Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Northern victories in these major campaigns marked the turning point in the U.S. Civil War by ending the South’s offensive capabilities.

Summary of Event

Through the first two years of the U.S. Civil War, the North and the South were both militarily strong enough to threaten each other’s territories. After the First Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861, no further serious campaigning occurred in the eastern theater of the Civil War during that year. In 1862, George B. McClellan, the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, tried to take the Confederate capital at Richmond Richmond, Virginia;and Confederacy[Confederacy] by attacking westward on the peninsula between the York and James Rivers. His campaign failed, and Robert E. Lee Lee, Robert E. [p]Lee, Robert E.;Battle of Gettysburg , the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Army of Northern Virginia Army of Northern Virginia , invaded Maryland. McClellan repulsed Lee’s army at the Battle of Antietam Antietam, Battle of (1862) on September 17. During that same winter, Ambrose Burnside replaced McClellan and attempted to assault Richmond from the north. Lee stopped Burnside’s advance at the Battle of Fredericksburg Fredericksburg, Battle of (1862) on December 13. President Abraham Lincoln then put Joseph Hooker Hooker, Joseph in Burnside’s place. Early in the spring of 1863, Hooker tried to move around Lee’s left flank, but Lee counterattacked and defeated him at Chancellorsville on May 2. Gettysburg, Battle of (1863) Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga Vicksburg, Battle of (1863) Chattanooga, Battle of (1863) Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;and Civil War[Civil War] Grant, Ulysses S. [p]Grant, Ulysses S.;Battles of Vicksburg and Chattanooga Sherman, William Tecumseh [kw]Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga (July 1-Nov. 25, 1863) [kw]Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, Battles of (July 1-Nov. 25, 1863) [kw]Vicksburg, and Chattanooga, Battles of Gettysburg, (July 1-Nov. 25, 1863) [kw]Chattanooga, Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and (July 1-Nov. 25, 1863) Gettysburg, Battle of (1863) Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga Vicksburg, Battle of (1863) Chattanooga, Battle of (1863) Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;and Civil War[Civil War] Grant, Ulysses S. [p]Grant, Ulysses S.;Battles of Vicksburg andChattanooga Sherman, William Tecumseh [g]United States;July 1-Nov. 25, 1863: Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga[3670] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 1-Nov. 25, 1863: Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga[3670] Meade, George G. Thomas, GeorgeH. Lee, Robert E. [p]Lee, Robert E.;Battle of Gettysburg Johnston, Joseph Eggleston Pemberton, John C. Bragg, Braxton

Lee Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Gettysburg Gettysburg, Battle of (1863) Pennsylvania;Battle of Gettysburg then launched his second invasion of the North, moving in the general direction of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. The Army of the Potomac followed, keeping between Lee Lee, Robert E. [p]Lee, Robert E.;Battle of Gettysburg and the national capital at Washington. On July 1, 1863, the two armies finally confronted each other directly at Gettysburg, a small college town southwest of Harrisburg. George G. Meade Meade, George G. , who had just taken command of the Union forces, rushed his men to the town, as did Lee, for what would become the greatest land battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. On the first day of the battle, there was fierce fighting on the northern end of the line, where, despite heavy losses, which amounted to 80 percent in one brigade, the Union forces held. On July 2, Lee attacked with his right wing, with similar results.

On July 3, Lee ordered a massive assault on Meade’s center, which was fixed on Cemetery Hill. After a planned artillery bombardment of one hour, there ensued a Confederate infantry attack of approximately twelve thousand troops under the operational command of Lieutenant General James Longstreet Longstreet, James . Longstreet, commanding First Corps and Lee’s “Old War Horse,” had argued strongly against any fight at Gettysburg Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Gettysburg Gettysburg, Battle of (1863) Pennsylvania;Battle of Gettysburg and bitterly opposed the attack on July 3. Longstreet had three divisions, the strongest of which was Major General George Pickett’s Pickett, George Virginia division. Union artillery and massed infantry fire inflicted casualties Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);casualties of more than 50 percent on the assaulting force and broke up attacking divisions. After an hour of bitter fighting, shattered and dispirited Confederate troops streamed back from Cemetery Hill. At the same time, east of Gettysburg, General Jeb Stuart’s Stuart, Jeb once seemingly invincible Confederate cavalry was soundly defeated. July 3, 1863, proved to be Lee’s worst day as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Army of Northern Virginia Army of Northern Virginia .

