In the spring of 1862, the importance of Vicksburg was realized by both the North and the South. The South realized that as long as it held Vicksburg the Mississippi River would be useless to Union traffic on the river and the railroads which run east-west would still be able to hold both sides of the Confederacy intact. President Abraham Lincoln said, “See what a lot of land these fellows, hold, of which Vicksburg is the Key.”
Five attempts were made before finally capturing the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.” The first attempt was the Williams’ Canal, the route from Milliken’s Bend (Duckport Canal), the Lake Providence route, the Yazoo Pass, and the route by Steele’s Bayou.
In the front of Vicksburg, the Mississippi River made a sharp bend, forming a peninsula. A canal cut across this land would give a more direct passage to the current of the river, and leave Vicksburg without any water defense. This attempt was a failure because heat and disease reduced the available workforce.
Milliken’s Bend (Duckport Canal)
Another attempt was begun in Madison Parish, LA and its purpose was to connect the bayous that ran through the countryside. This attempt was also a failure because of falling water levels.
The Yazoo Pass
Grant thought if he could obtain a firm hold north of Vicksburg that he could launch an attack, however, the Confederates were already aware of Union plans. While the Union forces were opening one end of the Yazoo Pass, the Confederates were closing the other end of the desired route through construction of Fort Pemberton. Construction of this powerful bastion blocked the Federal route to the Yazoo River. Grant ordered the troops to return to the Mississippi River.
The route by Steele’s Bayou
By traveling Steele’s Bayou, the Union forces could navigate through Black Bayou to Deer Creek. From Deer Creek, they could reach Rolling Fork and then travel down the Big Sunflower into the Yazoo. This would place Greenwood, MS between two Union forces and force the Confederates to give up Fort Pemberton. The passages were blocked by trees that had been cut by Confederate forces. Rain fall was almost constant and it became too difficult to proceed so the attempt was abandoned. The failure of this route forced Grant to attack Vicksburg from the south.
Grant positioned his artillery in a semicircle connecting the Northern, Eastern and Southern flanks of Vicksburg. Meanwhile, David Porter’s Union gunboats continually shelled the city from the river. Grant kept pressure on Pemberton by extending his lines and tightening his grip around Vicksburg in order to prevent the Confederates from getting supplies of food or information. The Union soldiers began formal siege operations by digging trenches approaching Confederate lines forcing the Confederates to stay on the alert.
As the siege began there were efforts by the Confederates on the Louisiana side of the river to relieve the pressure felt in Vicksburg, but to no avail. Pemberton’s only hope of getting out of the siege rested on the shoulders of General Joseph Johnston. Johnston had hinted at a possible joint attack. Johnston would proceed from Jackson, MS, toward Vicksburg, thus trapping the Union Army in between the Confederate forces. Johnston really never had any intention of carrying out this plan.
On July 3, after 46 days under siege Pemberton and Grant met under the “Surrender Oak” to begin discussing the terms of the surrender of Vicksburg. Grant of course wanted nothing less than an unconditional surrender. Pemberton would not accept these conditions. Pemberton said, “you will bury many more of your men before you will enter Vicksburg.” Finally terms were reached. The Confederates would give up their arms, but they would be paroled and allowed to leave the city. Officers would be allowed to keep their side arms, clothing, and one horse. On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg was officially surrendered to the Union forces. Vicksburg was under military occupation from July 1863 until President Rutherford B. Hayes removed the troops in 1877.
Effects of Siege
Private homes and civilians were greatly affected by Union fire by being destroyed, while many others were being put to different uses. Some were used as hospitals such as Duff Green mansion for both Union and Confederate soldiers. Many residents dug caves into hillsides and bluffs to seek protection from the deadly fire leaving building and homes empty. Some homes and buildings were used to house and care for wounded soldiers by civilians such as the Sisters of Mercy. Women were forced to take on many different roles ranging from that of nurse while providing care to the wounded, they also took on the role of historians as they kept diaries recording daily events. Finally, women also took on the role of encouragers by providing encouragement through written letters to the soldiers.
By capturing Vicksburg, the Union had effectively severed the Confederate supply lines and cut the Confederacy off from Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas.
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