National Military Park
Park Photo
NPS photo

The nation was divided, but both sides agreed
Vicksburg was Vital to Victory.

President Jefferson Davis knew how important this town overlooking a Mississippi River bend was to the Confederacy. To him, Vicksburg, Mississippi, was "the nailhead that holds the South's two halves together." At the start of the Civil War, Confederates controlled the Mississippi River south of Cairo, Illinois. They fortified strategic river points—like Vicksburg with its riverfront artillery batteries and a ring of forts whose 172 guns guarded all land approaches. They leveraged the natural maze of swamps and bayous for defense. They used its routes for supplies and troops. Vicksburg was the South's lifeline.

But Vicksburg could be the North's lifeline. The Federals could pass troops and supplies into the South by road, river, or rail. They could isolate Texas, Arkansas, and most of Louisiana—which would cut off Confederate supplies and recruits. As the war progressed, Federal naval and military forces gained control of more of the Mississippi River, fighting south from Illinois and north from the Gulf as they closed in on Vicksburg. President Abraham Lincoln knew Vicksburg was "the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket." He knew how valuable this town on a high bluff was to the Union.

The Federals captured post after post. Then, they set their sights on Vicksburg.

October 1862 Since late summer only Vicksburg, MS, and Port Hudson, LA, block Union control of the Mississippi River. The stronger and more important post, Vicksburg is the focus of military operations.

Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is ordered to clear the Mississippi River of Confederate resistance. Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton—with 50,000 widely scattered Confederate troops—is expected to keep the river open.

December 29 Pemberton defeats Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. Grant begins amphibious maneuvers (the Bayou Expeditions) to force the surrender of Vicksburg.

All fail, including digging a canal across the base of De Soto Point to bypass Vicksburg's batteries.

Spring 1863 Grant marches a 45,000-strong army down the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River. He crosses well below Vicksburg and swings into position to attack the city from the south or east.

March 31 Grant starts south from his encampments at Milliken's Bend, 20 miles northwest of Vicksburg.

April 28-29 The Federals are established at Hard Times, LA. Confederate resistance prevents Grant from crossing the river at Grand Gulf. Grant moves south.

April 30-May 1 Grant sends his men ashore at Bruinsburg. Marching eastward, his troops defeat parts of Pemberton's forces near Port Gibson.

May 12 Grant's troops defeat parts of Pemberton's forces near Raymond.

May 14 Grant captures Jackson, the state capital, scattering its defenders.

May 16 Grant marches west to Vicksburg along the Southern Railroad of Mississippi. At Champion Hill Grant's force defeats Pemberton's field army in the campaign's largest, bloodiest, and most significant action.

May 17 At Big Black River Bridge the Federals overwhelm and drive Pemberton's disorganized troops back into Vicksburg's fortifications.

May 18-19 The Federals close in on the Confederate defenses. Grant quickly assaults the Vicksburg lines, but the Federals' first attack against the Stockade Redan fails.

May 22 The Federals' next attack—launched over a three-mile front from Stockade Redan to Fort Garrott—is repulsed. Reluctant to expend more lives trying to storm the city. Grant begins a formal siege. While Grant's artillery batteries hammer the Confederate fortifications, Adm. David D. Porter's gunboats blast the city from the river.

Late June Pemberton realizes he must "capitulate upon the best attainable terms."

July 3 After 46 days of siege, Pemberton meets Grant to discuss terms.

July 4 Vicksburg is officially surrendered.

July 9 Port Hudson surrenders. A key Federal objective—open the Mississippi River and sever the Confederacy—is achieved. Using a nickname for the Mississippi River, President Lincoln says, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."

Freedom and Equality after the Siege

Vicksburg and Port Hudson were surrendered on the heels of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's defeat in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 1-3, 1863). The Civil War had reached a turning point—and, just as Lincoln thought. Federal control of the Mississippi River helped ensure the Union's 1865 victory. But what happened to the people of Vicksburg after the siege?

Federal troops remained in Vicksburg until President Rutherford B. Hayes removed them at the end of Reconstruction (1877). Some townspeople resented and challenged the Union troops, whose lingering presence was a bitter reminder of the South's lost struggle for independence; however, others welcomed the troops and hoped order and normal life in Vicksburg would be restored.

Under military rule, Vicksburg's residents faced suspended civil liberties, loyalty oaths, seized property, arrest, or even banishment. This treatment may seem contrary to President Andrew Johnson's 1868 pardon designed "to renew and fully restore confidence and fraternal feeling among the whole people." For others, though, these conditions were necessary to bring the South back into the Union as part of Reconstruction.

