Vicksburg: A book review by Bob Morris

Vicksburg: The Bloody Siege That Turned the Tide of the Civil War
Samuel W. Mitcham Jr.
Regnery History (June 2018))

Why Vicksburg was essential to winning the Civil War

Briefly, in May and June of 1863, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s armies converged on Vicksburg, entrapping a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton. On July 4, Vicksburg surrendered after prolonged siege operations. This was the culmination of one of the most brilliant military campaigns of the war. With the loss of Pemberton’s army and this vital stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy was effectively split in half. Grant’s successes in the West and then elsewhere boosted his reputation, leading ultimately to his appointment as General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

According to Samuel W. Mitcham Jr., “The two main purposes of this book are to describe the Vicksburg campaigns of the War of Southern Succession, primarily [but not only] from the Confederate point of view, and to analyze the generalship of the Rebel commander, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton.”

He achieves both objectives and does so brilliantly. Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis believed that Vicksburg was essential to winning the Civil War.  If Grant prevailed, Union forces had complete control of the Mississippi River and had in effect cut the Confederacy in two. Confederate forces in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas were now isolated from the rest of the South. Davis and Pemberton realized this, of course, and did everything humanly possible to defend Vicksburg. The human costs to both the South and the North were immense.

Mitcham: “The South lost 9,091 killed and wounded in the Vicksburg campaign, including 2,872 in the siege itself. Some 16,822 Union soldiers died in and around Vicksburg, 12w,719 of whom are in unknown graves. They lost 4,910 killed and wounded in the siege itself. Twsenty-nine thousand, four hundred and ninety-fived Confederates surrendered, along with 102 guns. Less than 100 civilians were killed in the battles, a testimony to the caves as protective positions.”

I realize that Mitcham provides almost everything most people need to know about the Battle of Vicksburg. His book is a brilliant achievement. That said, I am also deeply grateful to the website of The American Battlefield Trust for the supplementary resources it offers with regard to the Battle for Vicksburg. Here are ten key facts. The significance of each is explained.

1. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis both saw Vicksburg as “the key” to the Confederacy.
2. Ulysses S. Grant captured Vicksburg by moving away from it.
3. Confederate leaders were divided on strategy at Vicksburg.
4. The decisive battle for Vicksburg was fought at Champion Hill, Mississippi.
5. Grant tried to take Vicksburg by storm twice before settling in to a siege.
6. Union naval operations were essential to the success of Grant’s infantry.
7. Vicksburg had its own Crater more than a year before Petersburg.
8. Grant demanded an unconditional surrender at Vicksburg — and was rebuffed.
9. The capture of Vicksburg split the Confederacy in half and was a major turning point of the Civil War.
10.The Civil War Trust is engaged in an ongoing effort to preserve battlefield land around Vicksburg.

Ten additional “bonus facts” are then provided. To check all this out, please click here. Mitchma covers all of them and others throughout his lively and eloquent narrative.

Some of Samuel Mitcham’s best material covers the sequence of events prior to and following the unconditional surrender. The details are best revealed within the narrative, in context, but I am comfortable pointing out that, despite severe differences between the victors and opponents, there was well-deserved mutual respect. Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863, and President Abraham Lincoln wrote that the Mississippi River “again goes unvexed to the sea.” The town of Vicksburg would not celebrate the Fourth of July again for 81 years.

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