7/4/2013 11:16:00 AM Some say Vicksburg battle as significant as Gettysburg Over 36,000 Illinois men participated in battle
by Tom Emery Freelance writer
The battle of Gettysburg is not the only crucial Civil War battle that marks its sesquicentennial this week.
July 4 is the 150th anniversary of the 1863 fall of Vicksburg, Miss., which gave the Union control of the Mississippi River. The loss of the stronghold effectively cut the Confederacy in two and is considered by some historians as equal to the significance of Gettysburg.
The North recognized the Mississippi as a key to victory and gradually captured all other river cities before launching an offensive at the formidable fortifications of Vicksburg in late 1862.
“The Mississippi was vital to commerce,” said Mike Madell, superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park. “Whoever controlled the river also controlled the movement of goods, troops, and everything else.”
An estimated 36,000 Illinois men participated in the campaigns for Vicksburg, which culminated in a forty-seven day siege in the spring and summer of 1863. The siege followed a pair of failed frontal attacks that May 19 and May 22.
Though in defeat, the assault on May 22 is considered a shining moment for Illinois in the war. Of the 105 Medal of Honor recipients from Illinois in the Civil War, forty-three earned them on that day.
They included Carlos Colby of the 97th Illinois, an Alton man who later wrote that “it looked like certain death to face that leaden rain and iron hail.” Eight men of the Decatur-area 116th Illinois and seven of the 55th Illinois also received the Medal for their actions on May 22.
“Illinois sent more troops to the battle than any other state,” said Madell. “They were involved in practically all aspects of the campaign.”
Vicksburg finally fell on July 4, and President Lincoln wrote that “the Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” The city reportedly did not officially celebrate the Fourth of July again until 1945.
The victory also re-affirmed Ulysses S. Grant as the premier Union general of the western theater. The next year, he was appointed commanding general of the Federal armies.
The names of all Illinois men in the offensive are inscribed on an entablature inside the Illinois Monument at the Vicksburg battlefield. The breathtaking structure is modeled after the Roman Pantheon and is considered the foremost monument to Illinois troops at any Civil War battlefield park.