Photographic copy of a lithograph by Alfred E. Mathews depicting the siege of Vicksburg.
A victory at the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863 gave the Union control of the Mississippi River in the American Civil War.
Following the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant's Northern army moved south. Grant hoped to secure control of the Mississippi River for the Union. By having control of the river, Northern forces would split the Confederacy in two and control an important way to move men and supplies.
The last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River was the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Confederate forces had heavily fortified the city. Grant spent most of the summer of 1862 trying to find a weak point in Vicksburg's defenses. Over the course of the summer and winter months, Grant attempted to bypass the city by digging a canal that would allow him to transport troops and supplies south of the city. The canal project was unsuccessful. Grant failed to find a weak point in the Confederate lines to attack Vicksburg from the north. He then ordered a large part of his army to cross the Mississippi River and march along the river's west bank until the Union force was south of the city.
In April 1863, Union ships north of Vicksburg sailed down the Mississippi River past the Southern artillery defending the city. Most of these ships arrived south of the city safely and began ferrying Grant's army across the river. The Union force-marched east toward Jackson, Mississippi. Confederate forces led by General John C. Pemberton tried to stop Grant's advance at the Battle of Port Gibson and the Battle of Raymond in early May 1863. The Southerners failed to stop Grant's advance. Union forces captured Jackson, an important railroad junction, on May 14. The fall of Jackson kept the Confederacy from easily sending reinforcements and supplies to the Southern troops guarding Vicksburg.
With the fall of Jackson, Grant marched west toward Vicksburg. Pemberton continued to try to stop the Northern advance at the Battle of Champion Hill on May 16 and the Battle of Black River Bridge on May 17. The Southern troops failed in their efforts. The Northern forces had nearly forty thousand men and greatly outnumbered the Southerners. In the first few weeks of May 1863, Pemberton lost nearly one-half of his forty thousand men to Grant's army.
By the third week of May 1863, the Northern troops had driven the Confederates into Vicksburg. A siege began, which lasted from May 22, 1863 to July 4, 1863. At the start of July, Confederate troops and civilians were starving. Many people survived by eating rats and other animals in the city. Pemberton surrendered his army on July 4, 1863. This victory followed the North's victory at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 and helped increase Union morale. In the siege of Vicksburg and the battles leading up to the siege, Grant lost over four thousand men. The Southern military lost over thirty-five thousand soldiers.