Fact #1: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis both saw Vicksburg as “the key” to the Confederacy.
By the summer of 1863, Union advances from the Memphis in the North and New Orleans in the South had constricted Confederate control of the Mississippi River to a small section stretching from Port Hudson, Louisiana to the fortified city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Early in the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, gesturing to a map of the region, declared to his military advisors that “Vicksburg is the key” and that the failure to capture this city meant “hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the states of the far South [for the Confederacy].” For not only would the capture of Vicksburg benefit the commercial interests and military operations of the Union, but Vicksburg was also a vital logistical link to the resource-rich Trans-Mississippi. It was here at Vicksburg that huge quantities of molasses, cane sugar, sheep, oxen, cattle, mules, sweet potatoes, butter, wool, and salt, were transported across the great river and onto every corner of the Confederacy. Some historians have argued that it was the Trans-Mississippi, not the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia that was the true breadbasket of the Confederacy. And it was via Vicksburg that important war material and arms smuggled through Mexican ports could defy the Federal blockade and sustain the military needs of the South.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis, whose plantation home was just south of Vicksburg, clearly recognized why the city was worth defending. For Vicksburg, in his words, was “the nailhead that held the South’s two halves together.”
Fact #2: Ulysses S. Grant captured Vicksburg by moving away from it.
After bloody repulses in the last months of 1862, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Union Army of the Tennessee, determines to push his army south through Louisiana, using the Mississippi River to supply his troops. His plan is to land his army below Vicksburg, taking this Confederate bastion from the South. On April 16 and 22, 1863, Admiral David D. Porter‘s fleet successfully runs past the Vicksburg batteries, giving Grant the naval power necessary to cross the Mississippi, which he does on April 29, 1863. The following day, the Federals establish a strong lodgment east of the river after the Battle of Port Gibson.