By Ryan Meyer, Army Heritage MuseumJune 25, 2007
By July 1863, the Civil War was into its third year. Early that month, Robert E. LeeAca,!a,,cs Army of Northern Virginia was deep inside Northern territory in Pennsylvania. Farther west, Ulysses S. GrantAca,!a,,cs Army of the Tennessee was positioned between two major Confederate forces. One his army was besieging inside the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The other was within striking distance of his armyAca,!a,,cs rear. It would be a decisive turning point for the ConfederacyAca,!a,,cs quest for independence if LeeAca,!a,,cs campaign was successful and GrantAca,!a,,cs army was destroyed.
Many thought that VicksburgAca,!a,,cs natural defensive position would prevent its capture. Sitting high on a bluff overlooking a horseshoe bend of the Mississippi River, it was surrounded by dense, impenetrable swamps. As long as the Confederates held Vicksburg, they controlled the Mississippi, maintaining lines of communication and supply with the ConfederacyAca,!a,,cs western regions. Many people believed that the Confederacy could not be beaten until the river was firmly in Union hands. Major General Grant was one of the UnionAca,!a,,cs most successful generals. Beginning his push south in 1861, by mid-February 1862, he had captured two key Confederate strong points and 12,000 prisoners. This caught the eye of President Abraham Lincoln and earned him the nickname Aca,!A"Unconditional SurrenderAca,!A? Grant.
By November 1862, Grant was ready to move against Vicksburg. He knew that capturing the Aca,!A"Gibraltar of the ConfederacyAca,!A? was essential for control of the Mississippi River. By cutting the Confederacy in two he would deliver a blow from which the South could never recover. The campaign lasted eight months and involved joint Army and Navy operations, several major battles, and a forty-seven day siege of the city. GrantAca,!a,,cs tenacity, and ability to learn from his mistakes, enabled him to continue toward his goal of cracking the nut that was Vicksburg. On July 4, 1863, white flags appeared atop the Confederate lines marking the campaignAca,!a,,cs end. GrantAca,!a,,cs victorious army marched into the city and took control of one of the ConfederacyAca,!a,,cs strongest points. Five days later the Confederate citadel at Port Hudson, Louisiana, fell to Major General Nathaniel Banks, allowing the Aca,!A"Father of WatersAca,!A? to flow unhindered to the sea.