The Siege of Vicksburg
Table of Contents
Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used
National Educational Standards
Student Learning Objectives
Background and Historical Context
Teacher Tips
Lesson Implementation Procedures
Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
Extension and Enrichment Activities
Site Visit

A. Title: The Siege of Vicksburg
  • Developers:
  • Mysti Owen, Social Studies Teacher, Bovina Elementary School, Vicksburg, MS (Grades 2-6)
    Brandy Campbell, Social Studies Teacher, Utica Elementary/Middle School, Utica, MS (Grades 7-8)
  • Grade Level: Middle School, adjustable for higher or lower grades
  • Number of Sessions in the Lesson Unit Plan: Four 45-55 minutes lessons
    [Back to top]
B. Overview of this Collection-Based Lesson Unit Plan
  • Park Name: Vicksburg National Military Park
  • Description:
    Through object-based learning students will be able to explore how important it was to the Union to take Vicksburg, U.S. Grant’s attempts and methods to capture Vicksburg, how citizens were affected by the Siege of Vicksburg, and the effect Vicksburg had on the final outcome of the war.
  • Essential Question:
    • Why was the capturing of Vicksburg so vital to a Union victory?
    [Back to top]
C. Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used in this Lesson Unit Plan
MUSEUM OBJECT [photos of objects in the Carl Sandburg Home NHS museum collections] SIMILAR OBJECTS [local items similar to museum objects] & OTHER MATERIALS Length of time
Letter Letter
Newspaper Diary
Union Officer Surgeon's Kit
Map Shirley House
An object that represents teacher’s personal heritage (examples: family bible, grandfather’s walking stick, etc

Contemporary diary, newspaper, letter, and family or self photo

Other materials:

Forms and Charts:


4 sessions of 45-55 minutes each
[Back to top]
D. National Educational Standards
Era 5- Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
Standard 2- The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people.
[Back to top]
E. Student Learning Objectives
    • Demonstrate the importance of the Union victory at Vicksburg to winning the war.
    • List and identify the attempts that General Grant made trying to take Vicksburg.
    • Analyze specific artifacts of the museum collection of the Vicksburg National Military Park to demonstrate an understanding of civilian life during the siege.
    • Analyze the affect Vicksburg had on final outcome of the war.
    [Back to top]
F. Background and Historical Context

In the spring of 1862, the importance of Vicksburg was realized by both the North and the South.  The South realized that as long as it held Vicksburg the Mississippi River would be useless to Union traffic on the river and the railroads which run east-west would still be able to hold both sides of the Confederacy intact. President Abraham Lincoln said, “See what a lot of land these fellows, hold, of which Vicksburg is the Key.”

Five attempts were made before finally capturing the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.”  The first attempt was the Williams’ Canal, the route from Milliken’s Bend (Duckport Canal), the Lake Providence route, the Yazoo Pass, and the route by Steele’s Bayou.

Williams’ Canal  
In the front of Vicksburg, the Mississippi River made a sharp bend, forming a peninsula.  A canal cut across this land would give a more direct passage to the current of the river, and leave Vicksburg without any water defense.  This attempt was a failure because heat and disease reduced the available workforce.

Milliken’s Bend (Duckport Canal)
Another attempt was begun in Madison Parish, LA and its purpose was to connect the bayous that ran through the countryside.  This attempt was also a failure because of falling water levels.

The Yazoo Pass
Grant thought if he could obtain a firm hold north of Vicksburg that he could launch an attack, however, the Confederates were already aware of Union plans.  While the Union forces were opening one end of the Yazoo Pass, the Confederates were closing the other end of the desired route through construction of Fort Pemberton.  Construction of this powerful bastion blocked the Federal route to the Yazoo River. Grant ordered the troops to return to the Mississippi River.

The route by Steele’s Bayou
By traveling Steele’s Bayou, the Union forces could navigate through Black Bayou to Deer Creek.  From Deer Creek, they could reach Rolling Fork and then travel down the Big Sunflower into the Yazoo.  This would place Greenwood, MS between two Union forces and force the Confederates to give up Fort Pemberton.  The passages were blocked by trees that had been cut by Confederate forces.  Rain fall was almost constant and it became too difficult to proceed so the attempt was abandoned.  The failure of this route forced Grant to attack Vicksburg from the south.

The Siege
Grant positioned his artillery in a semicircle connecting the Northern, Eastern and Southern flanks of Vicksburg.  Meanwhile, David Porter’s Union gunboats continually shelled the city from the river.  Grant kept pressure on Pemberton by extending his lines and tightening his grip around Vicksburg in order to prevent the Confederates from getting supplies of food or information.  The Union soldiers began formal siege operations by digging trenches approaching Confederate lines forcing the Confederates to stay on the alert. 

As the siege began there were efforts by the Confederates on the Louisiana side of the river to relieve the pressure felt in Vicksburg, but to no avail.  Pemberton’s only hope of getting out of the siege rested on the shoulders of General Joseph Johnston.  Johnston had hinted at a possible joint attack.  Johnston would proceed from Jackson, MS, toward Vicksburg, thus trapping the Union Army in between the Confederate forces.  Johnston really never had any intention of carrying out this plan.
On July 3, after 46 days under siege Pemberton and Grant met under the “Surrender Oak” to begin discussing the terms of the surrender of Vicksburg.  Grant of course wanted nothing less than an unconditional surrender.  Pemberton would not accept these conditions.  Pemberton said, “you will bury many more of your men before you will enter Vicksburg.”  Finally terms were reached. The Confederates would give up their arms, but they would be paroled and allowed to leave the city.  Officers would be allowed to keep their side arms, clothing, and one horse.  On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg was officially surrendered to the Union forces.  Vicksburg was under military occupation from July 1863 until President Rutherford B. Hayes removed the troops in 1877.  