As local rule was returned to Vicksburg in the 1870s, thousands of African Americans came to Vicksburg to exercise their new freedoms. Many of the 5,000 United States Colored Troops garrisoned in Vicksburg settled here after the war; enslaved just years prior to these events, their military duty personified freedom. Some opened banks or churches or entered politics. But African Americans' freedoms remained limited, and their legal and political powers were virtually non-existent.

During Reconstruction's early years the federal Freedmen's Bureau aimed to provide African Americans and poor southern whites schooling, housing or property, food, and legal aid. Yet even as the Freedmen's Bureau encouraged blacks and whites to work together as equals, southern states had been passing laws to disadvantage African Americans—like the Black Codes (1865-66) that led to Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws that forced racial segregation from 1877 through the 1950s.

Mississippi was readmitted to the Union in 1870, but a century passed before the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally outlawed racial discrimination and guaranteed nationwide equality for all—in Vicksburg and beyond.

Then as now, perspectives of the Civil War's legacy vary from person to person. Was the siege of Vicksburg a victory or a defeat? Was the Federal troops' lingering presence occupation or reconstruction? Was Reconstruction a way to punish Vicksburg, or was it a way to mould the South back into the Union?

Vicksburg National Military Park offers a place for all to explore the many perspectives in this enduring story that helps define our nation.

An Explosive Discovery!

DECEMBER 12, 1862 The Union's gunboat USS Cairo, one of America's first ironclad warships, steams up the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg. Cairo is on a mission to destroy Confederate batteries and clear enemy obstructions from the channel. Suddenly, two quick explosions tear holes into Cairo. In minutes Cairo sinks. Only the tops of its smokestack and flagstaff show above water. Amazingly, no crew were hurt.

Cairo was the first vessel sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo (mine). Silt, sand, and mud encapsulated the ship until its 1956 discovery. Like a time capsule, Cairo preserved information on naval construction, naval stores, armament, and the crew's personal gear.

Today, the artifacts recovered from Cairo before and after its salvage in the 1960s and the boat's remains are exhibited at the U.S.S. Cairo Museum. These artifacts and the gunboat give many insights into Civil War naval life.

Explore Vicksburg National Military Park

park map
(click for larger map)

The park entrance and visitor center are on Clay St. (US 80) within a quarter-mile of I-20. The visitor center and U.S.S. Cairo Museum are open daily except Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. Ask the park about special programs and activities. Service animals are welcome.

As established in 1899, the park included the entire extent of the siege and defense lines. In the 1960s the park's lower third was transferred to the city to complete I-20. Today, the main park area is in northeastern Vicksburg, MS. The four detached units to the south along Washington St. (US Bus 61) are Louisiana Circle, site of a Confederate fortification; South Fort, a Confederate defense work; Navy Circle, marking the Union lines' southern anchor; and a portion of Grant's Canal across the Mississippi River in Louisiana. Please follow Mission 66 and South Confederate Ave. to the many monuments and regimental markers on former park property.

Safety and Regulations It is illegal to possess, disturb, remove, excavate, or destroy archaeological, cultural, historic, or prehistoric resources. • Possession or use of metal detectors on park property is prohibited. • Always leash or physically restrain pets. • Picnic only at the U.S.S. Cairo Museum and Tour Stop 12. • Fires and camping are prohibited. • Do not climb on cannon or monuments. • Do not disturb plants or animals. • Be alert to hazards like fire ants, poison ivy, and poisonous snakes. • Severe thunderstorms can develop quickly year-round; be prepared to seek shelter. • Report accidents to park rangers. • For firearms regulations see the park website.


We suggest you begin the 16-mile tour at the visitor center, where exhibits and a 20-minute film explain the campaign and siege of Vicksburg. During the tour you will notice either red or blue metal markers. Red markers pertain to Confederate lines or emplacements. Blue markers pertain to Union forces.

When stopped at one of the tour stops below, dial 601-262-2100 and enter the tour stop number to hear more information about the location. Press 1 to rewind, 2 to pause/play, 3 to fast-forward, and # to stop. No charge except your plan usage.

1 Battery De Golyer From this position a battery of guns, including those from the Eighth Michigan Artillery commanded by Capt. Samuel De Golyer, hammered the Confederate Great Redoubt directly ahead. At one time as many as 22 Federal artillery pieces were positioned here. Capt. De Golyer was mortally wounded while directing the fire of this battery.

2 Shirley House "The white house," as Union troops called it, is the only surviving wartime structure in the park. During the siege it served as headquarters for the Forty-fifth Illinois Infantry, members of which built hundreds of bombproof shelters around it to protect themselves against Confederate artillery fire. It has been restored to its 1863 appearance.

