1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vicksburg

VICKSBURG, a city and the county-seat of Warren county, Mississippi, U.S.A., on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers,[1] 44 m. by rail W. of Jackson, and 236 m. N. by W. of New Orleans. Pop. (1890) 13,373; (1900) 14,834, of whom 8147 were negroes; (1910 census) 20,814, being the second largest city in Mississippi. It is served by the Alabama & Vicksburg, the Vicksburg, Shreveport & Pacific, and the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railways, and by steamboat lines. It is built among the Walnut Hills, which rise about 260 ft. above the river. Among the principal buildings and institutions are the court-house, standing on one of the highest hills, a fine Federal building, the city hall, a state charity hospital, an infirmary, a sanatorium, a public library, the medical college of the university of Mississippi, All Saints' Episcopal College (Protestant Episcopal, 1909) for girls. Saint Francis Xavier's Academy, and Saint Aloysius College (Roman Catholic). The Civil War battle-ground has been converted into a beautiful National Military Park, embracing 1283 acres and containing numerous markers, memorials and monuments, including one (1910) to Lieut.-General Stephen Dill Lee, who was superintendent of the Military Park from 1899 until his death in 1908. On the bluffs just beyond the northern limits of the city and adjoining the Military Park is the Vicksburg National Cemetery, in which are the graves of 16,892 Federal soldiers (12,769 unknown). The principal industry of Vicksburg is the construction and repair of rolling stock for steam railways. It has also a dry dock and cotton compresses; and among its manufactures are cottonseed oil and cake, hardwood lumber, furniture, boxes and baskets. In 1905 the factory products were valued at $1,887,924. The city has a large trade in long-staple cotton grown in the surrounding country. It is a port of entry but has practically no foreign trade.

The French built Fort St Peter near the site of Vicksburg early in the 18th century, and on the 2nd of January 1730 its garrison was murdered by the Yazoo Indians. As early as 1783 the Spanish erected Fort Nogales, and in 1798 this was taken by some United States troops and renamed Fort McHenry. The first permanent settlement in the vicinity was made about 1811 by Rev. Newell (or Newit) Vick (d. 1819), a Methodist preacher. In accordance with his will a town was laid out in 1824; and Vicksburg was incorporated as a town in 1825, and was chartered as a city in 1836. The campaigns of which it was the centre in 1862 and 1863 are described below. Vicksburg was the home of Seargent Smith Prentiss from 1832 to 1845.

See H. F., Simrall, “Vicksburg: the City on the Walnut Hills,” in L. P. Powell's Historic Towns of the Southern States (New York, 1900).

Campaign of 1862-63.—Vicksburg is historically famous as being the centre of interest of one of the most important campaigns of the Civil War. The command of the Mississippi, which would imply the severance of the Confederacy into two halves, and also the reopening of free commercial navigation from St Louis to the sea, was one of the principal objects of the Western Union armies from the time that they began their southward advance from Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky in February 1862. A series of victories in the spring and summer carried them as far as the line Memphis-Corinth, but in the autumn they came to a standstill and were called upon to repulse the counter-advance of the Southern armies. These armies were accompanied by a flotilla of thinly armoured but powerful gunboats which had been built on the upper Mississippi in the autumn of 1861, and had co-operated with the army at Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Island No. 10, besides winning a victory on the water at Memphis.

At the same time a squadron of sea-going vessels under Flag-officer Farragut had forced the defences of New Orleans (q.v.) and, accompanied by a very small military force, had steamed up the great river. On reaching Vicksburg the heavy vessels again forced their way past the batteries, but both at Vicksburg and at Port Hudson they had to deal, no longer with low-sited fortifications, but with inconspicuous earthworks on bluffs far above the river-level, and they failed to make any impression. Farragut then returned to New Orleans. From Helena to Port Hudson the Confederates maintained complete control of the Mississippi, the improvised fortresses of Vicksburg, Port Hudson and Arkansas Post (near the mouth of Arkansas river) being the framework of the defence. It was to be the task of Grant's army around Corinth and the flotilla at Memphis to break up this system of defences, and, by joining hands with Farragut and clearing the whole course of the Mississippi, to cut the Confederacy in half.

The long and painful operations by which this was achieved group themselves into four episodes: (a) the Grenada expedition of Grant's force, (b) the river column under McClernand and Sherman, (c) the operations in the bayoux, and (d) the final “overland” campaign from Grand Gulf. The country in which these operations took place divides itself sharply into two zones, the upland east of the river, upon which it looks down from high bluffs, and the levels west of it, which are a maze of bayoux, backwaters and side channels, the intervening land being kept dry near the river itself by artificial banks (levees) but elsewhere swampy. At Vicksburg, it is important to observe, the bluffs trend away from the Mississippi to follow the course of the Yazoo, rejoining the great river at Memphis. Thus there are two obvious lines of advance for the Northern army, on the upland (Memphis and Grand Junction on Grenada-Jackson), and downstream through the bayou country (Memphis-Helena-Vicksburg). The main army of the defenders, who were commanded by Lieut.-General J. C. Pemberton, between Vicksburg and Jackson and Grenada, could front either north against an advance by Grenada or west along the bluffs above and below Vicksburg.

EB1911 Vicksburg - vicinity map.jpg
Emery Walker sc.

