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Rapid-Fire History: Vicksburg - The Key is Captured


“Vicksburg is the key,” declared President Abraham Lincoln early in the American Civil War. “The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.” On Saturday, July 4, 1863, the Union finally had that key in hand, courtesy of Major General Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee. On what Union Major General William T. Sherman called, “the best Fourth of July since 1776,” Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton surrendered the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River and its beleaguered garrison.

After 47 days of siege, nearly 30,000 Rebel soldiers filed “out of their entrenchments, stacked their arms, removed their accouterments, and furled their flags,” according to the National Park Service. Grant offered to parole those prisoners, expecting that the suffering and defeat they had experienced would lead many of them to return to their homes and leave Union forces free to continue further operations. Some of those men in Gray would violate their paroles and go on to fight again, but for the majority who did return home, their part in this war was over.

As Union soldiers entered and took possession of the city, Grant’s brilliant Vicksburg campaign was sealed. Sherman described Grant’s operations against Vicksburg as “one of the greatest campaigns in history,” and many more contemporaries would also issue the highest praise when describing it.

Monument to Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg National Military Park. (Photo Credit: Preservation in Mississippi)

The news of the fall of Vicksburg led President Lincoln to exclaim, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” With the victory at Vicksburg and at Port Hudson five days later, the Union gained unimpeded control of the entire Mississippi River. Confederate President Jefferson Davis had said that Vicksburg was “the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” Now, that nail had been removed, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two.

Grant’s triumph at Vicksburg and Major General George G. Meade’s hard-fought victory over General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1-3, 1863 turned the tide of the war toward ultimate victory for the Union. As General Grant later wrote in his Personal Memoirs, “The fate of the Confederacy was sealed when Vicksburg fell. Much hard fighting was to be done afterwards and many precious lives were to be sacrificed; but the MORALE was with the supporters of the Union ever after.”


American Battlefield Trust: Battle of Vicksburg.

Grant by Ron Chernow.

National Park Service: Surrender of Vicksburg.

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