3 Third Louisiana Redan Here was one of the major Confederate fortifications guarding the Jackson Rd. approach to Vicksburg. Concluding the fort was impregnable to direct assault. Gen. Grant ordered his troops to dig mines under the work and blow it up. The first mine was detonated June 25; the second, July 1. Neither broke the Confederate line.

4 Ransom's Gun Path To provide additional artillery support for infantry manning this sector of the siege lines, the men of the Second Illinois Artillery dismantled two 12-pounder cannon. Then, aided by Gen. Thomas Ransom's infantry, they dragged the guns over rough terrain to an earthen parapet just 100 yards from the Confederate position. There, the guns were reassembled and returned to action.

5 Stockade Redan Attack On May 19 from this and nearby points Gen. William T. Sherman launched an infantry attack against the Stockade Redan (Tour Stop 10). The Federals were repulsed with heavy losses. Three days later, as part of a general assault on the Confederate lines, Union soldiers attacked the Redan again. This attack also failed.

6 Thayer's Approach During the afternoon of May 22, Union troops commanded by Brig. Gen. John M. Thayer stormed up this hill toward Confederates dug in at the top, but they were stopped by geography and enemy fire. Later, Thayer's men began digging a six-foot-deep approach trench toward the Southern position. His soldiers dug the tunnel beneath the road to avoid crossing the ridge, where they would be exposed to Confederate fire.

7 Battery Selfridge This battery consisted entirely of naval cannon and was manned by U.S. Navy sailors. It is named in honor of Lt. Cmdr. Thomas O. Selfridge Jr., the naval officer stationed here who was in command of the Cairo when it was sunk in the Yazoo River December 12, 1862. A plaque here tells of the navy's role during the siege of Vicksburg.

8 Vicksburg National Cemetery Of the nearly 17,000 Union soldiers buried here, about 13,000 are unknown. Established in 1866, the cemetery is also the final resting place for veterans of the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean Conflict. It was closed to burials in 1961. Many Confederates who died during the siege are buried in nearby Cedar Hill Cemetery.

9 Fort Hill This fort anchored the Confederate lines' northern flank and was so formidable that no Union attack was ever made against it. Confederate gunners posted here helped the river batteries sink the Federal gunboat Cincinnati on May 27, 1863.

10 Stockade Redan The Federal failures on May 19 and 22 to overrun this fortification, the principal Confederate work guarding the Graveyard Rd. approach to Vicksburg, were major factors in Grant's decision to avoid any more direct assaults.

11 Great Redoubt Like the Third Louisiana Redan (Tour Stop 3), this massive Confederate earthwork guarded the Jackson Road. The repulsed Federal attack here May 22 suffered heavy losses. Union artillery kept the redoubt under almost continuous bombardment later.

12 Second Texas Lunette This Confederate fortification, manned by the Second Texas Volunteer Infantry, guarded the Baldwin Ferry Road approach to Vicksburg. On May 22 it was the scene of furious fighting as Confederates beat back repeated Union attacks. During the siege Union soldiers dug approach trenches to within 15 feet of the lunette.

13 Railroad Redoubt Confederates built this work to protect the Southern Railroad of Mississippi. On the morning of May 22 Union troops assailed this stronghold and forced out the defenders. A detachment of Col. Thomas Waul's Texas Legion counterattacked and drove out the Federals in a savage hand-to-hand fight with bayonets, clubbed muskets, and artillery shells used as grenades.

14 Fort Garrott Here on June 17 Confederate soldiers of Col. Isham W. Garrott's Twentieth Alabama Regiment suffered great casualties from Federal sharpshooter fire. Exasperated by the damage inflicted on his men, Garrott picked up a rifle-musket to return fire. Shot through the heart, he died without learning he had been promoted to brigadier general.

15 Hovey's Approach This restored section of the two approach trenches dug by Gen. Alvin P. Hovey's Union troops demonstrates how the siege was conducted. The zigzag design helped nullify the effects of Confederate enfilading fire and minimized Federal casualties.

Grant's Canal (Madison Parish, LA) Federal troops tried to cut a canal across the base of De Soto Point so gunboats and transports could bypass Confederate batteries at Vicksburg.

Pemberton's Headquarters The Wills-Cowan house (circa 1835) was Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's military headquarters during the siege. Here, it was decided to surrender Vicksburg to Union forces on July 4, 1863.

Louisiana Circle Confederate cannon guarded river approaches to Vicksburg and engaged Union gunboats from here during the siege.