Lee’s force suffered 28,000 casualties; Meade, George G. Meade’s force suffered 23,000 casualties. With his army sorely depleted, Lee Lee, Robert E. [p]Lee, Robert E.;Battle of Gettysburg retired to Virginia. He could now do no more than defend Virginia and hope that the North would abandon its effort to conquer the South, for the Army of Northern Virginia would never again be capable of assuming the offensive.

Meanwhile, in the western theater of the war, the Union was on the offensive. Early in 1862, Ulysses S. Grant had captured Confederate positions at Fort Donelson on the lower Cumberland River and Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. The Confederates fell back to Mississippi, but counterattacked at Shiloh Shiloh, Battle of (1862) on April 6-7 without success. The Union then took control of all points north of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.

In Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Vicksburg Vicksburg, Battle of (1863) Mississippi;Battle of Vicksburg October, 1862, Grant began an advance down the Mississippi Central Railroad headed for Vicksburg, a fortified port city on the Mississippi River. Vicksburg was important because it was on a high bluff, from which Confederate artillery denied passage of the river to the Union boats. While Grant moved along the railroad line with 40,000 men, William T. Sherman, with 32,000 men, moved along the river. In December, Confederate cavalry moved into Grant’s rear flank and burned his supply dumps at Holly Springs, Mississippi. Grant fell back to bases in Tennessee. Sherman, not realizing that he was unsupported, attacked Vicksburg and suffered heavy casualties Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);casualties .

The Battle of Gettysburg.

(C. A. Nichols & Company)

Grant was determined to take Vicksburg by any means. During the winter of 1862-1863 he tried to bypass Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Vicksburg Vicksburg, Battle of (1863) Mississippi;Battle of Vicksburg Vicksburg by digging a canal opposite the city. This scheme failed, but Grant did not give up the idea of taking the heavily fortified city. Preparing for a spring campaign, he built up a vast quantity of supplies, most placed on barges, which would be floated downriver. He had decided on a daring campaign to move south of Vicksburg, cross from Louisiana to Mississippi, and then march his army into the heart of Mississippi, taking the capital city of Jackson, which was forty miles east of Vicksburg. After Jackson was taken and his rear secured, Grant would move on to Vicksburg, attacking from the east. The well-prepared supply barges that would be offloaded south of Vicksburg would keep Grant’s highly mobile army well supplied with ammunition and food. It was a daring plan with many dangers, but taking advantage of surprise, mobility, and a unified command, Grant was confident that he could keep the Confederates confused and incapable of massing forces against his smaller army.

On April 30, Grant was on dry ground on the east bank of the Mississippi River. He then began a campaign in which he achieved six victories in seventeen days. Moving north, he defeated two Confederate brigades at Port Gibson on May 1. Continuing his move inland, he headed toward Mississippi’s capital city, Jackson, which was also a major railroad center directly east of Vicksburg. Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Vicksburg Vicksburg, Battle of (1863) Mississippi;Battle of Vicksburg With Jackson secure, he would not have to worry about his rear flank when he struck out for Vicksburg.

Joseph E. Johnston Johnston, Joseph Eggleston , the Confederate commander in the area, could not discover Grant’s intentions, and John C. Pemberton, Pemberton, John C. in immediate command at Vicksburg, was equally confused over the Union commander’s intentions. Although Grant’s force was outnumbered 70,000 to 40,000 in the region as a whole, his army fought each of its successive battles with overwhelming superiority. On May 12, one of his three corps defeated a Confederate brigade at Raymond, and two days later, his entire army scattered the 6,000 Confederate troops defending Jackson.

Grant burned Jackson, destroyed its railroad facilities, and turned west toward Vicksburg. Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Vicksburg Vicksburg, Battle of (1863) Mississippi;Battle of Vicksburg Pemberton, John C. When Pemberton finally realized where Grant was, he still had most of his force, but he had no help from Johnston Johnston, Joseph Eggleston when he engaged Grant halfway to Vicksburg at Champion’s Hill on May 16. Grant again drove the enemy from the field, as he did the next day, when Pemberton tried to mount a defense a few miles outside Vicksburg at the Big Black River. Once again, Union troops routed the Confederates, forcing a headlong retreat to the earthworks. Pemberton then withdrew inside his defenses at Vicksburg. Filled with confidence, Grant and his troops assaulted the Vicksburg fortress on May 19. The Confederates remained safely inside their trenches and easily repulsed the attack. Three days later, Grant tried again, with heavy losses. He then realized that he could not take the city by assault and settled into a siege.

