Wheeler's by now familiar technique of weaving the letters and diaries of ordinary people into continuous narrative (We Knew Stonewall Jackson, 1977; Voices of the Civil War, 1976) once again succeeds in vivifying the mundane as well as the grotesque and pathetic aspects of warfare. Vicksburg, ""The Gibraltar of the Confederacy,"" was indispensable to winning the war in the West; to capture Vicksburg was to regain control of Mississippi commerce, and to this end Grant and Sherman built an elaborate grillwork of entrenchments around the city, cutting off rebel supply lines. The siege itself lasted 47 days but months of preparation were involved, and in true 19th-century fashion, truces where soldiers in blue and gray fraternized, bantered, played cards, and even shared provisions, interrupted the hostilities. Wheeler's pastiche includes reports from enlisted men on both sides, volunteer nurses visiting the hospitalized, and the heroic writings of Southern ladies who remained in the besieged city. The final days, when supplies were almost gone, saw people living in underground caves to escape the shelling, subsisting, if lucky, on ""corn bread and bacon, served three times a day."" One Confederate sergeant reported of the ghostly city, ""Dogs howled through the streets at night. . . an army of rats, seeking food, would scamper around your very feet."" He was to learn that rat flesh, when fried, had a flavor ""fully equal to that of Squirrels."" Moving--and for Civil War buffs, a must.