Monday, March 31, 2014

Grant At Vicksburg: The General and the Siege

By Michael B. Ballard

Many scholars believe the twin victories of the Union Army at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3rd and Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4th, 1863 was the turning point of the American Civil War; driving back the northern advance of the Confederate Army and severing the Confederacy in two.  Shelves of books have been written about the dramatic three day battle at Gettysburg, while the number of books written about the 47 day Siege of Vicksburg pales by comparison.

Michael B. Ballard’s tome, “Grant At Vicksburg: The General and the Siege,” adds one more volume to the slowly growing shelf of books dedicated to the study of the siege of Vicksburg and Ulysses S. Grant’s role in it.  Mr. Ballard is an associate editor in the U. S. Grant Presidential Library and University Archivist at Mississippi State University. He has written or edited eleven books, including Civil War in Mississippi: Major Campaigns and BattlesVicksburg: The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi, and U. S. Grant: The Making of a General, 1861-1863.

“Grant at Vicksburg” quickly dispenses with the necessary details of Grant’s military career, and briefly describes the Vicksburg campaign prior to establishing the siege of the city, including the two failed assaults to capture the citadel on the Mississippi River.  The remainder of the book is dedicated solely to Grant’s role in the conduct of the siege.  Ballard dissects the details of Grant’s decisions in troop placement, his relationship with other officers (most notably with his rival, John McClernand, and his partnership with William T. Sherman), while also paying close attention to Grant’s strategies and tactics, as well as Grant’s caution when dealing with the threat Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s troops to the rear of his army.

A fair amount of time is spent by the author disproving and dispensing with the rumor reported by Sylvanus Cadwallader of Grant’s drinking during a trip to Satartia, Mississippi, which has been too often been repeated by many historians who have not challenged Cadwallader’s version of the story.

Battle histories often deal only with the facts of the particular military operation they are covering, rarely do they tackle social issues, but Ballard surprises was a frank discussion of racism in Grant’s army, and its impact on the lives of both freed and enslaved black people in the Vicksburg area.

The book concludes, as one might rightly assume, Vicksburg’s surrender on July 4th, 1863, and the retreat of Johnston’s Confederate army from Jackson, Mississippi, and its impact on Grants career.

Coming in at one inch in thickness Mr. Ballard has successfully written what one history teacher of mine would call a “skirt length” treatment of the Grant’s actions during the siege of Vicksburg, “long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting.”

ISBN 978-0809332403, Southern Illinois University Press, © 2013, Hardcover, 232 pages, Maps, Photographs, End Notes, Bibliographic Notes & Index. $32.95.  To purchase this book click HERE.

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