Streetwise Professor

July 4, 2010

Unvexed to the Sea

Filed under: History,Military — The Professor @ 2:24 pm

Not only is the 4th of July the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence: it is also the anniversary of the surrender of Vicksburg in 1863.  That was the culmination of what to my mind is the most outstanding campaign of the Civil War, and arguably of American military history.  Indeed, it is one of the most impressive campaigns in all of military history.

Grant’s Vicksburg campaign was a masterpiece of what is now referred to as “the operational art.”  It involved an impressive and creative use of combined arms: Grant utilized David Dixon Porter’s riverine Navy force brilliantly to move his army to the south of the city and break a stalemate.  It employed deception: Grierson’s raid and Grant’s simultaneous threatening of multiple strategic points paralyzed the Confederate response and reduced Pemberton and Johnston to piecemeal, spasmodic, lurching reactions.  Grant utilized maneuver brilliantly, and as a result always had a substantial preponderance of force at every engagement.  The logistics of the operation were challenging and complex, but were accomplished faultlessly.

Grant had at his disposal an incredible army of hardy, strapping Midwestern farmboys.   They had ample combat experience, gained at battles like Donelson, Shiloh, and Corinth, but hadn’t suffered the shattering casualties that hampered the effectiveness of some armies, like the Army of the Potomac.

Grant has a reputation as a butcher, but Vicksburg belies that.  It is hard to find anything to criticize about the entire operation.

The surrender on the 4th did not fully open the Mississippi River: that didn’t occur until 9 July, when Port Hudson capitulated.  But that was inevitable once Vicksburg fell.

Vicksburg is worth a visit.  Although the most crucial battlefields of the campaign are not systematically protected, the ground of the siege is contained within the Vicksburg National Battlefield Park.  The siege works and many of the approach trenches are well-preserved.  The most important battle of the campaign, Champion Hill, is now accessible due to the work of the Civil War Preservation Trust, although much of the hill itself was excavated for gravel for I-10 decades ago.

Port Hudson is also a worthwhile trip, though beware!  On my visit there some years ago I just about stepped on the biggest damn water moccasin you’ve ever seen.  I was stepping gingerly after that, I’ll tell you what.

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