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Southern leadership during the Vicksburg campaign

Backler, Ray (2010) Southern leadership during the Vicksburg campaign. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94184) (KAR id:94184)


The Confederate surrender at Vicksburg on the 4th July 1863 was a disaster for the South during the American Civil War, because it caused the loss of control of the Mississippi River Valley. President Jefferson Davis was responsible for the loss of Vicksburg, not because the Union had superior resources, but because of his own shortcomings, chief of which were: not providing a co-ordinated defence plan for the West, incorrectly assessing the capabilities of his western generals, failing to understand the deficiencies in his own capabilities, and not reacting to the change needed, as the North developed new tactics to prosecute the war.

Whilst the main historical facts of Davis’ involvement are well documented by Woodworth (1990), W. C. Davis (1991), Cooper (2000) and Ballard (2004), the extent of the political failures of the President have not been fully explored in relation to the Vicksburg catastrophe. Woodworth, in a seminal work, has examined the failure of Confederate command in the Western Theatre for the whole Civil War. Cooper and Davis, the President’s most comprehensive biographers, have reviewed his Civil War career. Ballard has produced the standard account of the Vicksburg Campaign. These historians provided analysis of Davis’ shortcomings during the Vicksburg Campaign, but there was room for a more detailed treatment as to how the defeat occurred.

The Mississippi River Valley was attacked from the north under the command of Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, using both banks of the river. In early 1863, the Confederate geographical command structure was still split along the line of the Mississippi River, with Lieutenant-General Edmund Kirby Smith in charge on the west bank and General Joseph E. Johnston in command on the east. Johnston was with the Army of Tennessee, commanded by his other key subordinate General Braxton Bragg, in Chattanooga many miles to the east of Vicksburg. Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, at Vicksburg, was left in isolation to control the forces on the east bank of the river.

There was little co-operation between the Confederate forces in the Western Theatre and an earlier attempt by Secretary of War George W. Randolph to insist that Lieutenant-General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding in Arkansas, provide reinforcements to Pemberton, lead to Randolph's resignation. Neither Davis nor Kirby Smith ordered Holmes to support the defence of Vicksburg. Instead, Davis ordered the reinforcement of Pemberton by the detachment of a division from the already- outnumbered Army of Tennessee.

Pemberton enjoyed the support and friendship of Davis, but Johnston, as his superior, was hampered by this relationship. Davis was the only person able to change the situation because, whilst he was in control of the appointments and the geographical command structure, he was also in a position to support Johnston rather than isolate him. Thus the weak political leadership of Davis, despite the relative individual abilities of the military commanders, set up the conditions for the Confederacy to lose Vicksburg and created a strategic framework within which the subsequent military operations did not succeed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94184
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: American Civil War
Subjects: E History America
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2023 15:01 UTC
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2023 15:01 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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