Effects of Siege
Private homes and civilians were greatly affected by Union fire by being destroyed, while many others were being put to different uses.  Some were used as hospitals such as Duff Green mansion for both Union and Confederate soldiers. Many residents dug caves into hillsides and bluffs to seek protection from the deadly fire leaving building and homes empty.  Some homes and buildings were used to house and care for wounded soldiers by civilians such as the Sisters of Mercy.  Women were forced to take on many different  roles ranging from that of nurse while providing care to the wounded, they also took on the role of historians as they kept diaries recording daily events. Finally, women also took on the role of encouragers by providing encouragement through written letters to the soldiers. 

Final Outcome
By capturing Vicksburg, the Union had effectively severed the Confederate supply lines and cut the Confederacy off from Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas.
[Back to top]

G. Vocabulary

Batteries- Placements of artillery (soldiers and weapons)
Entanglements- Obstacles placed before the parapet ditches consisting of strong vines or wires stretched between tree stumps or small pickets, in order to trip the leading ranks of attacking troops.
Flotilla -A smaller division of a naval fleet, consisting of two or more groups of boats.
Gibraltar-An unconquerable fortress
Maneuver- To carry out a military movement.
Minie Ball- A cone-shaped rifle bullet with a hollow base that expands when fired.
Mortar- Shells fired at short ranges that explode when they hit a target.
Siege- An attempt to capture a place by surrounding it and battering it until it surrenders.
Trench- A long, narrow, crooked ditch embanked with its own soil and used for concealment and protection in warfare.
Western Theater- Civil War battles fought mostly along the Mississippi River in what was then the western half of the United States.
[Back to top]

H. Teacher Tips
  • Print out copies of all museum collection object photographs identified in the lesson unit plan. It is imperative, however, that the objects from Carl Sandburg’s life be used in the unit.
  • Make multiple copies of all museum objects photographs for students to use throughout the unit plan.
  • Use textbook, classroom, and/or internet resources to develop notes or handouts.
[Back to top]
I. Lesson Implementation Procedures

Lesson One: Importance of Taking Vicksburg

Warm up- Journaling activity (suggested time 15-20 minutes)
Ask students to take a few minutes to write about Abraham Lincoln’s statement, “See what a lot of land these fellows, hold, of which Vicksburg is the Key.”

Informative Session (suggested time  20-30 minutes)
Provide notes or hand outs on the importance of taking Vicksburg to the Union Army.  We would also take this time to discuss the student’s thoughts on Lincoln’s comment and what its actual meaning was.

Vocabulary (suggested time end of class)
Students will be provided vocabulary words to define for an assessment at the end of day 4.

Lesson Two: Attempts and Methods Grant used to Take Vicksburg

Informative Session (suggested time 25-35 minutes)
Provide notes and information on the attempts and methods Grant made to take Vicksburg. After discussing and explaining the different attempts.  Have student copy this information from the overhead or board.

Mapping Activity (suggested time 15-20 minutes)
Students will label a map illustrating Grants attempts to capture Vicksburg by water.  Students will use the historical Civil War map given as a guide.

Lesson Three: Understanding Civilian Life

Introduction (suggestive time 10-15 minutes)
Provide students with background information on civilian life during and after the Siege.

Visuals (suggestive time 20-30 minutes)Students will view selected items from the Vicksburg National Military Park Museum Collection. Discuss and explain how these items were used by civilians and affected them.

Assessment (remainder of class period/homework)
Have students view photograph of the Shirley House during the siege.  Photograph included within lesson plan.  Provide students with the “How to Read a Photograph” handout and have them answer the questions on the worksheet.  Have students bring a photograph for introduction activity of themselves or family members for day 4. 

Lesson Four: Final Outcome

Introduction activity (suggested time 10-15 minutes)
The students will also compare and contrast a daguerreotype of Lewis J. Eyeman and the photo they bring from home.

Overview (suggested time 5-10 minutes)
Teacher will review all elements discussed thus far.

Informative session (suggested time 15-20 minutes)
Discuss the results of the capturing of Vicksburg and the significance it had on the rest of the war.

Assessment - (suggested time end of class)
Students will be given a vocabulary quiz.

J. Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
  • Journal entry
  • “How to Read a Photograph” worksheet
  • Map Activity
  • Vocabulary quiz
  • Class participation
  • Letter writing activity
[Back to top]
K. Extension and Enrichment Activities


(55 minutes)

Teacher will provide students with a blank map of the United States and will label and color the following:

  • Label
    • Confederate States
    • Federal States
    • Vicksburg
    • Shiloh
    • Gettysburg
    • Fort Sumter
    • 1st Battle of Bull Run and additional battles.
  • Color
    • Confederate States Red
    • Federal States Blue

Letter Writing

Lesson (55 minutes)

Teachers will read letters from the museum collection to the students.  The students will take on roles of people during The Siege.  They are to write their own letters.  The girls will be writing letters to their “soldiers and family” portraying citizens of Vicksburg.  The boys will be writing letters to their “sweethearts and family” about the role they played during the siege.  The boys can pick whether they would like to be Confederate or Union soldiers.  After the students have completed their letters, they will present them to the class.

[Back to top]

L. Resources

Michael B. Ballard,  The Campaign for Vicksburg Civil War Series  Eastern National Standard, 2007
Vicksburg National Military Park Museum Collection
Old Court House Museum Website
[Back to top]

M. Site Visit
Visit the Vicksburg National Military Park virtual exhibit at, and the park in Vicksburg, MS.
[Back to top]