Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1860 was a thriving riverboat town with a population near 5,000, and the second largest city in the state. Situated atop the picturesque Walnut Hills on the eastern bank of the "Father of Waters," Vicksburg had docks that served the profitable local cotton plantations, which shipped their "white gold" to New Orleans, about 200 miles to the south. The city was also an important trading center, dealing with Natchez downstream and Memphis upstream, and with rail connections to the interior of Mississippi and Louisiana. Life for most of Vicksburg's citizens was leisurely and profitable, as it had been ever since the town was incorporated in 1825.
This serenity was shattered by the political events of early 1861. The state of Mississippi, heartened by South Carolina's secession three weeks earlier, voted on 9 January 1861, to become the second state to leave the Union. Ironically, the citizens of Vicksburg had not been in favor of disunion—in the vote for convention delegates held on 7 January, Unionist candidates were elected over secessionists by a count of 561 to 175. The town nevertheless embraced the Southern cause, and was soon raising troops and placing cannons on its heights overlooking the river.
Little did Vicksburg's citizens realize that within a few months of secession their beloved town would become an armed camp, a fortress nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the West." Within two years the Mississippi River, source of Vicksburg's wealth and prosperity, would draw hordes of enemy troops to a great