The Battles and Siege That Decided the Civil War
A t a time when the Civil War went badly for the Union, President Abraham Lincoln looked at a map and commented to a visitor, "See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key.... Let us get Vicksburg and all that country is ours. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket."
By October 1862, the Federals had gained control of the Mississippi River from its mouth upstream to Port Hudson, in Louisiana, and from the river's sources down to Vicksburg, Mississippi. As long as the Confederates held the 130-mile stretch between those two towns, they could maintain communications with the western third of their nation and draw reinforcements and supplies. By denying the use of the great waterway to the Union, they prevented the reopening of normal traffic between the Northwest and New Orleans.
Lincoln was right. Vicksburg was the key and until that key was in the Federal pocket the war would continue. But wresting it from the Confederates seemed an impossibility.
With a population of nearly 5,000, the town stood on a 200-foot bluff on the eastern bank of the Mississippi, just downstream from where the river made a hairpin curve. Between there and Memphis the line of bluffs ran far inland, and the area adjacent to the river was low and swampy.