The first advance was made at the end of November 1862 by two columns from Grand Junction and Memphis on Grenada. The Confederates in the field, greatly outnumbered, fell back without fighting. But Grant's line of supply was one long single-line, ill-equipped railway through Grand Junction to Columbus, and the opposing cavalry under Van Dorn swept round his flank and, by destroying one of his principal magazines (at Holly Springs), without further effort compelled the abandonment of the advance. Meantime one of Grant's subordinates, McClernand, was intriguing to be appointed to command an expedition by the river-line, and Grant meeting half-way an evil which he felt himself unable to prevent, had sent Sherman with the flotilla and some 30,000 men to attack Vicksburg from the water-side, while he himself should deal with the Confederate field army on the high ground. But the scheme broke down completely when Van Dorn cut Grant's line of supply, and the Confederate army was free to turn on Sherman. The latter, ignorant of Grant's retreat, attacked the Yazoo bluffs above Vicksburg (battle of Chickasaw Bayou) on December 29th; but a large portion of Pemberton's field army had arrived to help the Vicksburg garrison, and the Federals were easily repulsed with a loss of 2000 men. McClernand now appeared and took the command out of Sherman's hands, informing him at the same time of Grant's retreat. Sherman thereupon proposed, before attempting fresh operations against Vicksburg, to clear the country behind them by destroying the Confederate garrison at Arkansas Post. This expedition was completely successful, at a cost of about 1000 men the fort and its 5000 defenders were captured on the 11th of January 1863. McClernand, elated at his victory, would have continued to ascend the Arkansas, but such an eccentric operation would have been profitless if not dangerous, and Grant, authorized by the general-in-chief, Halleck, peremptorily ordered McClernand back to the Mississippi.

EB1911 Vicksburg - campaign map, April and May, 1863.jpg
Emery Walker sc.

Retreating from the upland. Grant sailed down the river and joined McClernand and Sherman at Milliken's Bend at the beginning of February, and, superseding the resentful McClernand, assumed command of the three corps (XIII., McClernand; XV., Sherman, XVII., McPherson) available. He had already imagined the daring solution of his most difficult problem which he afterwards put into execution, but for the present he tried a series of less risky expedients to reach the high ground beyond Pemberton's flanks, without indeed much confidence in their success, yet desirous in these unhealthy flats of keeping up the spirits of his army by active work, and of avoiding, at a crisis in the fortunes of the war, any appearance of discouragement. Three such attempts were made in all, with the co-operation of the flotilla under Captain David D. Porter. First, Grant endeavoured to cut a canal across the bend of the Mississippi at Vicksburg, hoping thus to isolate the fortress, to gain a water connection with the lower river, and to land an army on the bluffs beyond Pemberton's left flank. This was unsuccessful. Next he tried to make a practicable channel from the Mississippi to the upper Yazoo, and so to turn Pemberton's right, but the Confederates, warned in time, constructed a fort at the point where Grant's advance emerged from the bayoux. Lastly, an advance through a maze of creeks (Steele's Bayou expedition), towards the middle Yazoo and Haines's Bluff, encountered the enemy, not on the bluffs, but in the low-lying woods and islands, and these so harassed and delayed the progress of the expedition that Grant recalled it. Shortly afterwards Grant determined on the manœuvre in rear of Vicksburg which established his reputation. The troops marched overland from Milliken's Bend to New Carthage, and on the 16th of April Porter's gunboat flotilla and the transports ran past the Vicksburg batteries. All this, which involved careful arrangement and hard work, was done by the 24th of April. General Banks, with a Union army from New Orleans, was now advancing up the river to invest Port Hudson, and by way of diverting attention from the Mississippi, a cavalry brigade under Benjamin Grierson rode from La Grange to Baton Rouge (600 m. in 16 days), destroying railways and magazines and cutting the telegraph wires en route. Sherman's XV. corps, too, made vigorous demonstrations at Haines's Bluff, and in the confusion and uncertainty Pemberton was at a loss.

On the 30th of April McClernand and the XIII. corps crossed the Mississippi 6 m. below Grand Gulf, followed by McPherson. The nearest Confederate brigades, attempting to oppose the advance at Port Gibson, were driven back. Grant had now deliberately placed himself in the middle of the enemy, and although his engineers had opened up a water-line for the barges carrying his supplies from Milliken's Bend to New Carthage, his long line of supply curving round the enemy's flank was very exposed. But his resolute purpose outweighed all text-book strategy. Having crossed the Mississippi, he collected wheeled transport for five days' rations, and on Sherman's arrival cut loose from his base altogether (May 7th). Free to move, he aimed north from the Big Black river, so as to interpose between the Confederate forces at Vicksburg and those at Jackson. A fight took place at Raymond on the 12th of May, and Jackson was captured just in time to forestall the arrival of reinforcements for Pemberton under General Joseph E. Johnston. The latter, being in supreme command of the Confederates, ordered Pemberton to come out of Vicksburg and attack Grant. But Pemberton did not do so until it was too late. On May 16th Grant, with all his forces well in hand, defeated him in the battle of Champion Hill with a loss of nearly 4000 men, and sharply pursuing him drove him into Vicksburg. By the 19th of May Vicksburg and Pemberton's army in it was invested by land and water. Grant promptly assaulted his works, but was repulsed with loss (May 19th); the assault was repeated on the 22nd of May with the same result, and Grant found himself compelled to resort to a blockade. Reinforcements were hurried up from all quarters, Johnston's force (east of Jackson), was held off by a covering corps under Blair (afterwards under Sherman), and though another unsuccessful assault was made on the 25th of June, resistance was almost at an end. On the 4th of July, the day after, far away in Pennsylvania, the great battle of Gettysburg had closed with Lee's defeat, the garrison of Vicksburg, 37,000 strong, surrendered.

  1. The channel of the Mississippi has changed greatly: until 1876 the entire city was on the Mississippi, which made a bend forming a tongue of land opposite the city; in 1876 the river cut across this tongue and formed an island, making the northern part of the city front on the shallow “Lake Centennial.” The Federal government, by turning the Yazoo through a canal across the upper end of the old channel, gave the city a river front once more.