One hundred and fifty years ago this month, the Union Army was in central Mississippi on its way to Vicksburg. Many of the battle fields are still here, not to mention the Vicksburg Military Park. Vicksburg had to be taken if the Union expected to win the war.
Sherman had already taken a crack at Vicksburg back in December at the battle of Chickasaw Bayou. Between the high bluffs rimming the city and the high water in the Delta that winter, he managed to lose the only battle he lost in the entire war.
But Vicksburg had to be taken. Not only could the Mississippi River not be used for Union boat traffic with the guns at Vicksburg trained on it, but just as important was the east-west rail road that ran through Vicksburg.
Take Vicksburg and you open up the Mississippi River and stop Texas beef from feeding the Confederacy at the same time. Lincoln had set a high priority on taking Vicksburg.
Early on in the war, President Lincoln said Vicksburg is the key. And whoever has the key in their pocket will win the war.
So General Grant set out to get that key. He spent the winter of 1862 into 1863 trying to get to Vicksburg's back door from the north through the flooded rivers on the Delta.
But in the spring of 1863 he moved south of town, camping his troops in the corn fields at Hard Times Landing, Louisiana, just across the river from Grand Gulf, Mississippi, April 30 of 1863.
Grant then crossed his army into Mississippi at Bruinsburg, near the ruins of Windsor. Marching all night down the narrow sunken roads, his troops converged on Port Gibson May 1; then Raymond May 12, Jackson May 14, Champion Hill May 16, and the Big Black River Bridge May 17.
Then encircling and camping around Vicksburg by May 18, where he laid siege to the city until it surrendered on July 4 of 1863.
There are souvenirs and mementos of the battles all over, but the small marker on the Champion Hill Battlefield, near Bolton, may be the most disproportionate marker in size compared to the importance of the battle in the whole nation.
Champion Hill was the Confederacy's last chance to stop Grant. Winston Churchill remarked that the drums of Champion Hill sounded the doom of Richmond.
There have been and will be reenactments and programs marking those battles over the next few weeks. But the best monument to that war is the fact that those battlefields returned to peace and quiet after a while. And that is the way they have remained for 150 years.
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