The Union Flag over Vicksburg
By the Summer of 1863, the tide had turned in the Civil War. Early on the Confederate States of America proved themselves able on the battlefields of the east. Out west though was another story. Slowly but surely Union forces moved up and down the Mississippi trying to gain control of the Father of Waters. The final battle in that fight would be fought in Vicksburg.
Gibraltar of the Confederacy
The city was vital to the Confederacy. Holding it literally kept the eastern and western parts of the Confederacy united. Supplies and men could move back and forth from Texas and Northern merchants could not get their goods to the Gulf of Mexico. It had to stand, but that summer it stood alone.
Union General Ulysses S. Grant was the man tasked with bringing the city down. He knew that if taken, the war would be that much closer to being finished. During the campaign Grant and his men had to deal not only with the Confederate army but mother nature herself. Swamps and bayous stood in his way. A maze that made the city one of the best-defended sites on the continent. All that was even before the ring of forts and the 170 cannons that defended what was called the Gibraltar of the Confederacy.
Grant would eventually maneuver his way past the obstructions and within sight of the city. For 47 days the city was under siege. Artillery pounded it every day and no supplies could get through. Civilians burrowed into hillsides to escape the shelling. Rats and other vermin became a source of sustenance. Confederate General John Pemberton held out as long as he could. The reinforcements he was expecting never came and his army and the people starved. On July 3rd, 1863 he asked Grant for terms.
In all the Union casualties were fairly light, almost 5,000 out of the almost 77,000 involved. For the Confederacy, the loss was about 3,000 dead wounded or missing. But it was the 30,000 men that surrender that was the major blow. The war would drag on for almost two more years, but the final act had begun.
Above in the photo, on display at the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum in Galena, Illinois, is the first Union flag to fly over the city after the surrender. When terms were finalized on July 4th, General Grant sent the 45th Illinois regiment to raise that very flag over the devastated city. The war would drag on for almost two more years, but the final act had begun. That flag was one of many that would fly over the smoldering remains of a failed rebellion.