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Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had for months sought in the winter of 1862-63 to find a way to clear Confederate forces defending Vicksburg on the seemingly indomitable bluffs lining the Mississippi River there.
Clearing Vicksburg would be a key prize for the Union if it could seize control of that city and gain supremacy over the inland waterway, splitting the Confederacy in half. On the night of April 16, 1863, Union gunboats ran downriver past the batteries at Vicksburg, outwitting artillery fire from the heights as they moved below that city.
Grant planned to have his armada meet up with thousands of troops marching overland. His audacious plan: to send his troops trekking down the river's west bank where they could be ferried by flee across to the Vicksburg side to mount an eventual attack. For now, Vicksburg bristled with heavy gun batteries along its riverfront and along the swamps and bayous on other sides.
All of its approaches by land were guarded by gun batteries. In the coming month, Grant, however, would open a 47-day siege of Vicksburg that would gain the Union a much-needed victory and further burnish Grant's star as a general who fights to win — and one Lincoln would tap to lead the overall war effort.