Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Events in Parallel
by Gordon Thorsby
We tend to think that the Campaigns at Vicksburg and in Pennsylvania took place as if they were at separate times. They were actually happening simultaneously.
The Siege of Vicksburg began around May 24 with orders from Ulysses Grant to make no further assaults. However, there came orders to begin thirteen separate digging approaches to the massive Confederate works around the “City on the Hill.” The opposing lines were separated by varying distances of open ground, abatis and other obstacles. They were killing grounds. The efforts were to close that separation where the walls could be more effectively reduced and eventually successfully assaulted.
One approach began 150 feet southeast of the Shirley House and its objective was toward the Third Louisiana Redan approximately 400 yards away. Digging was easy and when the approach reached to within 130 yards of the redan by June 3rd a battery was placed. Pioneers continued to advance the approach to within 25 yards and then began digging a tunnel on June 23rd. The other twelve approaches also closed on the Confederate ramparts. Continual shelling , sniper fire, and lack of food made life miserable inside the walls.
Meanwhile, in the east, on June 23, the Army of Northern Virginia began its second invasion of the North with troops crossing the Potomac into Maryland. The Army of the Potomac was beginning to respond.
In Vicksburg, on June 25th, digging stopped near the Louisiana Redan. Confederate efforts to counter- dig had been started when there came sudden silence underground from the Union miners. It was a conundrum, that is until 3:28. The ground first swelled and then an immense fountain pushed earth, men, animal,s and
equipment skyward, followed by over 24 hours of hand to hand bloody fighting to hold the crater and what eventually resulted in Union retreat to their lines. The grip on Vicksburg continued to tighten and and a new tunnel began again at the Shirley House portion of the line.
Back east on June 25, J.E.B Stuart was beginning his ride around the Union army and Ewell’s Corps was now in Maryland and almost to Pennsylvania. Union General Reynold’s wing of three Corps was in full movement in response.
Back west, on June 30, Confederate officers had heard voices underground at the Louisiana redan, and they had eight negroes working a counter-mine to stop the Union effort. In Pennsylvania, Stuart’s troopers fought a minor action with Kilpatrick’s Cavalry east of Gettysburg at Hanover.
On July 1, Union miners once again stopped their digging, packed in 1,800 pounds of explosives in their tunnel and lit the fuse that went off at 3PM, that resulted in the same devastation but where no assault followed up. Its objective was simply further reduction of the ramparts for easier assault. In Gettysburg at 3PM, fighting had already been heavy with thousands of casualties and any Union lines west and north of the town began to collapse. Losses that day were almost 20,000 total on both sides.
In Mississippi, Grant informed his commanders of their respective approaches that they were all to have similar mines completed and that they were all to be ignited simultaneously. The explosions and the all out assaults that would follow were to occur on July 6th.
On July 3rd around 3 P.M., Pemberton and Grant met to discuss terms and along the front, a truce had been called. Terms were not agreed but the truce continued. In Pennsylvania at about the same time, one of the largest assaults by Generals Pickett and Trimble was in process, a third day of fighting, the charge across a long open field and a third day of bloody fighting with over 15,000 more casualties.
On July 4th at 10 AM, The Confederate Army of Mississippi surrendered 29,495 men. They stacked their weapons, furled the flags, marched out of the city and were paroled. At the same time in Pennsylvania, Robert E. Lee and his Army began its trek back to Virginia, Meade rested, and together losses totaled 51,000 killed, wounded and missing.
The results of the two campaigns were decisive. Grant severed the last Southern connection to Texas, Arkansas, and most of Louisiana. In Pennsylvania, few understood the full impact at that point except that the unbroken string of victories that Lee had racked up came to a certain end. Vicksburg was not nationally known for a couple of days. Gettysburg became known within hours.
Historians argue which had the greatest impact on the war. Both battles were the most decisive in their respective theaters. Gettysburg is the most famous and written about. Vicksburg is just beginning to receive its due attention. Vicksburg deserves much more attention.
Vicksburg 1863, by Groom, Winston, Vintage Books, 2009.
Triumph and Defeat, by Winschel, Terrence, American Battlefield Trust and Savas Beatie, 2001.
The Gettysburg Campaign, by Coddington, Edwin, Scribners, 1968.