Between Cairo, Illinois, and the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River twists and winds for nearly 1,000 miles. Commonly referred to as the trunk of the American tree'. The river was vital to both the American Government and to the Confederate forces in the west.
The city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, 250 feet high, overlooks the Mississippi River on the Louisiana-Mississippi state border. Confederate forces mounted artillery batteries ready to challenge the passage of Union ships. Receiving control of Vicksburg and the Mississippi River was a huge benefit in the war. Due to the Geographic location made it ideal for defense.
Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Vicksburg, Mississippi had become one of the most prosperous and sophisticated towns on the old southern frontier. The city was a booming center of trade, its wharves crowded with boats carrying all manner of goods and commodities. It boasted a municipal orchestra, a Shakespeare repertory company, and an imposing courthouse in the Greek revival style. To its proud citizens, Vicksburg was the "Queen City of the Bluff" and a center, as one of them wrote, of "culture, education and luxury."
All this was to change with coming of the war. By early 1862 the peaceful town had become one of the most strategically important spots in the entire Confederacy- and would soon be one of the most bitterly fought over.
From the beginning of the war in 1861, to protect their most prized possession, the Confederacy put up fortifications at strategic points along the river. Federal forces eventually captured post after post. After fighting their way southward from Illinois and northward from the Gulf of Mexico. Until by late summer of 1862, only Vicksburg and Port Hudson appeared to be major constraints to the Union.
Of the two posts, Vicksburg was by far the strongest and most important. Setting high over looking a bend in the river, protected by artillery and dangerous swamps. So far the city had defied Union efforts to force it into submission.
In order to protect the Mississippi Valley, Confederates established a line of defense, which ran from Columbus, Kentucky, overlooking the Mississippi River trough Bowling Green to Cumberland Gap where the bright flank was secure on the mountains. On the Mississippi River, south of Columbus, fortifications were also placed on island number 10 and on the Chickasaw Bluffs north of Memphis. Seventy miles below New Orleans, two powerful masonry forts supported Jackson and St. Philip stood guard at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Anxious to confront the task, Union land and navel forces moved from two directions. In a huge attack to gain control of the Mississippi from the Confederate troops heading south from Cairo, Illinois, federal forces took forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers respectfully and opened the pathway of invasion to the south.
Efforts by Union land and navel forces to capture Vicksburg and open the great waterway to navigation ended in failure. It was only a matter of time before war centered in on Vicksburg. The first threat developed in May 1862, when the ships from the West Gulf Blockading Squadron arrived bellow Vicksburg and demanded that they surrender. The surrender was refused.
It was then realized by both Union and Confederate high commands that if Vicksburg were going to fall, it would be in the hands of a huge combined land and navel effort. A decision was made to construct a line of defense around the city, which would guard the road and railroad access to Vicksburg.
Strategists in Washington had no choice but to use ground forces. Therefore appointing Ulysses S. Grant in October of 1862. He was chosen to be the commander of the...