Vicksburg, July 4, 1863
In the late fall and early winter of 1862, Union General U.S. Grant unsuccessfully campaigned [fought battles] for control of Mississippi, and, in particular, for the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grant’s efforts were hampered [made more difficult] by Confederate leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose cavalry first raided, and then escaped from, Union troops multiple times. In late December, Grant called off his campaign and began to retreat to Tennessee. On his way back, his troops, who did not have access to Union supply lines, were forced to “live off the land,” securing food and supplies however they could from the local countryside during their retreat.
These losses did not sit well with Grant [he didn’t like to lose], so in the spring of 1863, he returned to Mississippi and launched a campaign that would cement [build] his reputation as a feared military leader. First, he marched his men along the Mississippi to a point below Vicksburg. Union gunboats then joined in the plan, sailing down the river in front of the fortified city. On April 30th, his troops crossed the river, near the entrance to the city. Instead of heading north into Vicksburg, Grant then directed his troops east to Jackson, Mississippi, which fell on May 14. Next, Grant and General Sherman took out smaller confederate forces at Champion’s Hill and Black River, leaving Vicksburg the remaining target.
For the next eighteen days, Grant’s troops marched 180 miles, winning five battles and destroying the troops guarding Vicksburg. He then launched a major attack on the city itself, which was pushed back. Finally, Grant ordered a siege of the city – preventing anyone from going in or out and continually launching artillery into the city itself. The people of Vicksburg suffered terribly for six weeks, hoping to hold out for Confederate reinforcements that never came. People were starving, dying of disease and injury. On Independence Day, July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered.
The battle was a major victory for the Union, demonstrated the North’s ability to fight without access to supplies, and meant that Mississippi River was now in Union hands.