Vicksburg Victory and the Fight for Port Hudson and Mississippi River


By Gary Gallagher, Ph.D., University of Virginia

The Vicksburg siege was undoubtedly a difficult time for both the soldiers and the civilians, but it ultimately ended with a retreat of the Confederates– a huge victory for the Union. Next in line was a challenging fight for Port Hudson and the Mississippi River. Let’s have a look at events that took place during those fights.

Image of an illustration by Frank (talk), depicting the Union army passing through the Hudson port.
Port Hudson resembled Vicksburg in many ways. Nathaniel Prentice Banks, moved against a strong point on the Mississippi River, facing the determined Confederate garrison. (Image:Frank (talk)/Public domain)


With Grant laying siege on the city, food became scarce. The citizens and the soldiers ate horses, mules, dogs, and cats to survive. They scooped caves out of the hillsides to be safe from the bombardment. Soldiers dug into the sides of the hills and draped pieces of cloth above the entrances to keep the broiling summer heat off. There were many accounts of snakes and the people mixing as the population and soldiers in Vicksburg dug into the hills. As the siege went on, they kept their strength up. Grant increased his army to 70,000 men in the course of the siege. No reinforcements came in for the Confederates. Grant knew that he was going to win and Pemberton would lose. Joe Johnston was helpless to do anything about it.

Memorable Victory for the United States

Image of a map by Hal Jespersen, which displays the locations of both Union and confederate armies around Vicksburg during its siege.
During the Vicksburg siege, the Confederate army suffered heavy casualty compared to the Union, who ultimately won a victory over Vicksburg. (Image: Map by Hal Jespersen, BY SA 3.0/Public domain)

On July 4th, Lee retreated from the Battle of Gettysburg, and John Pemberton surrendered his entire force of 30,000 men. Grant’s campaign ranked among the most brilliant, not only of the Civil War, but among the most military campaigns carried out by any United States officer in the history.

He suffered fewer than 10,000 casualties while his army killed or wounded 10,000 Confederates and captured 30,000 at Vicksburg and 7,000 in the battles preceding. Fifteen generals were among the prisoners on the Confederate side, together with 172 cannons and 60,000 shoulder arms. Lee’s retreat was a providential message to the people in the North. The day of this wonderful victory was July the 4th, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Learn more about Sherman’s decision to cut loose supply lines on his famous March to the Sea.

In the Aftermath of the Battle

Lincoln fully appreciated the way Grant drove through to a decisive victory. Unlike McClellan or Meade or his other generals, Grant had won a complete victory just as he had at Fort Donelson back in February of 1862. He not only had won a battle, but had also captured an entire army. Grant was Lincoln’s man, for the rest of the war as his general.

On the Confederate side, it was a very different story with tremendous backbiting, finger pointing, and blaming. Jefferson Davis waded into the middle of that and picked Joseph Johnston as his great villain in that whole issue. Johnston tried to unite the Confederate forces in that operation, but Pemberton didn’t cooperate. Such was the enmity between Davis and Joseph Johnston.

Most Confederates settled on Pemberton as the villain. There were untold references in writings of the time about how he lost Vicksburg and should have never been trusted with the command in the first place. People felt he was either an inept or a treasonous Yankee. Maybe he had meant to lose Vicksburg, just as many of the Republicans had wondered whether McClellan was losing on purpose in the Peninsula when he was approaching Richmond and facing Robert E. Lee.

The Confederate morale took a nosedive. Unlike Gettysburg, there was no way to try dressing up the loss of Vicksburg. There was no way to make that look any better than it was, which was a tremendous blow to the Confederacy and one of the most important campaigns of the Civil War. It achieved one of the great strategic goals of the North. People interpreted Vicksburg’s fall as the end of Confederate control over any part of the river.

Learn more about the prisoners of war in the American civil war.

