Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign That Broke The Confederacy, by Donald L. Miller
For whatever reason, there are a lot of books that have been written about the Vicksburg campaign and many of them are broadly similar, which suggests that a market for such works has been recognized and that enough readers are interested in the campaign or at least potentially may be (among the huge body of people interested in the Civil War) to take a look at a book like this. The similarities between the books I have read on Vicksburg indicate either a copycat desire to do what others have done in making the campaign seem more impressive by widening its scope and taking advantage of the high-level discussions that apparently went on regarding the importance of the city. One thing many of these books have in common as well is a discussion of Grant’s apparent drinking, and it seems as if the desire to talk about the pressure Grant was under and his inability to hold his liquor is at least some reason why so many people have desired to talk about the campaign and use the same set of sources to talk about it–including the diary of one Kate Stone, secessionist young woman.
This book is about 500 pages long or so and is divided into four parts and 23 chapters. After an author’s note and a prologue that discusses Vicksburg’s seminal role as a critical Civil War campaign, the author discusses the beginning of the Mississippi River campaign (I) with chapters about Cairo (1), the early river movements and battles (2), as well as the campaign to take Fort Henry and Fort Donelson (3) by Grant as well as the murderous Shiloh battle (4).. This leads to a discussion about the Union invasion of New Orleans (5) and its aftermath (II), including chapters on the troubled times in Mississippi after New Orleans’ fall (6), the fortification of Vicksburg (7), and the defensive victory of the rebels in the 1862 campaign against the city (8). This is followed by a lengthy discussion of Grant’s struggles to get at the city (III), including the anxiety and intrigue of the Union army (9), the antislavery push (10), Grant’s attempt to march to Oxford (11), the Chickasaw Bayou battle (12), various canal-building efforts (13, 14, 15, 16), and finally the successful efforts to get a bridgehead across the Mississippi (17) and to march towards Vicksburg (18). After this the narrative (IV) quickly moves to a discussion of Grant’s maneuvering to Jackson (19), victory at Champion’s Hill (20), as well as the siege (21), and the victory (22) and its aftermath (23), after which the author closes the book with an epilogue, appendices on battlefield casualties, acknowledgements, notes, a bibliography, illustration credits, and an index.
Is this book worth reading? Yeah, if you want to know about Vicksburg and you haven’t read one of the several other books that is very similar to it, this is certainly a worthwhile read. It does what it needs to do in talking about the events of the Vicksburg campaign as a narrative history in chronological order with proper criticism of some of the decisions made and the struggles faced by the Union and by Grant in particular in winning the campaign. The book really covers the whole period from the beginning of the war on the Mississippi to the capture of Vicksburg and the surrender soon after that of Port Hudson, opening the Mississippi River in its entirety to federal control and permanently splitting the Trans-Mississippi theater from the rest of the Confederacy. Why it is that certain things like the Helena campaign that followed Pea Ridge isn’t included, or that the Red River campaign is ignored? It is unclear why it is that the same incidents are discussed over and over again and not others. Perhaps one would want to separate oneself from a crowd of books, but that is not the style that the authors of Vicksburg books tend to be taking.