Monday, July 11, 2022

Booknotes: Early Struggles for Vicksburg

New Arrival:
Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25-December 31, 1862 by Timothy B. Smith (UP of Kansas, 2022).

First published in the 1980s, the classic Ed Bearss trilogy The Vicksburg Campaign contains many chapters researched and written over prior decades. During my first reading of that great series of books, it was Bearss's coverage of the earliest phases of the campaign that left me most excited at the possibility of future expansion from other authors. It's been a long time coming. The recent resurgence in Vicksburg publishing has still left the campaign's late-1862 interval among its least well covered aspects. General Grant's overland movement down the Mississippi Central Railroad was addressed in general overview fashion a short time ago, and an interesting 2015 self-published book (this one) offers an in-depth look at one of its alleged inflection points. Though rumors of ongoing projects come and go, major Chickasaw Bayou operational histories have been (until now) confined to academic monographs. All that makes Timothy Smith's Early Struggles for Vicksburg: The Mississippi Central Campaign and Chickasaw Bayou, October 25-December 31, 1862 a most welcome addition to our bookshelves.

In Early Struggles for Vicksburg (the third of what will become a five volume series through University Press of Kansas to go along with standalone Champion Hill and Grierson's Raid studies published by Savas Beatie), Smith "covers the first phase of the Vicksburg campaign (October 1862-July 1863), involving perhaps the most wide-ranging and complex series of efforts seen in the entire campaign. The operations that took place from late October to the end of December 1862 covered six states, consisted of four intertwined minicampaigns, and saw the involvement of everything from cavalry raids to naval operations in addition to pitched land battles in Ulysses S. Grant’s first attempts to reach Vicksburg."

Exceeding the disappointment levels of the series of failed Grant "experiments" that followed them, the overland and amphibious operations of late-1862 were "disjointed, unorganized, and spread out across a wide spectrum." Abject defeat in both comprised the lowest moments of Grant's eventually triumphant 1862-63 Vicksburg Campaign. However, those early Confederate successes and belief that General Pemberton might prove after all to be the right man for the job of defending Vicksburg both proved illusory, as Grant "learned from his mistakes and revised his methods in later operations, leading eventually to the fall of Vicksburg. It was war done the way academics would want it done, but Grant figured out quickly that the books did not always have the answers, and he adapted his approach thereafter."

More from the description: Early Struggles for Vicksburg is "the first comprehensive academic book ever to examine the Mississippi Central/Chickasaw Bayou campaign." In it, Smith "weaves the Mississippi Central, Chickasaw Bayou, Van Dorn Raid, and Forrest Raid operations into a chronological narrative while illustrating the combination of various branches and services such as army movements, naval operations, and cavalry raids." Expansive in scope, the book "covers everything from the top politicians and generals down to the individual soldiers, as well as civilians and slaves making their way to freedom, while providing analysis of contemporary military theory to explain why the operations took the form they did."

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