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Did Vicksburg live up to its "Gibraltar of the Confedercy" hype?

Discussion in 'Siege of Vicksburg' started by TinCan, Apr 3, 2017.

  1. TinCan

    TinCan Captain Forum Host

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    I have often wondered if Vicksburg was not "over hyped" as an impregnable bastion of the Confederacy along the Mississippi River? Notwithstanding the fact that Vicksburg's line of defenses were never seriously breached, it only took Grant a little over a month to starve the city into submission once he had his forces in place encircling the city. To me, Vicksburg is like the unit that advances too far from their lines and finds itself surrounded with little or no chance of escape. Grant had sealed off escape to the east, and Porter's control of the river both north and south closed escape to the west. In your opinion just how "impregnable" do you thing Vicksburg was?
     

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  3. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

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    If "impregnable" means "cannot be captured" then there is no such thing as an impregnable position. The question has to do with how long the attacker can spend taking the position. Any position can be starved out --- if the attacker has enough time and enough strength to cut the defender's supply lines and to keep away any relief force.

    Some CW "impregnable" positions:
    Union D3 Gettysburg -- CSA did not have the force required to cut the supply lines
    Lee at Fredericksburg -- Union did not have the force on hand to cut the supply lines
    Lee at Petersburg -- CSA held until the supply lines were cut (5 Forks being the last step)
    Beauregard at Charleston -- held until a Union force was about to cut his supply line
    Pemberton at Vicksburg -- His supply lines were cut, his relief force was too small so he ran out of food. Could have held out another 100 days and it would have made no difference because his supply lines were cut ant the relief force could not be made large enough to rescue him.
     
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  4. Blessmag

    Blessmag Captain

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    Another town also claimed that title: Columbus KY.
     

    Attached Files:

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  5. Carronade

    Carronade 2nd Lieutenant

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    "Gibraltar" is actually a rather insightful analogy. The British were only able to hold Gibraltar because their fleet could periodically resupply and reinforce the garrison. As DaveBrt said, no fortress is literally impregnable; hopefully it can hold out long enough for friendly forces to come to its support.
     
  6. Will Carry

    Will Carry Corporal

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    Nice post. They had a lot of big guns their on the river and they could put up a heck of a barrage, but I think you are right. Vicksburg was a paper lion.
     
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  7. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    "Gibraltar" is a rather vaunting boast, alluding as it does to an "untakeable" fortress.

    Vicksburg did have several natural advantages due to the terrain that favored the defense. Untakeable it was not, but it was excellently sited to give an attacker fits. The approach to it from upstream, due to the existence of the Yazoo Delta (which was much swampier and difficult of access then than now) basically meant that Union riverborne forces were heading directly toward the fortified bluffs, with swampland to their left and to their right. The hairpin turn right above the city made navigation difficult and kept gunboats in range longer. The terrain on the "dry" ground was rough and was well-suited to entrenchment.

    Small wonder it proved such a difficult nut to crack for so long.
     
  8. AUG351

    AUG351 Captain Forum Host

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    The idea that the landward face was holding strong throughout the siege until the very end is not entirely true. Near the end of the siege the Federal besiegers were sapping right up to the base of the Confederate works. Things were desperate at the 3rd Louisiana Redan after the two mines were blown underneath it. It was literally neck and neck there and the defenders were suffering just as heavy losses as the besiegers. With no second line in the rear I believe a massed Union assault would have easily broken through at that point.
     
  9. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel

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    I'm pretty sure that that was the primary reason Pemberton surrendered when he did (the timing of the 4th of July being somewhat fortuitous-- I doubt that, his later remarks aside, that really made a huge difference in the decision). He saw the writing on the wall and realized at last that Johnston could not get to town before Grant could.
     
  10. TinCan

    TinCan Captain Forum Host

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    I like Will Carry's observation that Vicksburg was in deed, in the final sense, a "paper lion". But I think we may all agree that the lion did have teeth, and if handled better (Johnston not being prompt, and Pemberton using his forces to better advantage, come to mind) the outcome could have been a lot better for the Confederacy.
     
