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Vicksburg was the focal point of the war in the west. It commanded the navigation and commerce of the Mississippi river, and as long as it was held by the Confederates kept a practical line of communication open between the Trans-Mississippi department and the government at Richmond, and the armies in Virginia and the West. The prolonged and desperate fighting that had taken place around it, in the effort of the Federals to reduce it, had made it an object of interest to both sections and to the civilized world. The town extends along the eastern bank of the river about a mile and a half, and back from the river about a mile. It stands on an elevated plateau between the mouth of the Yazoo on the north and of the Black on the south. Immediately on the river is a bluff. On the lower side of the town a creek, which winds its way through swamps and bottoms, empties into the river, and makes approach from that direction difficult. High hills extend along the river for a mile above. The river at this point makes a bend and a peninsula opposite the town. It was through the isthmus which connects the peninsula with the main land that the Federals attempted to cut a canal and turn the current of the river.

The intrenchments around the city were about six miles in length and two and a half in width at the widest part, and were semi-circular in form. Extending along the river front were thirty-one heavy guns, and on the hills in its rear, and north and south of it, were a multitude of forts and redans, and a labyrinth of intrenchments and rifle-pits. In the defense of the town Stevenson's division was posted on the right, Smith's on the left, Forney's in the center, and Bowen's was held in reserve, its duty being to succor those that needed help the most and strengthen the line where it was weakest. On the evening of the 18th the enemy appeared in force and drove in the outlying pickets. They soon found the weakest point in the line and opened a heavy fire on it,

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