Vicksburg is the Key

Preserving the Battlefield of the Civil War’s Most Decisive Campaign
Madeleine BienPark Partner Stories
Three cannons in the green grass with a white roman-styled building in the horizon at Vicksburg National Military Park
Steve Chrien, Share the Experience

During the Civil War, there was one city that both the Union and the Confederacy were determined to control: Vicksburg, Mississippi. Vicksburg was a crucial stronghold of the Confederacy along the Mississippi River and President Lincoln asserted, “See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.”

Lincoln’s words ultimately foreshadowed what would become one of the most consequential campaigns of the Civil War. Waged from March 29 to July 4, 1863, the Vicksburg campaign involved over 100,000 troops and resulted in near-certain Union control of the Mississippi River, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two.

The Union troops’ 47-day siege on the city of Vicksburg, led by General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, cornered Confederate General John C. Pemberton’s troops in the city and issued relentless attacks on an army awaiting reinforcements that never came, leaving Southern soldiers and civilians alike trapped and cut off from supplies. After 42 days of the siege, General Pemberton received a letter from one of his soldiers that begged, “If you can’t feed us, then you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is, than suffer this noble army to disgrace themselves by desertion.”

On July 4, 1863, Pemberton succumbed, surrendering his 30,000-man army and changing the course of the war from that point forward.

The Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign works to tell the story of the siege on Vicksburg and preserve the artifacts, monuments, and land where the soldiers and citizens endured the month-and-a-half long effort. As the official charitable partner organization of Vicksburg National Military Park (VNMP), the friends group’s goal is, “For visitors to the region to experience and understand the impact of the people and events that comprised the most strategic and decisive campaign of the Civil War.”

The Friends of Vicksburg has been able to support the National Park Service’s operations of the site by focusing on education, preservation, and community engagement with the support of private partners and volunteers. While administration of the land was originally given to the National Park Service in 1933, there have been significant expansion and restoration efforts in recent years, especially given the collaborative support of the Friends of Vicksburg and other partners like the Civil War Trust.

A group of union soldiers firing muskets on a grassy hill with the Union Flag waving in the breeze at Vicksburg National Military Park
National Park Service

Of particular note is the recent successful completion of the battlefield restoration project, which cleared 90 acres of battlefield to their historic appearance. Sites selected for the project were areas of key military engagement during the siege on Vicksburg and their restoration enhances the historical accuracy of the view now available to park visitors.

Furthermore, as participants in the Every Kid in a Park initiative, fourth-graders from local schools regularly come to VNMP for interactive tours of the battlefield where they can hear the story of the siege on the very grounds where it was made. The group also host a “Symphony at Sunset” event annually where it presents a free outdoor concert by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra on the battlefield during Memorial Day Weekend.

While it is a relatively young organization, with each of these efforts the Friends of Vicksburg has played an important role in preserving the legacy of the campaign at Vicksburg and enhancing the park for generations to come. To learn more about its programs and events or to support its work, visit the group’s homepage.

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