Port Hudson

Port Hudson resembled Vicksburg in many ways. Nathaniel Prentice Banks, moved against a strong point on the Mississippi River, facing the determined Confederate garrison. He was supported by Union warships. Porter was the naval man at Vicksburg; David Glasgow Farragut, the Union naval man accompanying Banks.

Farragut and Banks moved against Port Hudson in late May, and Banks laid siege to the place. His army had an enormous advantage in numbers over his defenders, but the defenders fought tenaciously and the defenses were formidable at Port Hudson. That wasn’t a minor work on the river but a very impressive Southern defensive position. Like Grant, Banks tried frontal assaults twice at Port Hudson. Twice, he tried to overrun those defenses on May 27 and June 14.

During the first assaults, black soldiers from Louisiana distinguished themselves. This is one of the first times in the war when black soldiers got into combat in a significant way. Many of their white comrades had been very skeptical about whether these black soldiers would fight well or not. Testimony from the white witnesses, who saw them assault the Confederate works at Port Hudson, used phrases like, “we weren’t sure how they would perform, but they performed every bit as gallantly as any white troops.” It was a turning point in terms of attitude on the part of white soldiers, toward their black comrades in that first set of assaults on May 27 at Port Hudson.

Learn more about the Southern whites who became refugees as they fled from Union armies.

Siege of Port Hudson

Like Grant, after two failed assaults, Banks also settled into a regular siege, and the defenders suffered at Port Hudson just as they had at Vicksburg. They ate everything that moved and the siege dragged on. The key point in the Port Hudson operation came when news made its way downriver that Vicksburg had fallen. When the Confederate commander at Port Hudson, learned that Vicksburg was gone, he saw no reason to continue in his resistance and surrendered on July 9, 1863.

Port Hudson was gone, which meant a true end of any Confederate hold on the Mississippi River. The Mississippi now belonged to the Union. The entire length of the greatest river in the country belonged to the United States. The Confederacy lost 45,000 soldiers in surrender. It was a catastrophic loss.

This is a transcript from the video series The American Civil War. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

William Rosecrans

Image by Brady National Photographic Art Gallery is of William S. Rosecrans who led campaign against Braxton Bragg, known as Tullahoma campaign.
Even though William Rosecrans fought efficiently, he did not get due credit or appreciation from Lincoln. (Image: Brady National Photographic Art Gallery/Public domain)

Rosecrans and Bragg had been sitting facing each other ever since the Battle of Murfreesboro or Stones River, all the way back at the first of the year. They really hadn’t been doing anything. Rosecrans had been reluctant to move, and Lincoln was beginning to think that perhaps he had another Don Carlos Buell on his hands here, someone who simply couldn’t get his act together and move against the Rebels. Rosecrans resisted Lincoln’s blandishments to move more quickly until he was ready. When he was ready, however, he moved very efficiently.

On June 24 he began his campaign against Braxton Bragg, marching 63,000 men in what was known as the Tullahoma campaign. It was a campaign of maneuver, not of battles. Rosecrans used a series of flanking movements that befuddled Bragg. In just two weeks, he pushed the Army of Tennessee’s 45,000 men into Chattanooga, on the Tennessee/Georgia border. He did this at a cost of fewer than 600 casualties.

Rosecrans, however, didn’t get much credit for it. Washington had issued grand pronouncements regarding the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. There was thundering silence from Washington about Rosecrans’ accomplishment which wounded him badly.

It was well done on Rosecrans’s part, but was not as prominent as what had happened at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Those three campaigns; Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Tullahoma gave the North a splendid boost in national morale and conveyed enormous strategic advantage to the North. The war seemed to be well on track towards Union victory.

Common Questions about the American civil war

Q: Who won the battle of Vicksburg?

The battle of Vicksburg was won by the Union.

Q: How did black soldiers contribute to the Civil War?

Black soldiers from Louisiana distinguished themselves in the battle. This was one of the first times when they got into combat in a significant way and performed every bit as gallantly as any white troops.

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Black Soldiers in the American Civil War
Common Soldiers of the American Civil War