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Vicksburg, 1863 by Winston Groom
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Vicksburg, 1863 (2009)

by Winston Groom

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Excellent history of the battle for Vicksburg. Does a thorough job of explaining the context that led up to the battle. I especially appreciate the attention to the lives and struggles of the civilians in the area. One of the best Civil War battle books I have read. ( )
  superant | Mar 4, 2014 |
A very detailed and complete history of the pivotal battle for control of the Mississippi. Groom presents a very readable yet thorough account of this campaign. ( )
  labdaddy4 | Oct 25, 2013 |
Does this scenario sound familiar: a society riven by controversy with each side taking increasingly rigid positions; a new form of communications technology that permits news to travel in seconds which used to require days, Supreme Court decisions that seem to feed the flames of divisiveness, and massive immigration from other countries seeking filling the need for cheap labor in factories and farms. Such was the situation just before the Civil War. Slavery was the issue, the telegraph provided near instantaneous communication, and the Irish fled the Potato Famine and worked in slave-like conditions in northern factories. Plus ca change....

The author suggests that following Vicksburg (which occurred the same day as Gettysburg), that Jefferson Davis should have thrown in the towel and negotiated peace with Lincoln. Losing Vicksburg meant loss of control of the New Orleans ports and the lower Mississippi, which meant the Confederacy no longer had any way to export cotton to England, and it was cotton that gave England some reason to purchase Confederate bonds which help fund the war. It was only Davis's pig-headediness and foolishness that kept them fighting and this ultimately resulted in economic collapse for the south after 1865. Before the war, Mississippi had ranked near the top in per capita income. Ever since 1865, it has ranked near the bottom.

Groom’s descriptions of the details of battle are worth reading.

“,,,as a “minié” ball, after its French inventor. In the full fury of an assault, assuming that one corps had attacked another, it would not be inconceivable that during any given minute sixty thousand deadly projectiles would be ripping through the air toward flesh and bone. The size and weight of the bullet would be sufficient to disable most men no matter where it hit them, even in the hand or foot. Because they had no munitions factories at the beginning of the war, the Confederates equipped themselves with weapons from state militias or by seizing federal armories, as well as by making large purchases from abroad, principally from Great Britain. As the war ground on they added to their arsenal by collecting Union weapons left upon the battlefield. More worrisome for the foot soldier, attacks were accompanied by or defended against by artillery fire, which the troops feared even more than rifle bullets because its effects were so ghastly. (Even so, small arms fire caused most of the casualties during the war.) The artillery pieces had come a long way since the previous major world conflict—the Napoleonic Wars half a century earlier. . . .The muzzle velocity of these guns was low compared with twentieth-or twenty-first-century weapons, and soldiers could often actually see the rounds arcing toward them like deadly black grapefruits. One veteran recalled a companion who, watching one of the seemingly slow cannonballs bouncing over the ground near him, stuck his foot out as if to stop the thing and in a split second the foot was ripped completely off his leg. In a battle early in the war a Union general seated on his horse heard a strange sound next to him and, when he turned to investigate, was horrified to see that his chief of staff, still erect in his saddle, had had his head completely taken off by a cannonball.”

The early 19th century had seen a dramatic rise in the economic value of cotton. The cotton gin made removing the seeds from cotton much less labor intensive and the plant’s value as a cash crop skyrocketed. For four decades in a row, according to David Blight, cotton’s economic value increased four-fold and by the beginning of the war slaves, essential to the production of cotton, had an asset value of $3.5 billion, more than the entire worth of railroads and industries in the north. As they represented property, it’s no wonder slave owners reared what they believed to be the confiscation of their property. And the Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, backed them up first in Prigg v Pennsylvania, then in Dred Scott which invalidated the Missouri Compromise. Northern States like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were howling for states rights in passing laws prohibiting local magistrates from enforcing the Fugitive Slave Laws while the southern states, in a delicious irony, called for stronger federal and national enforcement of those same laws.

