Donald Miller, Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy
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Author Donald Miller visits the Museum & Library to discuss his book which provides a richly revealing portrait of Ulysses S. Grant within the enthralling story of the Civil War.
The surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, 1863 was the decisive victory of the Civil War. Grant’s conquest of the river citadel opened the Mississippi to Union commerce and severed the Confederacy, isolating the slave states of Arkansas and Texas and part of Louisiana. The Vicksburg campaign, Miller argues, also ignited a social revolution in Mississippi and eastern Louisiana that culminated in the violent overthrow of plantation slavery.
In 1861 Ulysses S. Grant was a washed-up veteran of the Mexican War, drummed out of the army for drinking. But in electrifying fashion he won a succession of major battles in the Mississippi River Valley at Forts Henry, Donelson, and Shiloh on the Tennessee River. Tasked with taking Vicksburg, the last remaining rebel stronghold on the Mississippi, and aided by the ironclad gunboats of the Union Navy in the largest amphibious assault of the war, Grant spent nine months trying and failing to subdue the river bastion, nearly losing his command in the process.
In this history-changing campaign, a battle against a hostile environment as well as a resolute enemy, nearly 100,000 slaves liberated themselves, going over to Union lines for protection; more than 26,000 became Union soldiers. Others remained on their plantations after their owners fled Grant’s invasion, running them as before, this time for their own benefit.
In the end, a forty-seven day siege and bombardment forced Vicksburg into submission. The victory, which came one day after the Battle of Gettysburg, elevated Grant to command of all Union armies and brought him east to take on Robert E. Lee while his Vicksburg army, under the command of his closest friend, Gen. William T. Sherman, swept devastatingly across the lower South, fighting an unremitting war that Grant had begun in Mississippi.
DONALD L. MILLER is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History Emeritus at Lafayette College and author of ten books, including Masters of the Air, currently being made into a television series by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. He has hosted, coproduced, or served as historical consultant for more than thirty television documentaries and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.