A skillful history of two years of fighting along the Mississippi River that ended with the July 1863 surrender of the fortress at Vicksburg.
Miller (Emeritus, History/Lafayette Coll.; Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America, 2014, etc.) begins in May 1861, when the first Union warship arrived to blockade the Mississippi. Nearly a year passed before Adm. David Farragut’s fleet captured New Orleans, but Vicksburg, on a high bluff, refused to surrender despite several naval bombardments. Mostly, the author recounts Ulysses Grant’s drive south, an operation that made him a national hero. Although more aggressive than most Union generals, his early efforts showed little skill. Luckily, his opponents showed less, and his February 1862 capture of forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee made headlines. Rewarded with an army, he moved south and fought off a surprise attack at the Battle of Shiloh in April. Its massive casualties cast a pall over his reputation, and his superior took over command. He regained it in July and kept pushing toward Vicksburg. A November march through eastern Mississippi failed after raiders destroyed his supply depot. From December to March 1863, Grant made a half-dozen attempts: one by land, others by boat, helped by dynamiting levees or digging canals. Miller vividly recounts the painful details of their failures. In April, after laboriously constructing a 70-mile road over swamps and rivers, Grant’s army marched down west of the river and crossed over. Now south of Vicksburg on open ground, it won several battles and besieged the city, which surrendered after five weeks. "Vicksburg,” writes the author, “was that rare thing in military history: a decisive battle, one with war-turning strategic consequences.” Less enthusiastic historians point out that cutting off the trans-Mississippi states did not greatly weaken the Confederacy, as the subsequent 21 months of bitter fighting demonstrated. Still, it was the most satisfying Union campaign of the war, and Miller chronicles it with aplomb.
An expert, detailed account that should remain the definitive account for quite some time.