Let’s Talk About…. Vicksburg, Part 2

On this trip down the Mississippi, I carried a small notebook and scribbled notes furiously. Visiting this national park, I was especially overcome by the enormity of this battle. The notes are mine and the facts as I understood from our guide.

Soon after Christmas, 1862, Grant, under orders from President Lincoln, came down personally from Memphis “to get the job done!” His 43,000 man army was on the west side of the Mississippi and it took two days to ferry the troops, horses and armaments, across the river.  It did help Grant’s cause that the Confederate generals were in-fighting; Johnston abandoned the town of Jackson as Grant approached. But Pemberton’s troops were well entrenched in a semi-circle around Vicksburg. As well as the Confederate army, there were 3500 citizens there. As the Union forces fought their way to Vicksburg, the net closed around the town, the resistance and battlements repulsing Grant four times. But Grant had way more men and Lincoln was re-supplying him with everything and anything he needed… “with bodies for the fire.”  Finally, after losing many men, Grant decided upon a siege as his only option.

On 25 May 1863, the siege of Vicksburg began. Grant held the superior position; he could call for help. Pemberton was just the opposite; his army was trapped and he had all those civilians to think about. Grant had 200 canons and they commenced firing one by one, every fifteen seconds around the clock. The 3500 non-combatants fled the city down to the bluffs along the river to live in tents and caves, anything to avoid the canon fire.  Survival was on their minds, not battles nor politics. (Pause to imagine life in a muddy cave, with nothing to eat or drink, hearing cannon balls tearing your home and city apart.)

First the cows disappeared, then the horses. Next were the dogs and when, after 47 days, the troops and the citizens were reduced to eating rats, Pemberton surrendered on 4 July 1863,  the same day as the Battle of Gettysburg ended, signaling the end of the war. Union deaths from start to finish during the taking of Vicksburg were about 10,000 men. The Confederates lost about 9000.  These figures might reflect men killed, wounded or AWOL.

After Vicksburg, Lincoln realized that Grant had the guts to fight, versus so many other of his appointed Union generals (due to in-fighting and politics) that Lincoln appointed Grant to be General of the Army to finish the job of causing the Confederacy’s will to fight to crumble.

This is the field our guide was referring to. As we bus-toured the Vicksburg battlefield, our very knowledgeable guide paused at one point to help us imagine it as it was: Imagine a hilly-up-and-down field covering several football fields in length. You are told to charge (RUN!) from here to there in the sweltering July heat, carrying your nine pound rifle, being rather weak from too little food, and with iron balls fired from both sides raining down on you. The slaughter was horrible, “utter insanity,” said the guide.