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The Siege of Vicksburg

(Reprint from News: June 29, 2001)

June 28, 2001


As you may know by now, I'm a closet historian (yes, I'm fascinated by the history of closets).  I'm also a big Civil War buff and I never take a trip around the East without visiting as many Civil War battlefields as I can get to.  In fact, sometimes my trips around the East resemble mad scrambles from one Civil War park to another in a crazy "connect-the-dots" manner.  One place that I had never been to, though, was Vicksburg, Mississippi, the site of one of the most important conflicts of the war.


Here's the Civil War tune, The Battle Hymn Of The Republic.

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During the early years of the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union troops in the west, tried to cut the Confederacy in half by securing the entire Mississippi River.  He was making good progress until, in the spring of 1863, he reached Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the river. 


By April of 1863, he had been trying for a month to figure out a way to dislodge the Rebel defenders there.  He finally landed his Union troops south of town, then circled back and besieged the city and its inhabitants for 47 days before it fell.  The Confederate troops surrendered on July 3, 1863, the same day, ironically, that the Confederates also lost at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a thousand miles away.  These two losses sealed the fate of the Confederacy, although the war would drag on for two more years.


While driving north on the Natchez Trace Parkway, I looked on a map and realized that Vicksburg was only an hour away, so I hopped off the Parkway and headed west.  After getting refueled in Vicksburg, my first stop was the National Park Service's impressive Visitor Center, then I spent about an hour driving along the 16-mile long tour road, while passing countless Union and Confederate fortifications and entrenchments.  The Battle of Vicksburg was one of the greatest sieges in American history, and the citizens here had to endure some amazing hardships.  When Grant won here, he was a hero to the Union cause and was soon tapped by Abraham Lincoln to lead the troops to final victory in Virginia.


As I discovered, the city of Vicksburg today is a little frayed around the edges, something like Natchez, and had definitely seen better times.  However, the National Military Park, which is run by the National Park Service, was fascinating and I could've easily spent all day here, reading what seemed like about a million plaques and monuments (it honestly does seem like a million, even to this diehard Civil War buff).  More information about the Battle of Vicksburg is available from the National Park Service's Vicksburg website.



Above left:  These are Union cannon at the siege line in Vicksburg.  There are over 150 emplaced cannon in this park.

Above center:  Here are some Union trenches at Vicksburg.  Unfortunately, the vegetation has grown so much at this battlefield that it's hard to imagine what it must have looked like during the siege.  But if you like reading plaques, Vicksburg is your place!  There are exactly 1,325 military monuments here... and I must have read about half of them.

Above right:  About 40 years ago, the sunken Union gunboat Cairo was extracted from the mud of the Yazoo River and is now being restored.  That's a person in the lower left corner for scale.



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