. . . . we must be able to proceed at once toward Vicksburg, which is the key to all that country watered by the Mississippi and its tributaries. If the Confederates once fortify the neighboring hills, they will be able to hold that point for an indefinite time, and it will require a large force to dislodge them. . . I am acquainted with that region and know what I am talking about. We may take all the northern parts of the Confederacy and they can still defy us from Vicksburg. . . . See what a lot of land those fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. . . . It means hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the States of the far South, and a cotton country where they can raise the staple without interference. . . . The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.With his whole army finally landed on the Mississippi side of the river at Bruinsburg, south of Vicksburg, Grant ordered Sherman south to join him. The Union army quickly defeated a Confederate force in the battle of Port Gibson on May 1. Grant then marched northeast to Jackson, driving out a smaller force there under the Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston. Sherman was ordered to destroy anything in Jackson of possible military value. With any threat to his rear thus nullified, Grant turned toward Vicksburg, due west of Jackson, 45 miles away. Vicksburg’s defenders attempted to check the Federal advance. Grant fought, and won, three battles with them between Jackson and Vicksburg: at Raymond, on May 12; Champion Hill, May 16; and the Big Black River, May 17. Inside the city, on the same date, Lieutenant General Pemberton received a dispatch from his commanding officer, General Johnston, ordering either the evacuation or surrender of the city. Pemberton decided to ignore the order, but he did shorten his defensive lines--including withdrawing the defenders from the Walnut Hills and the bluffs running north up to Haines’ Bluff. On May 19 the Union army was on the outskirts of Vicksburg. Grant and Sherman sat on their horses together on the crest of the Walnut Hills--called by one historian “the most important single piece of real estate in the Confederate States of America” --which Pemberton had given up without any meaningful defense. Now Grant, not Pemberton, controlled the Mississippi; Grant, not Pemberton, could receive supplies and reinforcements.
Thomas Burgin’s Mississippians were among the defenders brought in from the northern bluffs. On May 18, according to the Mississippi military historian,
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