Vicksburg: The Bloody Siege that Turned the Tide of the Civil War by Samuel W. Mitcham, Regnery History, US $29.99, Pp 380, June 2018, ISBN 978-1621576396
Vicksburg was the bloodiest and the decisive siege of the Civil War when men, women, and children remained under constant artillery bombardment for the entire duration of the siege. The fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, severed the Confederacy from its Western states of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Its fall coincided with General Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg far to the north. In spite of its importance, historians have not given enough importance and attention to this historical event and, instead, focused on the Army of Northern Virginia and the Gettysburg campaign. The outcome of the siege of Vicksburg determined the outcome of the Civil War. The victorious Union commander Major General Ulysses S. Grant described it as the Confederate Gibraltar which he achieved only after none nine attempts. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s attempts were foiled by Northern-born Confederate commander Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton. This battle finally sealed the fate of the Confederacy.
In Vicksburg, Samuel W. Mitcham tells the story of the siege of Vicksburg. Mitcham describes the Vicksburg campaigns of the War of Southern Secession from the Confederate point of view and analyzes the generalship of the Rebel commander, Lt. General John C. Pemberton. Mitcham says that Pemberton was a good general but not a great one. Major General Grant had to perform at the genius level to defeat him, and genius defeats good most of the time – especially when genius has a navy and good doesn’t, and genius outnumbers good two to one. Mitcham says that General Pemberton was treated unfairly by public opinion at the time and has been unfairly treated by history.
In 1860, Vicksburg was one of the principal cities of the South. With its six thousand people (including more than eleven hundred blacks), it was the second largest city in Mississippi. It was a major river port, with people entering its environs from every part of the world, and it had a progressive, cosmopolitan atmosphere. It featured six different newspapers (three of them dailies), each of a different political persuasion. There were plank sidewalks, four voluntary fire companies, five churches, two hospitals, several private schools, a large public school, many luxurious homes, several opulent hotels, and even an opera house.
The first threat to Vicksburg came from the south. On April 28, 1862, Flag Officer David Farragut’s fleet captured New Orleans. It then streamed up the river, easily occupied Baton Rouge and Natchez, and put in at Davis Bend, where its men captured Brierfield, Jefferson Davis’s home, and Hurricane, the palatial mansion of his brother, Joseph Davis. Mitcham says that the first Siege of Vicksburg was a Southern victory, but elsewhere in the West things were not going well. US general Grant took forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, General Buell captured Nashville in February 1862, Grant beat back a Confederate counteroffensive at Shiloh in April 1862 and Memphis fell in June 1862.
Mitcham says that Pemberton fought only one significant engagement as a district commander and that was near Port Royal. The Union Forces made an incursion up the Coosaw River on New Year’s Day in 1862, which he beat back. Pemberton ignored civilian criticism and set about the task of defending his district. He assembled a staff which included adjutant and chief ordnance officer John R Waddy and assistant adjutant or AAG Robert Memminger. In June 1862, General Pemberton also laid out the defenses of James Island, where the Federals were checked in 1862, 1863, and 1864. General Pemberton fought five military engagements with General Grant. Mitcham says that he defeated Grant four times out of five by military action and yet has been depicted as some sort of inferior, humbling, incompetent idiot. Mitcham aims at balancing the record in Vicksburg.
Vicksburg is an insightful and myth-busting study of one of the most important battles of the Civil War. Samuel W. Mitcham convincingly shows that General Pemberton was an equally great general who defeated General Grant four out of five times. Samuel W. Mitcham also shows that General Pemberton was a brave general who was ready to die for the Confederacy and who fought until the end. Mitcham should be commended for writing Vicksburg and busting so many myths weaved around General Pemberton. Vicksburg is a much-needed addition to the existing literature on the history of Civil War.