The Longest Siege In Military History

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The current Russian invasion of Ukraine has involved several brutal sieges of cities and towns alike. Many civilians have been killed along with members of the military. The most widely followed of these was the Mariupol steel plant. A small number of Ukrainian soldiers held off a much larger Russian military force.

In American history, a siege was a major turning point in the Civil War and one of the war’s most famous battles. The siege of Vicksburg lasted from May 18 to Jul 4, 1863, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant claimed it and blocked the Confederate use of the Mississippi River. The victory split the Confederacy in half, geographically. When Lincoln learned of the victory, he commented “Thank God, The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

Although Vicksburg was important, it was a short siege based on military history. To determine the longest siege in history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from Tony Jaques’ 2006 military encyclopedia “Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity through the Twenty-first Century” and other sources. Because siege lengths can be inconsistent across sources, we tried to use the same source where possible.

A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortified place to compel it to surrender. Many times, the place under siege, such as Ceuta in North Africa or Candia in Crete, is a strategically important city. Implied in a siege strategy is that the stronghold is too well protected for a direct assault. In almost all cases, the defenders are vastly outnumbered but they are able to hold out because of strong fortifications.

Some besieging armies may know this ahead of time and dig trenches or even plant crops in the area around the fortress to prepare for a long stay. Insurgents such as the Romans in their war with the Etruscans tunneled underneath the Etruscan city of Veii to break the stalemate. In the later stages of medieval times, the introduction of gunpowder and cannon were crucial to ending sieges by battering thick walls of forts.

The longest siege in history was the Siege of Ceuta. Here are the details:
> Length of siege: 33 years
> Dates: 1694 to 1727

Ceuta, on the North African coast is a Spanish enclave today. It has been fought over many times because of its strategic position on the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It was the object of what became known as the Thirty-Year Siege in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The siege occurred when Moroccan Moors fought with the Spanish.

The first military blockade on Ceuta began in October 1694. The Moors were ready for a prolonged siege. They constructed siege weapons and planted crops in the surrounding lands. Parts of the city switched possession over the next 30 years. In 1720, 16,000 soldiers under the leadership of the Marquis of Lede, a Belgian serving the Spanish crown, arrived and drove off Moroccan forces. Lede did not pursue the Moors because of an outbreak of plague. The Moroccans returned and conquered Ceuta.

Click here to read The 15 Longest Sieges in Military History

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