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26 August 2011

Book Review Vicksburg 1863

Vicksburg, 1863Vicksburg, 1863 by Winston Groom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My family and I took a road trip that included many of the battlefields of Grant's move south in 1862 and 1863, culminating in the siege of Vicksburg;  the south finally capitulated on July 4, 1863.

My husband was reading Grant Moves South by Bruce Catton.  I read this, which may be titled inaccurately because it covered the same ground as Catton's book, though perhaps with different levels of detail.

I've read other reviews trashing Groom for his academic scholarship and, being a Western Theater neophyte, I cannot say how accurate or inaccurate Groom's reporting may be.  But I will assume basic accuracy and recommend this account as utterly readable and filled with interesting tidbits about the people, the places and the oddities (did you know that when Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War he charged Admiral David Porter to go to the middle east and bring back camels to serve as beasts of burden in the newly acquired American southwest territories?  The Civil War and the railroads served to disband the Camel Corps and many of the animals were set free to go feral;  the last descendant was sighted in the 1930s)

A good overview of the succession of victories that should have ended the war.  A good taste of what life was like and why they fought.  A fair tracing of how the reasons for fighting morphed as the war went on.  Many instances of southern gentleman voting against secession and then taking up arms anyway, bound by duty and loyalty to state.  Hints at what the outside world was thinking about what they saw as the incendiary end of the democratic experiment.  The idea that the siege of Vicksburg and its aftermath (a defeated enemy who stubbornly continued to fight even when prospects were more than bleak) foreshadowed the trench warfare and needless battles and deaths prevalent in WWI.  The navy on the rivers with their ironclads, the reason the Union could defeat the south at Vicksburg.   And good trivial tidbits;  LSU used to be a military school run by Sherman, who left when the Louisiana governor sacked a fort and sent him stolen arms for safe-keeping.

And a thoughtful quote or two;  "Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad."  Euripides

And a closing great anecdote;

"A friend liked to tell the story of the time years ago when as a small boy he was walking over the battlefield with his great-aunts and his grandmother, whose father had fought at Vicksburg during the war.  Standing at the edge of the magnificent cemetery with its white marble tombstones stretching far as the eye could see, he asked one of the women, 'But why did they do it, Bamaw?  Why did they die?'  to which the old lady replied wearily, 'Oh, I don't know, son.  I suppose they'd all be dead by now anyhow.'"

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