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The Author: Warren E. Grabau is a retired geologist with a long interest in the Civil War. He is he coauthor of two earlier books: Evolution of Geomorphology; A Nation-by-Nation Summary of Development (with H. J. Walker) and The Battle of Jackson, May 14, 1863 (with Edwin C. Bearss).
Why does virtually every military college from Sandhurst to West Point still study U.S. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign of 1863? In the spring of 1998 I was fortunate enough to participate in a three-day guided tour of the Vicksburg Campaign conducted by Warren Grabau. He began the process by raising that question and providing the succinct answer: "logistics." As the author points out in his closing remarks, there is a widely accepted aphorism in military circles that says "amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics." And the subject of logistics lies at the heart of this work. Logistics are the key, from Grant's preparations to move down the west bank of the Mississippi, through his close coordination with Admiral Porter to create an unprecedented joint Army-Navy operation, to his extended operations from Bruinsburg to the final investment of fortress Vicksburg. This work presents this story, masterfully mixed with analysis and explanation of the importance of the terrain, the commanders, and factors such as unreliable communications, poor intelligence and uncertain maps. It also included other factors such as social and political effects and even personal vendettas, dislikes or personality flaws among key officers on both sides. The author, a professional geologist who spent most of his career in Vicksburg, then adds in 68 high quality maps. These were painstakingly hand-tailored by the author in an effort to recreate the closest possible approximation of the actual 1863 landscape by combining modern geodesy with the best information sifted from records of the time. Grant or Pemberton would have traded nearly anything in their possession for such maps.Read more ›
Let me beging by disclosing that I am not a Civil War buff, even though I enjoy history books. I came across this book by accident, when a relative gave it to me as a gift this past Christmas. In the beginning, I wasn't even sure I would like to read it since the subject matter seemed to be very narrow, but a look at the beautiful maps convinced me otherwise. What I found was close to the best book of military history I have ever read. By keeping the geography of the Vicksburg area as a permanet reference, the reasoning behind the varied strategic decisions of the campaign became very clear. In addition to shedding light on the tactics of this campaign, Grabau is also successful in depicting the larger picture. For example, he argues in a compelling way that the fall of Vicksburg was the decisive turning point of the war (wich came as a surprise to an unnitiated like me, who thought Gettysburg was much more important). In my opinion, where this book truly excells is in the minute details of the war: The actions of the Generals involved in the campaign, their day-to-day pressures, the lives of the soldiers, and the ever-present Mississippi soil combine to form a vivid picture of the war and the combatants. Furthermore, in very few other tomes have I seen a clearer depiction of the roles of the traditional branches of an army, from naval support, to artillery, cavalry, infantry, and logistics. This book was an enlightening and surprisingly joyful read. I sincerely recommend it even to those with a more than a passing interest in military history.
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Great book. I have a few reservations, but it is an excellent effort on a subject that deserves far more public attention. For those with serious interest, there are 521 juicy pages of text and 166 pages of maps, notes and index. There is plenty to chew on, but I suspect it's a bit more than the new-comer might be ready to try. My main reservation is the thumb-nail personality portraits. In brief, the Confederates don't do very well. The Federalist commanders are all portrayed as above average, even the bumbling political-general McClernand seems more than adequate. Grant is a friendly genius. The Federals have nothing on their mind but following orders. On the other hand, the Confederate commanders are clueless, from the commander of Vicksburg up to Robert E. Lee. I say clueless in a literal way. Grant and his staff are constantly making great use of intelligence. The Confederates are portrayed as somewhat content to be deluded, particularly Pemberton, Johnson and Lee. In fact, the author makes an all too brief argument that Lee insured loss of the war by refusing to assist Vicksburg when asked by Davis during meetings held between May 14-16, 1863 (prior to starting off to the disaster at Gettysburg). With this minor issue out of the way, I have nothing but admiration for the book. It is not really a 'day by day' account, but comes very close. The narrative is told from the perspective of the field commander at the moment of decision. If a decision was made on muddy roads while a generaly dry creek is in flood, you know about it. You even get a geological description of the mud's clay content and hence can estimate how far a loaded wagon will sink into a puddle. Each chapter covers between a few hours to a few weeks.Read more ›
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