Typical of the type of Southern youngbloods ... was Charles Colcock Jones, a thirty-year-old Georgian who had graduated from Princeton and held a Harvard law degree and thus had had ample opportunity to observe the Northern abolitionist movement firsthand. He wrote his father, a clergyman: “The Black Republicans may rave among the cold hills of their native states, and grow mad with entertainment of infidelity, heresies, and false conceptions of a ‘higher law’; but Heaven forbid that they ever attempt to set foot on this land of sunshine, of high-souled honor, and of liberty. A freeman's heart can beat in no nobler behalf, and no more sacred obligation can rest upon a people than those now devolved upon us to protect our homes, our loves, our lives, our property, our religion, and our liberties, from the inhuman infidel hordes who threaten us with invasion, dishonor, and subjugation.”

In the meantime, Grant, having failed at just about everything else, had managed to secure a colonelcy after show considerable leadership in whipping into shape a recalcitrant regiment. He was one of the first to recognize, along with Lincoln, the importance of the Mississippi, control of which would split the Confederacy and provide a commercial outlet for northern products. He was also blessed with several technological advances in the development of the steamboat and its conversion into the river gunboat. “These were not “boats” in the conventional sense of the term. They were upwards of two hundred feet long and more, weighed as much as five hundred tons, employed crews of up to 150 men, and could bring to bear a concentration of twenty large-caliber cannons at over-the-water speeds of around eight to ten knots. They were self-sufficient except for the coal tenders that supplied their fuel, protected by iron armor plating two and a half inches thick....was one of the most remarkable feats of shipbuilding in the world, since the authorities in Washington had decreed that the vessels must be commissioned within sixty-four days from laying of the keel to final completion.” Had the steamboat been available, Grant would not have been able to subdue the Cumberland and the Tennessee, both of which ran north.

A substantial amount of the book is allotted to describing the events leading up to Vicksburg, including Shiloh and the naval battles for New Orleans. Each had important effects on the distribution of troops before the Vicksburg campaign. Groom has written an enjoyable, very readable account of a lesser known, but vitally important campaign in the west. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Incredibly detailed account of the events leading up to the Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, gauged to be a critical turning point in the war. I found the most interesting feature the personal descriptions of what the characters small and large were actually experiencing. ( )
  Gary10 | Oct 12, 2010 |
An excellent read of a very important battle of the Civil War. The author has obviously done much research but has also put those facts into a very readable book. There are examples of favoritism in his characterizations, but no one is condemned outright. His quotes from the players in this brutal act are well and evenly selected. ( )
  DeaconBernie | Aug 11, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307264254, Hardcover)

A riveting history of the battle that permanently turned the tide of the Civil War.

While Gettysburg is better known, Winston Groom makes clear in this engrossing narrative that Vicksburg was the more important battle from a strategic point of view. Re-creating the epic campaign that culminated at Vicksburg, Groom details the arduous struggle by the Union to gain control of the Mississippi River valley and to divide the Confederacy in two. He takes us back to 1861, when Lincoln chooses Ulysses S. Grant—seen at the time as a mediocre general with a drinking problem—to lead the Union army south from Illinois.

We follow Grant and his troops as they fight one campaign after another, including the famous engagements at Forts Henry and Donelson and the bloodbath at Shiloh, until, after almost a year, they close in on Vicksburg. We witness Grant’s seven long months of battle against the determined Confederate army, and the many failed Union attempts to take Vicksburg, during which thousands of soldiers on both sides would be buried and, ultimately, the fate of the Confederacy would be sealed. As Groom recounts this landmark confrontation, he brings the participants to life. We see Grant in all his grim determination, the feistiness of William Tecumseh Sherman, and the pride and intransigence of Confederate leaders from Jefferson Davis and General Joseph E. Johnston to General John C. Pemberton, the Philadelphia-born Rebel who commanded at Vicksburg and took the blame for losing.

A first-rate work of military history and an essential contribution to our understanding of the Civil War.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

While Gettysburg is better known, Vicksburg was the more important battle from a strategic point of view according to the author, Winston Groom. Here he details the struggle by the Union to gain control of the Mississippi River valley and to divide the Confederacy in two. We see Grant's determination, the feistiness of William Tecumseh Sherman , and the pride and intransigence of Confederate leaders from Jefferson Davis and General Joseph E. Johnston to General John C. Pemberton, the Rebel who commanded at Vicksburg and took the blame for losing.… (more)

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