Novelist and historian Groom (Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans, 2006, etc.) recalls the Union’s campaign against Vicksburg, Miss., “the Gibraltar of the West.”
Military historians well understand Vicksburg’s strategic importance. Its capture allowed the “Father of Waters” to flow once more, in Lincoln’s felicitous phrase, “unvexed to the sea,” shearing the Confederacy in half and all but assuring its eventual defeat. Moreover, Vicksburg forever elevated “Unconditional Surrender” Grant who, notwithstanding his success at Fort Donelson, was under fire in the North as a blunderer and a drunk. (Groom offers convincing proof that Grant went on a bender during the siege.) The battle demonstrated his foremost virtue as a commander, the tenacity that would eventually subdue Robert E. Lee a year and a half later at Appomattox. “I can’t spare this man,” said Lincoln, “he fights.” In meticulous but never tiresome detail, Groom follows the protracted fighting, highlighting the roles of Confederates Jefferson Davis, Earl Van Dorn, Joseph E. Johnston, John Pemberton and Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Union’s troublesome political generals Nathaniel Prentice Banks and John Alexander McClernand, the feckless general-in-chief Henry Halleck and, above all, Grant and his indispensable subordinates James B. McPherson and William Tecumseh Sherman. The author makes liberal use of diaries, letters and histories authored by the soldiers who fought and, most memorably, by the civilians who suffered the withering assault on the fortress city. By the end, the starving populace was reduced to living in cave shelters, rat-holes from which they emerged on July 4, 1863, when Pemberton finally surrendered the city to the “not easily discouraged” Grant. The South never recovered.
Vivid Civil War storytelling in the tradition of Shelby Foote.