter further explores these themes by examining Grant and his command sta? during the siege of Vicksburg. Rumors surrounded Grant throughout the Civil War and even extended to the men he trusted to run the day-to-day and mundane operations of his army. Contemporary assessment of Grant’s command sta? by military and political o?cials varied from excellence to drunkenness and incompetence. Bledsoe’s thorough examination of Grant’s sta? gives insight into his hands-on approach to commanding an army.
In?uenced by his earlier setback at Holly Springs where Earl Van Dorn spoiled his attack at Chickasaw Bayou by raiding his supplies staged there, Grant wanted to protect his logistical lines that fed his soldiers and guns ?ring on Vicksburg. United States Colored Troops defended the vital Union supply lines in two of the three critical positions on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River at Milliken’s Bend and Lake Providence. In chapter 2, Scott L. Stabler and Martin J. Hershock examine the contributions of African American soldiers to the siege of Vicksburg. These soldiers’ defense of these critical positions allowed Grant to continue the siege of Vicksburg and focus attention on the potential attack from Confederate General Johnston in the east. The valor of African American troops in?uenced public opinion of freedmen and reinforced Lincoln’s policy of arming black men in the war for emancipation.
Grant ordered engineers to the front lines to develop a siege system for the Union army by establishing gun emplacements, designing trenches, and teaching soldiers the processes of laying siege. The Army of the Tennessee developed thirteen approaches to advance on the Confederate city. Engineers used proven methods for building these approaches, such as building sap rollers to protect the men digging the trench from Confederate sharpshooters and artillery ?re. Soldiers on both sides, particularly sharpshooters, endured the constant danger of being killed or wounded while manning the lines. Though not a new concept, a sharpshooter’s war emerged during the siege of Vicksburg. Confederate marksmen shot at Union sappers to delay their advance on the defensive lines, and Union sharpshooters responded to silence them and keep Confederate artillery crews from ?ring their cannons. Jonathan Steplyk’s chapter explores not only the role that Union and Confederate sharpshooters performed during the siege, but soldiers’ opinions and reactions to their exploits. Additionally, Steven E. Woodworth examines the nocturnal activities between the Union siege lines and Confederate defensive positions. Nights were some of the most active and interesting times along the Vicksburg lines.
Confederates made life miserable in other ways for Union sappers and Southern freedmen digging the trenches. They sent ?reballs, charges wrapped in wet hay, toward the sap rollers and ?red rounds with cloth soaked in turpentine to set them ablaze. Union sappers would rebuild the protective barriers and keep digging. As Union soldiers neared Confederate redoubts and redans, they began mining tunnels under the defensive structures. They would pack the tunnels with explosives, detonate them to compromise the foundation, and collapse the structure, in hopes of exploiting the hole they created in the Confederate defenses. The combination of West Point siege theory and the ingenuity of Midwestern soldiers such as Andrew A. Hickenlooper led to the successful detonation of two mines. These exploits are detailed in Justin Solonick’s chapter. Though the two mines did not culminate in breaching the Confederate lines, they encouraged Grant to plan another full-scale frontal assault on July 6. The assault never launched since Pemberton surrendered his army in the early hours of July 4.
The forty-seven-day siege took its toll on men from both sides. The siege began in late spring and continued into the hot and humid summer of Mississippi. Men not only endured the heat but the insects, such as lice, mosquitoes, ants, and ticks, along with snakes that plagued the trenches. Soldiers also su?ered from illness, boredom from static warfare, the stress from constant shelling, and exposure to enemy ?re. Union soldiers endured the strain of hard labor, while Confederate soldiers bore the anticipation of an approaching enemy. Soldiers relieved these stresses through the usual methods—playing cards, writing letters, reading, and other games. They also took chances that exposed them unnecessarily to enemy ?re, such as running across the top of the forti?cations. The static nature of the ?ghting also led to increased fraternization between the enemies. Soldiers on picket duty would meet after dark when the sharpshooters and artillery ceased ?ring to swap goods, coffee and tobacco being most common, and socialize. Sometimes they would share their plans to spare the men on the other side from harm, since both sides endured the same hardships. At daylight the men would return to their opposing trenches and commence shooting.
