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With his passion for his subject, knowledge, and flair for presentation, Ed Bearss (b. 1923) is America's premier Civil War tour guide. A former historian at Vicksburg and Chief Historian of the National Park Service, Bearss continues to give selflessly of his time to increase understanding of one of the defining moments of American history. In 2007, the National Geographic Society published "Fields of Honor" Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War a book of transcripts of Bearss' tour presentations for several major Civil War Battlefields. In this new book, "Receding Tide", readers receive the benefit of more Bearss tours but with a focus. The book concentrates on the conflict during late 1862 to mid- 1863. The focus is on Vicksburg and Gettysburg, "The Campaigns that Changed the Civil War", but the campaign in Tennessee during this time period also receives much attention.

Other than books that give an overview of the Civil War, most books that explore the military conflict in depth focus on one campaign or the other. Thus, there are many books on the Gettysburg campaign and a smaller though still substantial number of books about Vicksburg. I have read many books about individual battles and about the Civil War, but Bearss' book taught me a good deal. He weaves together the stories of the three primary theaters of the war: the East in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vicksburg and the Mississippi River and shows their interrelationship. The narrative shifts back and forth among the different theaters and various points and helped me understand how they held together. Besides offering a broad strategic picture, Bearss' account is full of detail about the battles and their participants, from generals to privates. His battle accounts frequently have a Homeric sweep.

The single most important focus of the book is on the Vicksburg campaign. Bearss begins with an overview of the importance of the Mississippi River to Union commerce and to its war effort. The story picks up in late 1862 with Grant's many unsuccessful early attempts to capture Vicksburg and gain control over the river. During this time, Lee was winning his victory at Fredericksburg. Also during this time, The Army of the Tennessee under its commander, Rosecrans, had fought a difficult battle at Stone's River after which the Confederate general, Braxton Bragg, made an impolitic decision to retreat. Bearss sees Stones River as the beginning of the end for the Confederacy that would carry through Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

Again, Bearss juxtaposes Grant's brilliant campaign south of Vicksburg with Lee's victory at Chancellorsville and with Rosecrans' reluctance to take action in Tennessee. He shows how the Vicksburg campaign impacted strategy and affected decision making for both sides in these two other theaters of the war. In particular, following Lee's success at Chancellorsville, the Confederacy gave a great deal of consideration to moving troops from Virginia and Tennessee to assist in the increasingly beleagered defense of Vicksburg. Lee persuaded the Confederate government to support his invasion of Pennsylvania instead. This book gave me the impression that the decision was unwise.

Bearss offers his own thoughts on the leadership on both sides. I was surprised with his sympathy for Union General John McClernand, a political general who many students see as a liability to the Federal effort because he tried to take command away from Grant. Bearss offers a positive assessment of McClernand's role in the Vicksburg campaign, and he is critical of Grant's efforts to shunt McClernand aside.

The Gettysburg Campaign occupies only about the final third of the book. Bearss narrates the events of the battle with a sweep and intensity that kept me riveted. Bearss has an eye for the telling detail as well as for the broad picture of the battle. He gives a great deal of attention to the frequently overlooked fighting on Culp's Hill on the far right of the Union line. Bearss makes a great deal of the role of Col David Ireland of the 137th New York in saving Culp's Hill for the Union against numerioally superior forces during the night of July 2. Ireland's actions were, Bearss argues, as important to the Union effort as the more hearalded role of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain on the Union left at Little Round Top earlier in the afternoon of July 2.

Parker Hills, a retired military officer and the author of a tour guide to the Vicksburg Campaign has prepared introductory and supplemental material to the transcripts from Bearss' tours. Hills' materials add a great deal to the book. This is an outstanding book which added to my knowledge of and passion for the Civil War. It will be of most interest to readers who already know the battlefields and who want to hear the unique voice of Ed Bearss.

