The results of the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 to Union forces commanded by Ulysses Grant and William Sherman had more far reaching effects even that the Union victory at Gettysburg the day before.
By December, 1862, Vicksburg was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, a body of water that could prove to be a highway to the side that possessed it and a barrier to the side that did not. According to an article about the campaign in the Houston Chronicle, Grant made a number of failed attempts to take the city by storm.
The first attempt took place in December, 1962 with a two pronged attack, with Grant leading a force overland from Holly Springs, Mississippi and Sherman attempting an amphibious assault across the Chickasaw Bayou, just north of the town.
Grant then brought his army to the south of Vicksburg along the west bank of the Mississippi and crossed with the help of David Farragut’s gun boat flotilla to the east bank. Then he struck east to Jackson, Mississippi to fend off Joe. Johnson’s Army, burning the town and causing the Confederates to reel back. His rear thus secured, Grant turned his attention again to Vicksburg.
Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, a West Point graduate, an engineer, and a Pennsylvanian with a southern wife who had chosen to fight for the Confederacy, commanded the Confederate garrison at Vicksburg, according to History.net. He attempted to march most of his men out of the city to sever Grant’s supply line to the Mississippi, which served as a highway to the Union states to the north. However Grant’s troops beat him at the Battles of Champion’s Hill and Black River Bridge, forcing Pemberton back into the town.
Grant arrived at Vicksburg by May 19, 1863, and ordered Sherman’s corps to launch an attack in hopes of a quick victory. But Pemberton, using his engineering skills, had fortified the town well and was able to repulse Sherman while inflicting 1,000 casualties. Three days later a three prong assault fared no better. So Grant settled into a siege.
For seven weeks, Grant subjected Vicksburg to constant bombardment, not only from his land forces but from Farragut’s river flotilla. The suffering inside the town was terrible, with civilians at the last extremis being forced to eat rats. By early July, Pemberton had enough and surrendered the town.
As President Abraham Lincoln said, the father of waters now flowed unimpeded to the sea. The fall of Vicksburg had split the Confederacy in two and had provided the Union with a highway to pour supplies and men for the coming campaigns to strike deep into the Confederate heartland.
While Gettysburg turned back the southern invasion of the Union, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was able to hold out for another year and three quarters. The fall of Vicksburg arguably changed the strategic situation irreversibly against the Confederacy and likely doomed it to ultimate defeat. It also established Grant as the general Lincoln was looking for to lead the combined Union armies to victory, which he did by April, 1865.