Archive | June, 2017

Touring the Vicksburg Campaign

27 Jun

As we recently discussed in our review of Michael Ballard’s excellent study of the Vicksburg Campaign, the capture of the “Confederate Gibraltar” was indisputably one of the key turning points of the Civil War. In addition to being one of the war’s most important developments, the campaign happens to be one of its most complex, as well. Involving nearly 100,000 troops and dozens of warships maneuvering over a huge swath of two states, the campaign featured extended marches, numerous skirmishes and battles, and unavoidably affected several communities. Those interested in exploring the grounds on which this milestone campaign unfolded should know that there is much more to see today than just the Vicksburg National Military Park; there are numerous sites and structures associated with the campaign that are interpreted and accessible to the serious Civil War tourist.

Below is a summary of some of the highlights of any tour of the campaign, arranged in rough chronological order. For an in-depth tour of the campaign, we recommend the Vicksburg Campaign Driving Tour Guide, compiled by the Friends of the Vicksburg Campaign and Historic Trail (2008).


Mississippi River

The Mississippi River at Natchez

The Mighty Mississippi bisected the Confederacy into two halves; as long as Vicksburg remained in Confederate hands the South remained, in theory, a unified nation and controlled shipping on North America’s greatest waterway.


1 Grant's canal

Grant’s Canal

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant made several approaches to Vicksburg before finally settling on the route that ultimately brought success. An intriguing remnant of one of the most labor-intensive (and ultimately futile) attempts are the remains of what is known as “Grant’s Canal” near Tallulah, Louisiana. There, in a sharp bend in the Mississippi River, Grant had laborers attempt to construct a canal that would essentially reroute the river and leave Vicksburg high and dry—and hence irrelevant.


2 Grant's March in Louisiana

Grant’s March in Louisiana

Grant’s bold move towards Vicksburg involved crossing the Mississippi near Port Gibson and marching inland. His route through Louisiana as he moved towards the crossing is marked (though inadequately) and there are several locations where historic markers interpret actions in the campaign.


3 Winter Quarters

Winter Quarters

One of the few surviving structures in Louisiana associated directly with the campaign is Winter Quarters, a plantation home that served as a campground for Union troops during their march. The home was operated by the state of Louisiana for several years. Although closed at present, the grounds are still accessible.


4 Shaifer House

Shaifer House

The historic Shaifer House was the scene of some of the first shots of the Battle of Port Gibson, where hastily assembled Confederate forces attempted to slow Grant’s march. The home’s residents barely escaped the approaching Union army as shots rang out in the predawn hours of May 1, 1863. The site is owned by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and features historic markers and a kiosk with information.


5 Road in Port Gibson

Road in Port Gibson

The ground over which the Battle of Port Gibson raged is one of the most unique in the Civil War. The fight in large part took place along winding roads cut through high bluffs in a thick wilderness. It was a confusing, disjointed affair at the time, and following its course can be challenging even today on the Claiborne County backroads. If you venture into the region, be careful on the many dirt roads and bring a map.


6 Grand Gulf

Confederate powder magazine at Grand Gulf Military Park

Grand Gulf Military Park, the site of a major Confederate gun installation along one of the highest bluffs along the river as well as the location for two assaults by Union forces, features a museum and a short driving tour. Along the route are a variety of earthworks, an observation tower, and the remains of a powder magazine.


7 Grant's March in Mississippi

Grant’s March in Mississippi

Grant’s march into central Mississippi, resulting in the battles of Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and Big Black River Bridge, is well marked. The route follows a long section of the old Port Gibson Road slicing from southwest Mississippi up towards Jackson. Numerous historic markers and well-placed signage allow travelers to follow the route.


8 Raymond

Battle of Raymond

One of the largest battles in the entire campaign was the Battle of Raymond, in which a small Confederate force attempted to attack an entire Federal division. The site where the pitched battle took place has recently been developed into a true battlefield park with excellent interpretation and a walking trail.


9 Battlefield Park

Battlefield Park

There were military engagements in and around the Mississippi capital during the campaign. Markers stand in several spots in Jackson commemorating these events, and they are chronicled in exhibits at the Old Capitol Museum. This image shows Battlefield Park in west Jackson, which contains the remnants of some of the earthworks dug during the siege of Jackson that occurred after the surrender of Vicksburg.