South Fort The southern anchor of Confederate defense lines around Vicksburg guarded the Warrenton Road (Washington St.) entrance.

Navy Circle Mounted rifled cannon prevented Confederate escape via the Warrenton Road at this southern anchor of the Union siege lines.

Source: NPS Brochure (2019)


Vicksburg National Military Park — February 21, 1899

For More Information
Please Visit The
Link to Official NPS Website

Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


A Summary of Biological Inventory Data Collected at Vicksburg National Military Park: Vertebrate and Vascular Plant Inventories NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/GULN/NRTR—2010/404 (November 2010)

Acoustic Monitoring Report: Vicksburg National Military Park NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NRSS/NRTR—2013/789 (August 2013)

Cultural Landscape Report, Vicksburg National Military Park (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. and John Milner Associates, Inc., June 2009)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Shirley House (2022)

Environmental Assessment for Cultural Landscape Report, Vicksburg National Military Park (May 2009)

Foundation Document, Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi (October 2014)

Foundation Document Overview, Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi (October 2014)

Historic American Engineering Record

Vicksburg National Military Park Tour Roads HAER No. MS-14

Historic Structure Report: Pemberton's Headquarters (Willis-Cowan House), Vicksburg National Military Park (Joseph K. Oppermann, 2005)

Historic Structure Report: Shirley House, Vicksburg National Military Park (2004)

Historic Structure Report: USS Cairo, Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi (Tom McGrath and Doug Ashley, March 1981)

Junior Ranger Program Activity Booklet, Vicksburg National Military Park (Date Unknown; for reference purposes only)

Junior Ranger Activity Book, Vicksburg National Military Park (Date Unknown; for reference purposes only)

Long-Range Interpretative Plan: Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi (June 2010)

Mint Springs Creek Invasive Fish Species Eradication Environmental Assessment, Vicksburg National Military Park (August 24, 2006)

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Forms

U.S.S. Cairo (Clinton I. Bagley, December 11, 1970)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Nancy Aiken Miller, September 1, 1976)

Natural Resource Condition Assessment for Vicksburg National Military Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/VICK/NRR-2014/769 (Gary Sundin, Luke Worsham, Nathan P. Nibbelink, Michael T. Mengak and Gary Grossman, February 2014)

Paleontological Resource Inventory (Public Version), Vicksburg National Military Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/VICK/NRR-2023/2516 (Megan M. Rich, Charles V. Beightol, V, Christy C. Visaggi, Justin S. Tweet and Vincent L, Santucci, May 2023)

Preservation and Reconstruction of the National Cemetery Walls: Environmental Assessment, Vicksburg National Cemetery, Mississippi (November 2003)

Rehabilitation and Restoration of the Shirley House Environmental Assessment, Vicksburg National Military Park (November 2009)

Reptile & Amphibian Monitoring at Vicksburg National Military Park: Data Summary, Monitoring Year 2012 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/GULN/NRDS—2013/533 (Robert L. Woodman, August 2013)

Reptile & Amphibian Monitoring at Vicksburg National Military Park: Data Summary, Monitoring Year 2013 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/GULN/NRDS—2014/643 (Robert L. Woodman and William Finney, April 2014)

Reptile & Amphibian Monitoring at Vicksburg National Military Park: Data Summary, Monitoring Year 2014 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/GULN/NRDS—2015/757 (Robert L. Woodman and William Finney, February 2015)

Siege and Defence of Vicksburg and the Vicksburg National Military Park (Illinois Cenral Railroad Company, 1909)

The Geologic History of the Vicksburg National Military Park Area (HTML edition) Mississippi State Geological Survey Bulletin 28 (William Clifford Morse, 1935)

The historical record of paleontological and geological investigations within present-day Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi (Megan M. Rich, Charles V. Beightol, Christy C. Visaggi, Justin S. Tweet and Vincent L. Santucci, extract from Fossil Record 9, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin, Vol. 94, 2023)

The Vicksburg National Cemetery, Vicksburg National Military Park: An Administrative History (Richard Meyers, March 31, 1968)

USS Cairo: The Story of a Civil War Gunboat (Virgil Carrington Jones and Harold L. Peterson, 1971)

Vegetation Classification and Mapping, Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/GULN/NRTR—2013/710 (Chris Lea, Bob Waltermire and Carl Nordman, March 2013)

Vicksburg Campaign and Siege March-July 1863

Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi: Historic Handbook No. 21 (William C. Everhart, 1954)

Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi: Historic Handbook No. 21 (William C. Everhart, 1954, reprint 1961)


Vicksburg National Military Park

Books expand section

Last Updated: 18-Apr-2024