Reinforcements arriving from the North increased the size of Grant’s force to 70,000 men, and abundant supplies allowed his artillery to fire a constant barrage on the enemy positions. Within Vicksburg, Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Vicksburg Vicksburg, Battle of (1863) Mississippi;Battle of Vicksburg the Confederates were short of supplies. By early July, the citizens were starving, the troops were eating mule meat, and the gunners could fire their artillery guns only three times a day. On July 3, Pemberton asked Grant for surrender terms. Grant allowed the 20,000 Confederates to leave Vicksburg upon signing paroles, promising not to fight again until they were properly exchanged for Union prisoners. Pemberton Pemberton, John C. accepted. On July 4, Grant raised the Union flag over Vicksburg. With the fall of Port Hudson in Louisiana immediately afterward, the entire Mississippi River was in Union hands, and the one-third of the Confederacy west of the river was permanently cut off. Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Vicksburg Vicksburg, Battle of (1863) Mississippi;Battle of Vicksburg

Following his victory, Grant, accompanied by Sherman and his corps, went east to Chattanooga Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Chattanooga Chattanooga, Battle of (1863) , Tennessee, Tennessee;Battle of Chattanooga where a Union army was under siege. Chattanooga was a railroad center and the largest city in eastern Tennessee, an area noted for its pro-Union sentiments. Braxton Bragg Bragg, Braxton , leading the Confederate forces, had won a victory south of the city at Chickamauga on September 20, 1863, forcing the Union army to fall back into Chattanooga. Grant arrived there in mid-October. After restoring the supply line that Bragg had cut, Grant launched his attack on November 25. He planned to strike Bragg’s flanks, with a feint in the center. The troops under George H. Thomas Thomas, George H. , the commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland, made the feint up Missionary Ridge, drove out the Confederates who had been facing them in their trenches, and to the amazement of the Union commanders, continued, without orders, up the hill to destroy Bragg’s line. Bragg lost 6,700 troops, Grant 5,800. Mainly because of good luck, Grant had won another victory. With Vicksburg and Chattanooga firmly in the hands of the Union, the Confederate position in the West had become tenuous at best.

Significance

The union’s strategic and operational victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga marked the emergence of Ulysses S. Grant Grant, Ulysses S. [p]Grant, Ulysses S.;and Abraham Lincoln[Lincoln] Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;and Ulysses S. Grant[Grant] as the premier general of the war at that time. Chattanooga confirmed that Grant could win campaigns. In Washington, D.C., Abraham Lincoln, who had dismissed a string of generals and was dissatisfied with Meade’s Meade, George G. performance after Gettysburg Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Battle of Gettysburg , made Grant the overall commander of Union forces. Leaving Major General William T. Sherman behind in the West, Grant went east to confront and finally defeat Robert E. Lee and the army of Northern Virginia.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carter, Samuel, III. The Final Fortress. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980. A well-documented analysis of Grant’s Vicksburg campaign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cleaves, Freeman. Meade of Gettysburg. New York: Morningside Press, 1980. Offers insights into Meade’s personality and operational ability.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cozzens, Peter. The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Explores both Union and Confederate failures at Chattanooga and explains Grant’s successful campaign to free the city.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Archer. Civil War Command and Strategy. New York: Free Press, 1992. A complete, thoughtful analysis of the war years, with excellent insights into the operational abilities of U. S. Grant.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Korda, Michael. Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero. New York: Atlas Books/HarperCollins, 2004. Brief biography providing an overview of Grant’s early life, military career, and presidency. Accessible and accurate.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McFeely, William S. Grant. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. Provides a good analysis of Grant’s motivations at Vicksburg and Chattanooga.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Neillands, Robin. Grant: The Man Who Won the Civil War. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Cold Spring Harbor Press, 2004. Study of Grant’s military career, describing his military training and providing details of the Civil War battles in which he participated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995. Comprehensive, analytical biography by a prominent Civil War historian. Thomas focuses on Lee as a person, portraying him as a man of many paradoxes.

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U.S. Civil War

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Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas

Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln

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