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A riveting history of the battle that permanently turned the tide of the Civil War.
While Gettysburg is better known, Winston Groom makes clear in this engrossing narrative that Vicksburg was the more important battle from a strategic point of view. Re-creating the epic campaign that culminated at Vicksburg, Groom details the arduous struggle by the Union to gain control of the Mississippi River valley and to divide the Confederacy in two. He takes us back to 1861, when Lincoln chooses Ulysses S. Grant—seen at the time as a mediocre general with a drinking problem—to lead the Union army south from Illinois.
We follow Grant and his troops as they fight one campaign after another, including the famous engagements at Forts Henry and Donelson and the bloodbath at Shiloh, until, after almost a year, they close in on Vicksburg. We witness Grant’s seven long months of battle against the determined Confederate army, and the many failed Union attempts to take Vicksburg, during which thousands of soldiers on both sides would be buried and, ultimately, the fate of the Confederacy would be sealed. As Groom recounts this landmark confrontation, he brings the participants to life. We see Grant in all his grim determination, the feistiness of William Tecumseh Sherman, and the pride and intransigence of Confederate leaders from Jefferson Davis and General Joseph E. Johnston to General John C. Pemberton, the Philadelphia-born Rebel who commanded at Vicksburg and took the blame for losing.
A first-rate work of military history and an essential contribution to our understanding of the Civil War.
||April 07, 2009|
|Average Customer Rating:
|| based on 76 reviews|
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22 of 25 found the following review helpful:
In the tradition of Shelby FooteMay 05, 2009
By James W. Durney
Shelby Foote never claimed to be a historian and always referred to himself as a "story teller", Winston Groom falls into this category. This is not a serious history with many footnotes on each page. The book will not illuminate the thinking of Pemberton, nor analyze the military tactics of Grant. This is a good telling of the story of the North's campaigns to capture Vicksburg. This is not just Grant's campaign of 1863 but also all of the efforts to break the Confederacy's grip on the Mississippi River and split the South in two.
The book gives us a good foundation talking about how important the Mississippi River is to 19th century America and the founding of Vicksburg. While our attention is never taken from the city, the outside world is never forgotten. Richmond's wishes, directives and interference are never far from the surface and play a major role in the developing campaign. Events in Virginia, New Orleans and Port Hudson keep the war in perspective. The interaction between Pemberton, Johnston and Davis are given a proper place but is not over estimated. Grant's problems with Halleck, McClernand, the press and Washington play a role in the planning and pace of operations. Politics is almost as important as military operations in this book. This is correct as Vicksburg is of major interest to both presidents.
Are their problems? Yes, there are a number of problems with the story as the author chooses to tell it. First and foremost is the question of Grant's drinking. The author accepts as true incidents discredited by a number of current historians but well accepted at one time. The book has a number of statements about military operations that some historian's question. Again, most of these were generally accepted and still are by some historians. None of these problems is major nor will they cause real misunderstanding.
The author is from the South and his ancestors fought for the Confederacy. I have not found his Civil War stories to be part of the Lost Cause tradition. Nor have I found him to be excessively favorable to one side or the other. This is a well-told story of a complex military campaign that resulted in the capture of the "Gibraltar of the West". While not a great book, it is a good one and pulls together in one-volume a completed history of Vicksburg.
9 of 9 found the following review helpful:
Too Many ErrorsNov 21, 2013
By J. W. O'CONNOR
I have just completed reading Vicksburg, 1863 and was appalled and astounded by the number of errors found in the book. The first, and perhaps the foremost, dealt with the John Brown raid. John Brown was tried in a Virginia court (The Civil War, A Narrative Volume 1, Shelby Foote page 32) for treason against Virginia, not by the United States government. Second item, it is stated that Leonidas Polk became a major general when, in fact, he was a lieutenant general (Generals in Gray, Ezra J. Warner, pages 242-243) when he died. He was killed (Generals in Gray, Ezra J. Warner, pages 242-243) by a cannonball (disemboweled?) at Pine Mountain, near Marietta, Georgia, not at the Battle of Atlanta. Item three, N.B. Forrest’s escape from Fort Donelson. It is stated that they waded all night through swamp water when they actually spend the night on the Charlotte Road (Nathan Bedford Forrest, In Search of the Enigma, Eddy W. Davison and Daniel Foxx, pages 57-58) and the only time they got wet was in crossing icy Lick Creek which was found to be saddle-skirt deep. Item four, the Death of W.H.L. Wallace. It is indicated that he was killed at the Hornet’s Nest. He was mortally wounded, not directly killed, and died at Savannah, Tennessee on April 10, 1862 (Generals in Blue, Ezra J. Warner, pages 536-537), three days after the battle ended. Item five, Lew Wallace in the Tennessee River swamps (there are those swamps again). His division spent the day on roads, not in swamps (Shiloh, Larry J. Daniel, pages 256-261). The only swamp mentioned was at the Owl Creek bridge, but it has a corduroyed road through it. Item six, Butler’s women’s order. The order was precipitated by a woman dumping the contents of a chamber pot on Fleet Captain David Farragut’s head (Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson, pages 551-552). The result of the order was interpreted by southern and Europeans as a barbarous license for northern soldiers to treat refined ladies as prostitutes (Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson, pages 551-552). Item seven, Butler’s atrocities. What atrocities? That Butler was an inept general cannot be denied (Generals in Blue, Ezra J. Warner, pages 60-61) , but painting him with the brush of having committed atrocities is a bit much. Item eight, geography. There is no village of Antietam, just a creek by that name. The village was Sharpsburg (Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson, pages 538-539). Item nine, Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. The conclusions are emphatically wrong (Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson, pages 557-558). Item ten, General Pemberton’s rank. It is stated that General Pemberton was promoted to lieutenant general, the Confederacy’s highest rank which was reserved for army commanders. First, lieutenant generals commanded corps and departments. Second, what about Generals Cooper, Johnston, Lee, Johnston, Beauregard, Bragg, and Smith (Generals in Gray, Ezra J. Warner)? Item eleven, Major General Kirby Smith. Sorry, Kirby Smith was a full General when he commanded the Trans-Mississippi Department (Generals in Gray, Ezra J. Warner, pages 279-280). Item twelve, Major General Stephen Dill Lee. Once again, the wrong rank. S.D. Lee was a lieutenant general (Generals in Gray, Ezra J. Warner, pages 183-184). For someone who considers himself a historian, there are far too many errors and unproven assumptions.