Despite the shared misery, Union soldiers had advantages over their Confederate counterparts. Reinforcements allowed men to rotate out of the front lines to more comfortable camps in the rear. Additionally, the Union established supply lines to deliver a constant supply of food, other comforts, and consistent mail service. Forty-seven days cut o? from the outside world under constant bombardment took a toll on Confederate soldiers. They began to desert more frequently as they reconsidered their roles in the siege. Without supplies coming into Vicksburg, Confederates and civilians began to ration their food to a fraction of their usual diets. Civilians experienced other hardships, such as the need to care for wounded soldiers, the loss of property to Union shells, and the necessity of living in caves, dugouts, and trenches to avoid artillery ?re. Civilians proved just as resourceful as their military counterparts during this extended time of deprivation and stress. John J. Gaines’s chapter provides insight into the impact and experiences of civilians trapped in Vicksburg.
By July 1, Pemberton grew more desperate and his patience exhausted. He polled his generals whether they should ?ght their way out of Vicksburg to the south or surrender. His lieutenants responded that the weak and mal-nourished men could not successfully escape. With their opinion expressed, Pemberton arranged to discuss the surrender of Vicksburg on July 3. As usual Grant demanded unconditional surrender, but the two leaders’ associates worked out the terms of surrender late into the night. Thus the formal surrender did not take place until July 4. With the end of the siege and the Union capture of Vicksburg, the Confederacy lost 29, 491 men surrendered, 9,091 killed or wounded, 172 cannons, 38,000 artillery shells, 58,000 pounds of black powder, 50,000 ri?es, 600,000 rounds of ammunition, and 350,000 percussion caps. Grant’s army lost 10,142 killed, wounded, and missing.
With the responsibility of laying siege to Vicksburg behind him, Grant could focus on the siege of Port Hudson, the last holdout in the campaign for the Mississippi River. With the July 9 surrender, Grant ordered General William T. Sherman to run o? Johnston and his “Army of Relief.” At the time of Pemberton’s surrender, Johnston’s forces were marching toward Big Black River. On hearing the surrender of Vicksburg, Johnston retreated to Jackson, arriving on July 8. The Confederates entrenched themselves for a Union frontal assault that never materialized. Instead Sherman decided to lay siege to Johnston’s army, hoping to pressure him into withdrawing. Richard H. Holloway’s chapter reveals the unique music and actions that Louisiana soldiers performed during the siege of Jackson. By July 16, Johnston evacuated the city without Sherman following. Too little water and too much summer heat deterred Union pursuit. With the capitulation of the Confederates at Port Hudson on July 9 and the retreat of Johnston, the Vicksburg Campaign concluded, forever transforming the course of the American Civil War.
Though the single greatest turning point of the Civil War is debated among historians, all agree that the surrender of Vicksburg had a signi?cant impact on the war. Northerners reacted to the news with jubilation because the Union gained complete control of the Mississippi River and isolated the Trans-Mississippi Department from the rest of the Confederacy. Southerners mourned the loss of Vicksburg. A pall settled over the South with the loss of an army and control of Vicksburg. Adding to their despair was the news of Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg and his retreat south to Virginia on the same day as Pemberton’s surrender. Charles D. Grear’s chapter analyzes the response of Trans-Mississippian Confederates to the fall of Vicksburg and the impact it had on their morale and desire to continue the war.
Grant’s persistence, ingenuity, and guile led to an achievement eclipsed only by his later bagging of Lee at Appomattox Courthouse. His star shone brightly after Vicksburg, and for the ?rst time in the war a conclusion seemed possible. Months later Lincoln promoted Grant to major general in the Regular Army and granted him command of the newly organized Military Division of the Mississippi.
After the surrender, the captured Confederate soldiers were paroled, many went to parole camps to wait for their exchange, others such as the Louisianans went home, and others deserted the ranks. Pemberton was paroled in October 1863, but never commanded an army again. After resigning his commission as a general o?cer, he received a commission as a lieutenant colonel and commanded the artillery during the defense of Richmond late in the war. The Vicksburg Campaign is usually eclipsed by Gettysburg, but its overall importance to the American Civil War cannot be denied as a greater milestone on the road to ?nal Union victory.
[end of excerpt]

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



Charles D. Grear 

1. “By Hazard and by Spasms”: Grant and HisStaff at the Siege of Vicksburg 

Andrew S. Bledsoe 

2. “Standing on the Banks”: African American Troops in the Vicksburg Campaign 

Scott L. Stabler and Martin J. Hershock 

3. Plying the Deadly Trade: The Sharpshooters’ War at the Siege of Vicksburg 

Jonathan M. Steplyk 

4. Nights at Vicksbur

Steven E. Woodworth 

5. Andrew Hickenlooper and the Vicksburg Mines 

Justin S. Solonick 

6. A Community Besieged: Civilians of the Vicksburg Campaign 

John J. Gaines 

7. Mournful Melodies: LouisianansPlayed the Swan Song of the Army of Relief 

Richard H. Holloway 

8. “West of the Mississippi to UsIsNearly a Sealed Book”: Trans-Mississippians and the Fall of Vicksburg 

Charles D. Grear



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