Fortress Vicksburg conclusion by Morgan Gates
So now that we know what Vicksburg was not and what kind of new threats it faced What did, Fortress Vicksburg actually look like? Let’s talk about it.
Fortress Vicksburg was first and foremost on high ground! Since man first started throwing rocks at his neighbor, we have understood the importance of high ground in a conflict. It is as simple as gravity being your friend and you opponent’s enemy. Hill forts were the earliest examples of castles, great conquerors like Julius Caesar and Napoleon sought out high ground in their campaigns. Even today the United States makes the ultimate use of high ground with air superiority and spy satellites. Vicksburg is located on a series of high bluffs towering 2-300 feet above the river. In fact, the U.S. Navy’s big guns of the period lacked the elevation to fire directly into Vicksburg. Rear Admiral Porter (Grant’s Naval counterpart); therefore, brought in heavy mortars to target Vicksburg and later dismounted large cannon from his gunboats and re mounted them on high ridges, where they could bring their firepower to bear on Vicksburg.
Fortress Vicksburg was a layered defense! There is an old adage that says “two is one and one is none” it is simply an acknowledgment of Murphy’s Law “If anything can go wrong it usually will and at the worst possible moment”! No matter how strong one line of defense is, you had better have a backup plan. Vicksburg had multiple lines of defense and they had thwarted many Union attempts on the city already but it appears that “Murphy” had enlisted in the Confederate Army in the spring of 1863 had been acting as General Pemberton’s adjutant! Vicksburg’s first layer of defense had been breached when Porter successfully ran the guns of Vicksburg in April, thus giving Grant the ability to cross Vicksburg’s moat (The Mississippi), the second layer failed when Pemberton could not stop Grant’s amphibious landing at Bruinsburg. The third when Confederate forces could not stop Grant’s march across central Mississippi. And the fourth and final of the outer lines fell when Grant crossed the Big Black River on May 18th. General Pemberton, had essentially retreated into his last lines of defense (the central keep to use our castle analogy) when he pulled back to Vicksburg after the battle on May 17th but just like in the medieval castles of old those last lines were the most formidable!
Fortress Vicksburg had walls of dirt and hot lead. As we have already discussed previously, walls of wood, brick or stone, would have fallen quickly to any well-equipped 19th century army. They were useful in the Indian wars only because the Native-American tribes had no artillery! The walls of Fortress Vicksburg were dirt! Located on the ridges, about one mile outside the city were nine huge earthen forts. Known as Redoubts (square or rectangular in shape) Redans (A “V” with the point toward the enemy) and Lunettes (semi-circles open to the rear). Construction methods were simple, dig a ditch and pile up dirt on the inside edge (closest to what you are trying to protect) as the ditch gets deeper the wall of earth gets taller! The earthen forts were usually 10 feet tall or taller and the walls were many yards thick and too steep to climb without ladders. In between each fort were trenches, and individual artillery positions, the forts were close enough that they could support each other with overlapping fields of fire. Manning the forts and trenches were nearly 30,000 Confederate soldiers armed primarily with the excellent P53 British Enfield rifled musket which in the right hands could drop a man at almost 500 yards. and southern boys knew how to shoot!
Fortress Vicksburg had a moat of sorts. land around Vicksburg had been cleared of forest cover for a great distance out around the city. This provided a clear field of fire for the defenders. The forest trees had not been wasted they were lain down in the bottoms of the ravines below the forts, their branches facing out, sharpened off and even tied together with telegraph wire these abbatis (pronounced A-BO-TEE at the time, it is a French word) slowed or even blocked movement across the ravine and acted as a sort of dry moat about Fortress Vicksburg.
In the end Fortress Vicksburg fell, the way most of the fortresses of old did, succumbing to a 47-day siege. Grant, the man who rewrote so many of the old rules of war in his career fell back on the tried and true classic siege maneuvers. The siege operations conducted by Grant at Vicksburg would have been recognizable by King Richard the Lionheart over 500 years before, but in the end, it was hunger, thirst and disease that led to the city’s surrender on July 4th 1863.