Monday, January 4, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: VIcksburg 1863 by Winston Groom

Winston Groom is one of my favorite historical writers and I just finished his latest book, Vicksburg 1863 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2009). Vicksburg was one of the most important campaigns of the War For Southern Independence and was critical to the eventual victory by the North. Groom spends the first half of the book introducing the main players, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Shearman, John Pemberton, Joseph Johnston, Jefferson Davis, Stephen Dill Lee and others. He then lays the ground work for the eventual siege of Vicksburg by reviewing the earlier movements and battles, including the earliest attacks on Vicksburg by the Union Navy, the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou and the battles of Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson and Champion's Hill. There is also the thrilling exploits of the C.S.S. Arkansas, which ran the gauntlet of the Federal fleet to make a dramatic entry into Vicksburg.

When he get's into the siege, Groom quotes extensively from the diaries of Vickburg civilians to give the all important impact on the noncombatants who were trapped there and ruthlessly bombarded by Grant. I also appreciated Groom including the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, which was going on at the same time and kept the Union Army split. Port Hudson is about 200 miles south of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River and kept the army of General Nathanial Banks tied up there, and kept that stretch of the river open to the Confederacy until both surrendered.

I also enjoyed Groom's detailing the famous, or infamous, drunken spree that Grant went on during the siege of Vicksburg. The spree was both disgraceful as well has humorous. It was too bad for the Confederates that Grant's irresponible behavior was basically covered up and he was never officially held accountable for it. I thought it courageous and honest to history to cover it as extensively as he did. Too many historians take the politically correct approach and either ignore it or dismiss it as unimportant. Grant deserved to be dismissed from the service, in my opinion.

There was plently of blame to go around for the loss of Vicksburg for the Confederacy. For the most part I think Groom was fair in his conclusions. However I disagree with his viewpoint that the Confederacy had no chance of victory after Vicksburg. It was a crippling blow, but I don't think a fatal one. Probably the Atlanta campaign of 1864 was much more of a fatal blow to the cause of Southern Independence, in my opinion.

I believe the book is a good overview of the entire campaign and I enjoyed the insights about the siege itself the most. I live only about five hours by auto from Vicksburg, so I try to get up there to tour the battlefield every couple of years. It is one of the most extensive battlefield parks in the country and I never get tired of visiting it. I think the visitor center too small, but the book store is pretty good. The driving tour is great with many important features, such as the Third Louisiana Redan, Stockade Redan, and the U.S.S. Cairo, which has its own museum.

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