Vicksburg: The Battle That Won The Civil War, by Mary Ann Fraser
As a fond reader of history works that deal with the subject of the American Civil War, it is always intriguing to see how various aspects of this war are portrayed. This is especially the case when one is reading a book that is aimed at younger audiences, since the lesser reading and analytical skills tend to lead to a highly condensed approach. To be sure, there are always losses when one has to condense a work, but it is similarly interesting to see how an author approaches the task of writing under the narrow constraints that are required for middle grade readers to whom a book like this is written. And I have to say that even though longer and more detailed books are always to be preferred where their historical perspective is sound, this book offers much to its readers despite its small size and provocative claims in that it frequently quotes and cites primary documentation. Where a work must be short enough where analysis is difficult, it can at least provide some measure of authenticity to its view by containing excellent sources, and this book certainly manages to do that.
This particular work is a short one at less than 100 pages. Even so, the book manages to convey a wide breadth and surprising depth of material because of its skilled integration of quotations into its account. The book begins with a discussion of the key nature of Vicksburg to control of the Mississippi River and how this was recognized by Abraham Lincoln (1). After that the author discusses the threat of the Yankees to the Confederate political and military leadership and the various ways that Grant tried to overcome the strength of Vicksburg’s defenses over the course of the winter and early spring of 1862-1863 (2). The author then turns to Grant’s decision to cut loose and attack the city from the east (3) as well as the siege of the city (4) and its effect on residents and soldiers on both sides involved, and on the conquest of the city and the results of that successful conquest for the city as well as the follow-up to the campaign for Grant (5), after which the book ends with notes, a glossary, a bibliography, as well as an index.
Indeed, this book can be seen as providing an example to how a book for young readers that cannot go into great depth of analysis by the historian can manage to convey something of the reality of the history that is being discussed by being full of well-chosen and diverse primary sources that can provide the reader with insight as well as the encouragement to seek out those sources for more in-depth reading where available. Document-based questions are at the heart of all Advanced Placement exams in history, at least those I took, and it is definitely to be preferred if students are able to become familiar with primary documentation early in their reading of history so as to become familiar with the difficult task that historians have in sifting accounts and in using the writing of the past as a foundation for analysis and critique. The varied matters this book manages to discuss in its short space makes this a very concise account of a very important campaign and is better than some books far larger than it because of the way that it hints at the importance of Vicksburg from the writings of people who were involved in the campaign as soldiers or politicians or ordinary civilians caught up in the war. And that is a great achievement.