35 of 44 found the following review helpful:
The KeyApr 13, 2009
By Christian Schlect
A talented Southern storyteller gives his version of the Vicksburg campaign. This book should serve to inform, or remind, readers of the importance of the six-month effort by the North to take the city that controlled shipping on the Mississippi River.
Winston Groom provides his take on almost everything that occurred from the present day vantage point of one who at heart wishes the South might have somehow acted in a way that did not lead to its ultimate abject defeat. He seems to think the North provoked the war (I know the South fired the first shots); he does not see why the hard war of General Sherman was necessary (I do); or why North and South could not simply come to a political compromise when the war turned bad for the South (I think because of the evil of slavery combined with a refusal by Southern leadership to accept the primacy of the federal union).
To me a most interesting and telling fact is contained in a minor foot note on page 155: After the Civil War, the city of Vicksburg did not officially celebrate The Fourth of July until 1945.
While I do not agree with all of Mr. Groom's political and social observations, I do think his book is entertaining and well written. The vivid descriptions of the numerous land battles and naval engagements make for compelling reading, while the many generals and admirals are brought to life.
Mr. Groom's book should help serve to refocus attention to the major and hard fought Union victory of July 4, 1863 at Vicksburg from the still headline battle of the same time, Gettysburg. While the few bloody days at Gettysburg remain the subject of enormous public attention, Vicksburg is the campaign (and Grant the general) that determined the Civil War's military outcome.
27 of 35 found the following review helpful:
Vicksburg Historiography is Like a Box of Choco-LitsApr 12, 2009
By Anthony D. Gunter
The Vicksburg Campain has been begging for an accurate telling since the day it ended in 1863. Many have answered the call, including well-respected historians (Catton), novelists (Foote), and battlefield guides (Bearss), yet all have failed. Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, is the latest heavyweight to throw his hat into the ring with an entertaining spinning of the tried-and-true yarn.
Groom does not pretend to be a scholar, so his deference to those who have written before him is completely forgivable. The man is a masterful storyteller, and his weaving of first-hand accounts from average people with the reports and memoirs of the principal actors makes his story lively and engaging.
In the mold of Shelby Foote, Groom eschews the use of notes, leaving us guessing at his sources. He does refer to these sources in passing from time to time, for example quoting Brooks Simpson's groundbreaking biography of Grant, "Triumph Over Adversity." However, he proves later on that if the information gets in the way of a good story, he ignores his own sources. The funniest example of this is when he repeats the debunked story that Julia Grant was captured at Holly Springs by Van Dorn, but then includes an asterisk:
* other sources say she was in Oxford with Grant at the time
Yeah, ya think? Like the much-acclaimed biography of Grant that you yourself used as a source????
I found myself enjoying parts of this book immensely, and dying a little bit inside when I read other parts. Exactly like a box of choco-lits: to find the pralines and nougats, sometimes you have to eat half of that one with the non-descript and vaguely medicinal pink goo inside.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of this book is that it will be guaranteed to draw attention to Vicksburg, which is inarguably the greatest campaign ever fought on American soil yet somehow seems to have taken a back-seat to that skirmish fought in the east around the same time (help me out here ... think it starts with a G). Here's hoping "1863" goes to the top of the NYT bestseller list and is turned into a blockbuster film starring Brad Pitt, generating enough attention that serious scholars will finally get around to giving this campaign the attention and the telling that it deserves.
6 of 7 found the following review helpful:
I thought this would be goodAug 16, 2013
With all the praise this received, Groom's Vicksburg was a big disappointment. It's not really a history book. The author's personal opinions, plainly based on Lost Cause mythology and emotion, creep into the narrative time and again. As a whole it becomes a serious 'adjustment' of history. You don't get a clear view of events but rather a twisted story telling with glaring omissions from someone who takes it personally. Anyone who already knows much of this history will recognize that. For those who don't, they'll be left with deep misunderstandings of what this was all about.
Groom's language is lazy and glib which does nothing to bring out the importance and grim reality of these events. One telling marker of the poor quality of the writing is that, incredibly, Groom doesn't seem to know what the word 'irony' means. Repeatedly he uses ironic to mean coincidental. It's very distracting when you're trying to understand what is ironic about an event and realize that's not at all what he's trying to say. He loves the word and uses it plenty of times. He just doesn't know what it means. At one point he writes about how a plan works out just as expected and calls it 'ironic.' It's embarrassing. He sounds like a half-educated teenager. It's just a poor book.
I'm not surprised some people would think this is a whiz-bang book because the events are dramatic and interesting. But Groom is just repeating stories that have already been told more clearly and accurately by other people. The best one can do with this thing is to check out the bibliography and pick up a couple of good books on the subject from some actual historians.
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