10 Coker House

Coker House

Perhaps the most pivotal event of the campaign prior to the siege at the town of Vicksburg was the Battle of Champion Hill, the largest battle during the campaign. Fought across a heavily wooded landscape and centered around a small rise on land belonging the Champion family, the battle was a vicious, close-quarters contest. The Coker House, which stood at the time of the battle and served as a hospital for the wounded, is the primary point for interpretation of the battle. On its grounds are several interpretive panels. The house is owned by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. It is not open for tours, but its grounds are accessible.


11 Tighlman Monument

Tilghman Monument

A short distance from the Coker House stands the Tilghman Monument, marking the exact spot on which Confederate leader Lloyd Tilghman was killed by artillery fire.


12 Big Black River Bridge

Big Black River Bridge

The final effort at slowing the Union army before it made its way into Vicksburg was made by the Confederate army at the railroad bridge crossing the Big Black River. Although the terrain provided excellent cover, Federals routed the demoralized defenders, who beat a hasty retreat into Vicksburg in the aftermath. Some of the pilings from the Civil War-era bridge can still be seen in the stream.


15 Vicksburg NMP

Vicksburg National Military Park

The Vicksburg National Military Park is a superbly-interpreted and heavily monumented park which may be toured via a driving route around the core of the Confederate line which protected the Hill City in 1863. As there are numerous stops along the route where visitors may want to walk and view interpretive signage, you should allow a minimum of 3 hours to see the park. To see everything could literally take days.


13 Cairo

USS Cairo

One of the best Civil War museums anywhere is contained within the Vicksburg NMP; the USS Cairo Museum. Featuring the remains of a Union warship sunk by a mine, the museum displays the incredibly intact cargo in its entirety and allows visitors to explore the most intact Civil War naval vessel currently on display.


14 Surrender site

Surrender site

The exact spot where Confederate Gen. John S. Pemberton met with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to surrender his garrison is marked with a cannon barrel.



The Campaign for Vicksburg in Quotes

20 Jun

One of our most popular blogs contains famous quotes involving the battle of Shiloh. The campaign for Vicksburg, which took place from spring 1862 to July 1863, also contains a plethora of great quotes by its participants that allows the reader to feel closer to them and gain additional insight on the campaign. Abraham Lincoln’s quotes are featured, illustrating his incredible talent for words.

Vicksburg Campaign

“See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket…We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.” –Abraham Lincoln

“Mississippians don’t know, and refuse to learn, how to surrender to an enemy.”-Vicksburg Post Commander James Autry when U.S. Naval ships first appeared at Vicksburg in May 1862.

“This ball is at an end! The enemy is coming down river. All non-combatants must leave the city!” –CSA General Martin L. Smith, December 1862, upon hearing word of approaching Union troops prior to battle of Chickasaw Bayou.

“Fellow citizens, my only regret is that I have done so little to merit such a greeting. I promise you, however, that hereafter I shall be watchful, energetic, and indefatigable in your defense.”  Joseph Johnson, in December 1862 speaking at the Mississippi capital to citizens claiming he would do everything to defend their state, a promise many remembered that he failed to deliver.

“I arrived this evening, finding the enemy’s force between this place and General Pemberton, cutting off communication. I am too late.” CSA General Joseph Johnston upon arrival in Jackson, Mississippi, and determining there was nothing he could now do.

“It was, after the conflict, literally the hill of death; men, horses, cannon, and the debris of an army lay scattered in wild confusion.” Union General Alvin C. Hovey describing the scene after the battle of Champion Hill.

“Just thirty years ago I began my military career by receiving my appointment to a cadetship at the US Military Academy and today . . . that career is ended in disaster and disgrace.” Confederate General John C. Pemberton remarking to a fellow officer as his army retreated from being routed at the Big Black River Bridge in May 1863.

“I now determined upon a regular siege—to “out-camp the enemy,” as it were, and to incur no more losses.” U.S. Grant in his memoirs when discussing his decision to besiege Vicksburg.

“I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement of the almost inestimable service you have done this country. When you got below, and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right, and I was wrong.” Abraham Lincoln to U.S. Grant after fall of Vicksburg

“The Father of the Waters again goes unvexed to the Sea.” Abraham Lincoln upon hearing that Vicksburg had surrendered


Review of Vicksburg, The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi, by Michael Ballard

13 Jun

The climatic Civil War campaign for Vicksburg has long been overshadowed by the more famous events in the war’s eastern theatre. Since the war ended, historians and the general public have long focused on the battles between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia and the war’s perceived turning point at Gettysburg. Recently deceased (2016) Vicksburg historian Michael B. Ballard’s tome Vicksburg, The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi, seeks to correct this oversight by tracing the Union’s multi-year efforts to capture the city and encouraging an appreciation of the campaign’s centrality to the war’s outcome.