  11. 1stMS-Arty

    1stMS-Arty Corporal

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    It did for a little over a year...and it certainly was impregnable from the front...river front.

    From the time of Sherman's assault on Chickasaw Bayou (Dec. 1862) to the end of the siege (July 4, 1863) was in itself a fairly long and complex millitary campaign. Not to mention Fort Pemberton(CS victory), Holly Springs (CS victory), Williams'/Grant's canal (Federal failure), Farragut's bombardments June 1862 (Federal failure). CSS Arkansas sortie (CS victory).

    So yeah from June 1862 to July 1863....Gibraltar of the Confederacy.
     
  12. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    Exactly !
    Well . . . we know how that worked out.
    There are already enough threads on Joe Johnston and his Vicksburg "Army of Relief " fiasco.
    Agreed.

    Earlier this year, I finished reading:
    Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer's View Vicksburg Campaign
    by Warren E. Grabau


    This is by far the best detailed book I've read on the defenses of Vicksburg, and the Vicksburg Campaign in general.

    Note: The price of this book is now reasonable. That wasn't the case a couple of years ago.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2017
  13. wausaubob

    wausaubob Sergeant

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    Once the Union River Navy had control of the Mississippi, Vicksburg was going to fall one way or the other.
     
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  14. MHB1862

    MHB1862 Private

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    An argument can be made that once New Orleans fell Vicksburg became irrelevant. The Mississippi River was no longer a Confederate River. Could the force surrendered at Vicksburg have been better employed in the field elsewhere?
    That's a question, not an assertion.
     
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  15. Patrick H

    Patrick H Captain

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    I think Vicksburg was the most important Union victory of the entire war. It wasn't as "sexy" as Gettysburg, but it meant more. Until Vicksburg fell, the Confederates could have re-supplied their armies out of Texas and Arkansas. Imagine all that beef.
     
  16. wausaubob

    wausaubob Sergeant

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    Vicksburg prevent the US from using the Mississippi for commercial purposes. The capture of Vicksburg restored the river to commercial use.
     
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  17. MHB1862

    MHB1862 Private

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    Interesting thought, but I have my doubts that federal gunboats steaming north from NOLA would have allowed that to happen without interdiction efforts. And, even if some beef and other foodstuffs came from Arkansas and Texas, the rail infrastructure would not have supported moving large quantities away from river ports.
    Your thoughts?
     
  18. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    Sorry, but I must respectfully disagree.

    IMHO, Vicksburg and Port Hudson were actually strategically more important than New Orleans. The "authorities that be" in Richmond are to blame for not acting on this obvious fact.

    Confederate control of the Mississippi River between those two towns provided a window for supplies from the Trans-Mississippi.

    True - but in the early stage of the campaign, the U.S Naval effort was less than successful. The batteries at Vicksburg & Port Hudson payed a large part in this U.S Naval setback.

    That's very true & a good point . . . but by 1863, the beef & pork from Texas were much more important to the Eastern Confederate Armies than preventing Mid Western farmers an international outlet for their produce.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2017
  19. Carronade

    Carronade 2nd Lieutenant

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    Did it? That is, while the war was ongoing, how much commercial traffic was there on the southern Mississippi? Even without a Confederate fortress overlooking the river, it was subject to interdiction or harassment by cavalry, partisans, and the like. Military supplies flowed south, and supply ships might carry captured or contraband cotton on the return trip, but did civilian shipping travel through what was still basically rebel territory?

    Preserving or restoring use of the Mississippi was one reason for the Union to fight the war, but it would seem more likely to be achieved after victory than in the midst of hostilities.

    p.s. It might also be an argument for cordial relations between the USA and CSA. When we were all one nation, river traffic existed because it was profitable to all concerned, and businessmen on both sides would like to continue making money.
     
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  20. wausaubob

    wausaubob Sergeant

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    Per Carronade, the actual commercial affect of clearing the Mississippi may not have been important, immediately. The political affect was significant.
    The Vicksburg campaign also demonstrated that aside from holding Richmond, the Confederacy could not hold on to strategic territory.
     
  21. Carronade

    Carronade 2nd Lieutenant

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