Scholars and enthusiasts have been debating the significance of the Vicksburg Campaign for years. In the past decade, the Mississippi stronghold’s surrender has been increasingly characterized as a key turning point in the war. The summer of 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the campaign and the city’s famous Fourth of July surrender. The best site to help you understand why President Abraham Lincoln declared that Vicksburg was “the key” to Union victory is the Vicksburg National Military Park website.
National Park Service sites can vary when it comes to the wealth of historical material offered under the “History and Culture” tab on the left side of the standard NPS website template. When you visit the Vicksburg site, this link will take you to a lengthy list of topics that cover everything from the African-American military experience in the war to brief but informative biographies of the commanders involved in the siege. Some readers may want to research an ancestor through parole records of Confederate soldiers, while others might enjoy learning about the artists who designed Vicksburg’s postwar monuments.
Readers interested in military aspects may want to jump to the section “Campaign and Siege, March–July 1863,” which breaks down battles and assaults. Other pages list campaign casualties and forces engaged, organized by state and unit. Don’t miss the “Louisiana Military Operations, 1862-1863” page, detailing the military movements preceding Vicksburg.
Most of these pages contain only brief summaries of the campaign, so anyone interested in specifics should plan to read one or more of the excellent books on Vicksburg. But for teachers looking for lesson plans, to teach students about the larger significance of the war, for the budding historian in your family or for anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals of this campaign, this is a great place to start. And if you’re like many of us, you’ll quickly find yourself planning a visit (don’t worry, they have a tab for that, too).
Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.