Ballard Vicksburg

Ballard suggests that the Vicksburg Campaign tends to be overshadowed in Civil War scholarship due to its complexity, length, and scope. Most Civil War studies discuss a short campaign highlighted by a climactic battle of single day or a few days, which makes it easier for historians to research and write about and easier for readers to read and comprehend. The Union campaign to capture Vicksburg, in contrast, lasted nearly a year and involved multiple armies, numerous naval forces, and featured maneuvering over vast expanses of land in two states. It included innumerable skirmishes, several large battles, two primary assaults on a fortified citadel, and a prolonged siege of a major urban center. In just over 400 pages of narrative, Ballard traces in detail the intricacies of this multi-faceted campaign, chronicling desperate attempts to bombard the city by the Union navy, overland campaigns launched from Memphis, several failed experimental routes of approach to the city, and finally U.S. Grant’s masterful plan which resulted in its capture.  Grant’s winning strategy involved him marching southward along the Louisiana side of the river, crossing south of Vicksburg, fighting numerous battles and finally besieging the city until its defenders capitulated. In the end he bagged the city and the army that defended it, thus placing the full length of the mighty Mississippi back in Union hands. Simultaneously he severed the Confederacy into two parts, contributed to the disillusionment of a sizable portion of the Southern populace, and introduced a heady new confidence into Federal ranks that would both propel him to a deciding role in determining how the remainder of the war would be fought and inspire confidence in the men who would carry out his orders.

A strength of Ballard’s book is his analysis of how Grant’s efforts yielded him the prize which he sought, for he points out that Confederate leadership acted hesitantly and ineffectually to Grant’s bold movements, finally leading to a disaster of epic proportions from which the South never recovered. Ballard is clear with both his accolades and his blame throughout the manuscript, leaving no doubt on whose shoulders he believes success and failure should rest. He is particularly convincing in his assessment of the importance of leadership and its invaluable role in shaping events. Grant’s dogged persistence and willingness to attempt new strategies kept the Union juggernaut moving forward. Confederate General John C. Pemberton should have never been given this important role. He was an administrator and not capable of coordinating the movements of soldiers and lacked any daring to think offensively; always reacting and never being proactive. Ballard also heaps fault on the half-hearted “efforts” of Joseph Johnston who never wanted his role and steadfastly refused to make any real attempt at working with Pemberton to save the city or his army. From beginning to end, and from top to bottom, the Confederate defense of Vicksburg in Ballard’s treatment is in summary a discordant series of blunders in the face of a relentless and disciplined adversary.

Ballard’s book will probably serve as the best one volume study of the Vicksburg Campaign. Like most recent scholarship, he adds details on the auxiliary elements like civilians and slaves caught up in the path of the armies. Ballard does not, however, offer any new thesis as the book follows the accepted understanding of the campaign. We highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a solid understanding of one of but a handful of turning points that truly determined the outcome of the Civil War.




Review of Fleur de Lys and Calumet: Being the Narrative of French Adventure in Louisiana, edited by Richebourg Gaillard McWilliams

6 Jun

Originally published 1953, Fleur de Lys and Culumet is recognized by historians of the Gulf South’s colonial past as a landmark publication in the historiography of the region. A candid and detailed account of life in France’s Louisiana colony from 1699 to 1721 as recorded by ship’s carpenter Andre Joseph Penicaut, the book sheds light on his life and in in large measure charts the struggles encountered in establishing the colony.


Even if it is written in summary fashion and leaves out many details, Penicaut included enough so that the narrative reads as true adventure. Penicaut describes life in colonial Mobile and the Mississippi Valley, chronicles his travels among numerous Native American villages in the region, and offers a fascinating glimpse of a journey up the Mississippi into what is now the American Midwest. His journal is one of the very few original writings of a settler of the colony to survive, and gives us information about life in colonial Louisiana simply not available anywhere else.

Richebourg Gaillard Williams, who worked in the Department of English at both Birmingham-Southern College and later, the University of South Alabama, edited the 1953 edition and is thus responsible for bringing this incredible journal to the attention of contemporary scholars. It was republished by the University of Alabama Press in 1988 and made available as an ebook in 2010.  If you ever have a desire to learn what life was really like in the early eighteenth century South, I highly recommend you peruse this intriguing narrative.