In an attempt to capture the Mississippi River fortress of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Grant spent the winter of 1862-1863 conducting a series of operations to gain access to the city through the region's bayous. These attempts failed.
However, his strategy to take Vicksburg in 1863 is considered one of the most masterful in military history. Grant marched his troops down the west bank of the Mississippi and crossed the river by using U.S. Navy ships that had run the guns at Vicksburg. There, he moved inland and-in a daring move that defied conventional military principles-cut loose from most of his supply lines. Operating in enemy territory, Grant moved swiftly, never giving the Confederates, under the command of John C. Pemberton, an opportunity to concentrate their forces against him. Grant's army went eastward, captured the city of Jackson, Mississippi, and severed the rail line to Vicksburg.
Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
Knowing that the Confederates could no longer send reinforcements to the Vicksburg garrison, Grant turned west and won the Battle of Champion Hill. The Confederates retreated inside their fortifications at Vicksburg, and Grant promptly surrounded the city. Finding that assaults against the impregnable breastworks were futile, he settled in for a six-week siege. Cut off and with no possibility of relief, Pemberton surrendered to Grant on July 4, 1863. It was a devastating defeat for the Southern cause, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two, and, in conjunction with the Union victory at Gettysburg the previous day, is widely considered the turning point of the war. For this victory, President Lincoln promoted Grant to the rank of major general in the regular army, effective July 4.
A distinguished British historian has written that "we must go back to the campaigns of Napoleon to find equally brilliant results accomplished in the same space of time with such a small loss." Lincoln said after the capture of Vicksburg and after the lost opportunity after Gettysburg, "Grant is my man and I am his the rest of the War."
After the Battle of Chickamauga Union general William S. Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Confederate Braxton Bragg followed to Lookout Mountain, surrounding the Federals on three sides. On October 17, Grant was placed in command of the city. He immediately relieved Rosecrans and replaced him with George H. Thomas. Devising a plan known as the "Cracker Line", Thomas's chief engineer, William F. "Baldy" Smith opened a new supply route to Chattanooga, helping to better supply the Army of the Cumberland.
Upon reprovisioning and reinforcing, the morale of Union troops lifted. In late November, they went on the offensive. The Battle of Chattanooga started out with Sherman's failed attack on the Confederate right. He not only attacked the wrong mountain but committed his troops piecemeal, allowing them to be defeated by one Confederate division. In response, Grant ordered Thomas to launch a demonstration on the center, which could draw defenders away from Sherman. Thomas waited until he was certain that Hooker, with reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac, was engaged on the Confederate left before he launched the Army of the Cumberland at the center of the Confederate line. Hooker's men broke the Confederate left, while Thomas's men made an unexpected but spectacular charge straight up Missionary Ridge and broke the fortified center of the Confederate line. Grant was initially angry at Thomas that his orders for a demonstration were exceeded, but the assaulting wave sent the Confederates into a head-long retreat, opening the way for the Union to invade Atlanta, Georgia, and the heart of the Confederacy. Grant reportedly said afterward, "Damn, I had nothing to do with this battle," according to Hooker.
Grant's willingness to fight and ability to win impressed President Lincoln, who appointed him lieutenant general in the regular army-a rank not awarded since George Washington (or Winfield Scott's brevet appointment), recently re-authorized by the U.S. Congress with Grant in mind-on March 2, 1864. On March 12, Grant became general-in-chief of all the armies of the United States.
General-in-Chief and strategy for victory
In March 1864, Grant put Major General William T. Sherman in immediate command of all forces in the West and moved his headquarters to Virginia where he turned his attention to the long-frustrated Union effort to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia; his secondary objective was to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, but Grant knew that the latter would happen automatically once the former was accomplished. He devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions: Grant, George G. Meade, and BenjaminFranklin Butler against Lee near Richmond; Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman to invade Georgia, defeat Joseph E. Johnston, and capture Atlanta; George Crook and William W. Averell to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; and Nathaniel Banks to capture Mobile, Alabama. Grant was the first general to attempt such a coordinated strategy in the war and the first to understand the concepts of total war, in which the destruction of an enemy's economic infrastructure that supplied its armies was as important as tactical victories on the battlefield.
Overland Campaign, Petersburg, and Appomattox
The Overland Campaign was the military thrust needed by the Union to defeat the Confederacy. It pitted Grant against the great commander Robert E. Lee in an epic contest. It began on May 4, 1864, when the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River, marching into an area of scrubby undergrowth and second growth trees known as the Wilderness. It was such difficult terrain that the Army of Northern Virginia was able to use it to prevent Grant from fully exploiting his numerical advantage.
The Battle of the Wilderness was a stubborn, bloody two-day fight, resulting in advantage to neither side, but with heavy casualties on both. After similar battles in Virginia against Lee, all of Grant's predecessors had retreated from the field. Grant ignored the setback and ordered an advance around Lee's flank to the southeast, which lifted the morale of his army. Grant's strategy was not just to win individual battles, it was to fight constant battles in order to wear down and destroy Lee's army.
Poster of "Grant from West Point to Appomattox."
Sigel's Shenandoah campaign and Butler's James River campaign both failed. Lee was able to reinforce with troops used to defend against these assaults.
The campaign continued, but Lee, anticipating Grant's move, beat him to Spotsylvania, Virginia, where, on May 8, the fighting resumed. The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House lasted 14 days. On May 11, Grant wrote a famous dispatch containing the line "I propose to fight it out along this line if it takes all summer". These words summed up his attitude about the fighting, and the next day, May 12, he ordered a