The Siege of Vicksburg: A Lesson Plan for Middle School History
The Fall of Vicksburg followed a three-month siege by an ever-growing Union Army (77,000 troops) by land and Union gunboats that showered the besieged city with over 20,000 rounds of artillery. As the terrified populace hid in caves and slowly starved, Confederate General J.C. Pemberton’s last hopes of reinforcement or escape faded, and he surrendered the city on July 4th, a national holiday that was not celebrated in Vicksburg again until 1945.
More Background and Facts
Inclusive Dates: May 18 to July 4, 1863.
Outcome: Union victory
Casualties: Union: 3199 (502 killed); Confederacy: 12,000 (500 wounded. All captured were paroled and released.)
The Confederate surrender at Vicksburg in the West, coupled with Lee’s defeat back east at Gettysburg, PA, are considered the turning point of the U.S. Civil War. In a brilliantly orchestrated campaign, Union General Grant wrested control of an over 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.
Grant's Brilliant Vicksburg Campaign
Following unsuccessful attacks from the swampy and river-bottomed north of Vicksburg by Grant’s lieutenant, William T. Sherman, Grant decided on a strategy of flanking and deception. Grant marched his army south on the western side of the river in Louisiana. The plan was to have Union Admiral David Porter’s gunboats run the gauntlet of Vicksburg’s murderous artillery and meet Grant’s army to the South and ferry it across the Mississippi.
The plan worked. Embarking his army at Bruinsburg, Grant drove northwest toward his objective of Jackson and thence to turn west towards Vicksburg. Meanwhile, Grant diverted Confederate General Johnston’s attention elsewhere with feints by Sherman in the North and a breathtaking cavalry thrust southward from the Tennessee border through the heart of Mississippi under the command of an Illinois ex-music teacher Benjamin Grierson.
Johnston took the bait. Grant defeated the depleted Confederates at Jackson, and turned west. The Confederates fell back to Vicksburg, while Grant guarded his rear and fought his way to the citadel city. At Vicksburg Grant ordered two failed assaults, reluctantly settling on a siege. What began as a campaign through swampy bayous, became a stunning military expedition into Missississippi and ended in the three-month siege and surrender an important river city.
Classroom Activity - A Woman's Diary of the Siege
♦ The siege of Vicksburg was the first instance ever of a siege of an American city. As Confederate troops retreated, garrisoned and fortified the city against the expected Union onslaught, the city was unable to accommodate or feed 15,000 troops, who were cut off from resupply. When the siege began and shells began falling, the terrified citizens began digging caves in the clay hills abutting Vicksburg to live an uncomfortable, malnourished life.
♦ The website “For Old Times Sake” has a page entitled “A Woman’s Diary of the Siege of Vicksburg.” Dora Miller, the young wife a lawyer, was trapped in Vicksburg during the siege. Her diary recounts the dangers, privations of life in cellars and caves as shells fell and food became scarce.
Have students read and discuss Dora’s entries of April 28 and May 28, 1863. Answer the following questions:
April 28th entry:
♦ What were Dora’s main worries about living under siege?
♦ What did she do when her shoes wore out?
♦ Describe Dora’s nightly experience with shell explosions and the shore batteries as Yankee gunboats ran past Vicksburg. Did she seem scared, excited, or fascinated?
May 28th entry:
♦ Describe Dora’s desperation of being under siege. What does she men by the question, “Would it be wise like the scorpion to sting ourselves to death?
♦ How does Dora describe the behavior of the people of the city? What are their main concerns and routine?
♦ What meal routine did the citizens begin? How was it related to the shelling?
♦ Describe Dora’s view of the people sitting in front of their caves eating. How did they behave when the shelling began?
♦ What was Dora’s main diet during this time? Describe her meals and how she felt about eating such strange food as mule meat.
♦ Dora describes a pair of chimney swallows who built a nest in her home’s parlor chimney. When the shells explode around the home, parts of the nest fall into the fireplace. What do the birds do when that occurs, and what does it tell us about how creatures adapt to war and violence?