Shaara (A Blaze of Glory, 2012, etc.) continues to draw powerful novels from the bloody history of the Civil War, offering here an account of the siege of Vicksburg.
Analyzing what historians call the "brilliant and innovative" campaign to secure the Mississippi River for the Union, Shaara rides into the camps of Grant and Sherman and lurks with Pemberton, the general charged with the Confederate’s linchpin defense. Shaara also follows Lucy Spence, young resident of besieged Vicksburg, and Fritz Bauer, Wisconsin infantryman and Shiloh veteran. Apart from the occasional anachronism—"jerk" as a denigration in 1863?—the dialogue intrigues. Shaara aptly reveals the main actors: Grant, stoic, driven, not given to micromanagement; Sherman, anxious, high-strung, engaged even when doubting Grant’s strategy; Pemberton, a ditherer, caught between the conflicting demands of his personal enemy Joseph Johnston and his personal friend Jefferson Davis, beset by disobedient underlings, and perceived disloyal because of his Pennsylvania origins. Diagrams deconstruct the initial steps in Grant’s end-run campaign, the naval bombardment, the bloody battle prior to the siege and the subsequent trench warfare. Shaara writes competently of the "fog of war," the inevitable confusion made worse during that period by lack of secure communication. The best of Shaara’s work comes as he follows Spence and Bauer. Spence evolves believably from a sheltered young woman to a gore-stained, dedicated nurse and, amid Shaara’s graphic descriptions of combat, Bauer holds hard to his fragile courage and learns to kill, becoming a coldblooded sharpshooter.
A sesquicentennial series volume worth a Civil War buff’s attention.