Northern versus Southern Medicine at Vicksburg
THE UNION HAD OCCUPIED MEMPHIS BY ADVANCing down the Mississippi River from Illinois. The United States Navy had forced its way up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico and had taken New Orleans. Vicksburg remained the great rebel fortress that prevented the free flow of the products of the Midwest down the Mississippi River to world markets. Medical support for the campaign to wrest the Gibraltar of the West from Confederate hands challenged Northern medical resources. The Southern defensive effort was poorly served by inadequate Confederate medical support.1
The Union force assigned the mission of taking Vicksburg was named the Army of the Tennessee because of their previous successes along the Tennessee River. They should not be confused with the Confederate Army of Tennessee, named after the state. The Union forces numbered about 155,000 men and were under the command of Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant's initial plan called for an overland movement from Memphis to Vicksburg along the line of the railroad. Rebel forces cut this rail communication, however, and Grant feared that his army might be isolated deep within Confederate territory. He therefore retreated to Memphis and decided to advance by water down the great Mississippi River. In December 1862 the Confederate defenders repulsed a hurried assault upon the northern ramparts of the Vicksburg defenses. The following spring, Grant moved his fighting forces down the Mississippi, landing on the western shore opposite Vicksburg. Hiring thousands of former slaves as laborers, the Union army attempted to dig a canal that would bypass the Vicksburg fortress. When this attempt failed, Grant determined upon a daring plan.
In May Grant transported a major portion of his force downriver, past the huge guns of Vicksburg. They landed upon the eastern shore of the Mississippi and rapidly moved overland toward Jackson, the capital of the state of Mississippi, fighting major skirmishes. Grant and his army were loose in rebel territory without support and without a clear line of retreat.
Grant was opposed by the Confederate force called the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. John C. Pemberton commanded this force until May, when he was superseded by Joseph E. Johnston. When Johnston arrived at the state capital, he was met by the Union Army of the Tennessee and a battle ensued. Johnston was forced to retreat and was unable to link up with Pemberton's forces in Vicksburg. The Vicksburg defenders came out of the city to engage Grant at the major battle of the campaign, fought near a plantation called Champion's Hill. Pemberton retreated back into Vicksburg with about twenty-seven thousand men, where he became surrounded. With thirty-five thousand Confederate soldiers under his command, Johnston retook the state capital as Grant moved toward Vicksburg. Grant's troops surrounding Vicksburg numbered about seventy-five thousand; the remainder of the Army of the Tennessee were guarding the river, the city of Memphis, and western Tennessee. The Confederate troops under Johnston were unable to lift Grant's siege and Vicksburg surrendered on 4 July 1863.