February 14, 2019
Vicksburg National Military Park
Modern Vicksburg Map
Vicksburg Under Siege
During the Civil War Vicksburg had been the target of many Union attacks- all repulsed by deft Confederate defensive maneuvers and some of the most difficult terrain of the Western Theater. Vast quantities of supplies passed through the city on its way to main Confederate armies. Its location on a high bluff made it strategic for controlling the Mississippi River. The city had not been conquered- that was before General Grant figured out how to gain control beginning May 18, 1863. It was not to be easy. The port had to be sealed which required the assistance of the Union Navy but the Admiral was not convinced that Grant’s plan was viable. Grant finally convinced him and the Admiral agreed to assist in conquering Vicksburg.
Excerpt from the American Battle Trust:
In the summer of 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee converged on Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, investing the city and trapping a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton. The city was located on a high bluff, and Union occupation of the town was critical to control of the strategic river. Grant’s bold 6-week campaign began in early June and took his army south through Arkansas opposite Vicksburg, crossed the river 30 miles below the city, captured the Mississippi capital of Jackson, turned west and pushed Pemberton’s army into Vicksburg itself. By mid-May, Pemberton’s men had constructed a series of trenches, forts, redans, and artillery lunettes in a 7-mile ring surrounding the city. Grant’s army surrounded Pemberton and outnumbered him two to one. Wasting no time, Grant launched two major assaults on May 19th and 22nd and was repulsed with heavy casualties. On May 25th, Grant decided to besiege the city. With no reinforcements coming, food and supplies nearly gone, and after holding out for more than forty days, Pemberton finally surrendered on July 4th. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign was one of the most brilliant of the war. With the loss of Pemberton’s army at Vicksburg and the Union victory at Port Hudson five days later, the Union controlled the entire Mississippi River and the Confederacy was effectively split in half. Grant’s victory boosted his reputation, leading ultimately to his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.
The National Military Park in Vicksburg is a beast of another color. Unlike many Civil War Military Parks the names, dates and maneuvers and locations of infantry, calvary and artillery batteries of the Union and Confederate armies are well documented.
As one enters the park through a grand arch one begins to see one of many blue colored signs. The signs explain the significance of that location. Some even explain the running battle of Union troops as they advanced to within 40 feet of a Confederate emplacement, only to be repulsed.
We have entered nearest the emplacements of the Union Army. Infantry trenches are still visible, cannon batteries still intact. Trenches dug by Union soldiers towards Confederate positions in an attempt to overpower them are still on the hillsides.
We learn that in an attempt to breech enemy lines Union soldiers dug a tunnel until reaching a point underneath a rebel position, then set off 2200 pounds of black powder. The crater created by the explosion is still there.
The road through the park is several miles long following both ridges and bottom land. One can see how steep sided ravines and hillsides around Vicksburg worked in its defense. At most locations of note are marble monuments, some large some not, that pay tribute to the companies of each state who fought here. Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee- the list goes on and on. Some bonze busts of Union heroes are found along the road.
We had a hard time understanding how the Union Army could see Vicksburg from their positions for all the trees. We are at the edge of the city and cannot see one measly building. We later are made aware that the areas other than steep sided ravines and hillsides were farmland. Duh! That explained a lot!
We travel a great distance on the park road before coming upon signs in the color red- the confederate army positions. In comparison to the Union plaques, monuments and signage explaining their army’s positions and maneuvers and the Union National Cemetery, the Confederate side is lacking.
It’s as if the park was set up by Union sympathizers and their Confederate counterparts were not invited to participate.
Even the Confederate soldiers killed in battle were not buried within the National Military Park. They are laid to rest at the Cedar Hill city cemetery in their own section called Soldiers Rest. Kind of sad, really.
If you ever visit Vicksburg be sure to visit its beautiful downtown. The museum located in the old courthouse is a must see as are the mansions and churches, heck, the old city in general. And don’t overlook the Vicksburg National Military Park and give yourself at least a good day for that visit.