Hats off to Major General Ulysses Grant. His creative strategizing led to a crucial Union victory here. Unfortunately he first had to conclude that 17,000 dead Union soldiers was enough, to find his winning strategy: a siege. After trying countless direct amphibious attacks from the Mississippi River (where the Confederate Army up on Vicksburg’s high ground repulsed them, and repeatedly sunk Union gunships like sitting ducks below them), he tried mining under the fort and setting explosives, failing once again to breach this impregnable site. He also built a bypass canal to no avail.
The Mississippi River was the conduit of supplies and new recruits for the Confederacy. President Lincoln told Grant that Vicksburg was “the key” and said, “The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.” Grant finally changed strategy, marched his troops across the River 60 miles south, marched 100 miles northeast to take control of Jackson, and marched along the Southern Railroad to the west to Vicksburg’s eastern perimeter. He built 8 miles of zig-zagging trenches outside the Confederate lines…and kept them pinned into their own fortifications until 1/3 of the 30,000 Confederate soldiers were too ill to fight, their water was contaminated, and there were limitied supplies of food and munitions. 46 days of this made General Pemberton see that his options were surrender or rescue. When he was notified that the Mississippi Confederate Army was too weakened to provide support, he surrendered.
This enormous site with a 16 mile road tour, is filled with bikers, walkers and joggers…. over 1000 monuments, and as many trenches. I enjoyed sitting in the spot where Pemberton and Grant met to hammer out the terms of the surrender. I kept thinking…why did 17,000 Union and plenty of Confederate soldiers have to die to come up with a less violent and more effective strategy for gaining control of this important piece of ground? At least Grant continued to think more strategically when he set the terms of surrender: lay down all arms, pledge never to fight the United States again…and then go home. What good would 30,000 prisoners of war do for the Union who would have to feed them? Too weakened to fight, they just had to make their way home as best they could. I wish they could have sprouted wings as I recall the hardships the weakened soldiers had trying to get home in the great novel, “Cold Mountain”. Still better than the conditions shown in the great movie, “Andersonville”, (Camp Sumter) where 45,000 Union troops were imprisoned in Georgia with no food, water and overrun with disease. More than 13,000 soldiers died from the deplorable conditions in the Confederate prison.
Within 5 days, the only other Mississippi River obstacle was toppled, and President Lincoln stated, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” Mississippi was readmitted to the Union in 1870, but Vicksburg remained occupied by Federal Troops, in this case ‘United States Colored Troops’ until the end of Reconstruction in 1877….that must have chafed some Confederate be-hinds! White rule returned with a vengeance until the Civil Rights Movement and Brown v. The Board of Education ordered equality under the law in 1954. However, much of the South sabotaged segregation far longer. Atlanta, for instance, did not desegregate their schools until 1970! What is it with the South? Every time (daily) I see a monument to Jefferson Davis, I want to yell, “You lost! ….in battle, in court, in public opinion….Give it up! Don’t celebrate your awkward, ugly history…” Imagine Germany today putting up monuments to Hitler. Why isn’t it shameful today to celebrate historic efforts to continue human slavery?