Robin Friedman
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on June 28, 2010
Receding Tide by authors Ed Bearss and Parker Hills is a splendid work which will fascinate readers new to the literature of the Civil War as well as those who have already delved deeply into the subject. In addition to its gripping presentation of the Vicksburg and Gettysburg campaigns, the book offers an excellent overview of the entire first two years of the war. The simultaneous day-by-day accounts of the Confederate and Union efforts in Mississippi/Arkansas, Virginia/Pennsylvania and Tennessee are outstanding and tremendously informative, a bonus feature I have not encountered in previous books. And the detailed descriptions of individual battles are superb. For instance, I have read many accounts of the Day Two fighting at Gettysburg, but before reading Receding Tide, it had always been difficult to make sense of the constant succession of surge and retreat that raged during the late afternoon of July 2 in the area between the Peach Orchard, the Stony Hill and the Wheatfield. Both authors are expert guides to the terrain on which the battles were fought as well as the critical (and all-too-often neglected) routes by which the armies arrived at the fields of actual conflict. Under their masterful direction, a reader can see the evolving battles (and the unceasing demand to make crucial decisions in a state of uncertain knowledge) as the commanders on the field saw them.

Highly recommended.
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on March 28, 2011
this review is simple. definitely not from an expert or scholar, but a student of Civil War history with a hundred books in my library, i found this author kept my interest and pursuant to my opinion brilliantly done. one thing is disappointingly lacking: you cant study a battle without good maps to follow. the author provided them, as best as i can tell, however, the kindle version is pitiful. do not waste your money. this is not the first time i encountered poor publishers work with kindle, seems i also study wwii. those items where also disrespectful to the author and the reader. kindle has many hurtles to traverse, graphics in one. ALL KINDLE versions should have the following statement: "you get what you see". buy the book and forget kindle. LOL
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Well known Civil War historian and National Park Service legend Edwin Bearss is the primary author of a detailed examination of the battles at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. The Union victories at both battlefields essentially marked, in the book title's terms, a receding of the Confederate tide. J. Parker Hills, a military officer with considerable knowledge of the Civil War adds his commentary (in italics). The addenda by Hills help to fill out details. . . .

The receding tide was, according to Bearss, a function of the double defeat of the Confederate States of America--the defeat at Gettysburg and the surrender at Vicksburg.

This book is characterized by great detail and deep knowledge by the author of these two campaigns. It was fun to follow the detailed discussions.

While the details regarding the run up to the battle at Gettysburg do not add great insights into our understanding of that battle, his discussion of the events between July 1 and July 3 give great insight into the combat there. He gives a sense of the specific events taking place (his discussion of Longstreet's attack on Day # 2 is concise but also filled with enough detail to make sense of events); he also gives insight into the larger strategic decisions made by Lee and Meade. Thus, one gets an "on the ground" view--but also a view from "30,000 feet." All without being drowned by detail.

Bearss' presentation of the stages of the Vicksburg campaign added a great deal to my understanding of events. He did a nice job of summarizing the "experiments" by Grant, although I'm not sure that I learned anything new. Then, a very lucid description of Grant's venture south, below the guns of Vicksburg. The coverage of the campaign after that is delightful. Not necessarily huge detail, but a clear description of the eve3nts leading to the investment of Vicksburg. We get a sense of the main characters--Grant, Pemberton, Johnston. For one of the few times, political general John McLernand is actually treated reasonably well.

All in all, a nice contribution by Edwin Bearss. Readable, lucid. Not as detailed as other versions--but a good overall perspective. . . .
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on September 8, 2010
Most battle histories have a very narrow focus, and tend to be a bit myopic. Inevitably, a military campaign is affected by events beyond the reach of the commanders in the field. Receding Tide takes a unique view of the Vicksburg Campaign by covering not only the material previously published in Bearss' Vicksburg trilogy, but also the events in Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington that were shaping or being shaped by the Vicksburg Campaign. For those that have never seen these three theaters juxtaposed in this way, this book can represent an epiphany. After all, the Gettysburg Campaign can be viewed as an extension of the Vicksburg Campaign, as Lee was trying to relieve pressure on Johnston and Pemberton by threatening Washington. The text reads like a battlefield tour, and holds one's interest well.

If the name Ed Bearss means nothing to you, then you're probably unfamiliar with Civil War history. He is a commanding presence, a legend in the world of history, a battlefield tour guide with a growl of a voice whose lectures have been likened to Homeric monologues. This book represents the splicing together of recorded tours given by Ed Bearss at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Unfortunately, Ed's popularity lends itself to hagiography. As such, subsequent historians have been loath to alter Ed's story in substantial ways.

As a result, I cannot recommend this book to serious students of the Vicksburg Campaign. Ed Bearss original work leans heavily on the Vicksburg National Military Park collection (an assortment of verbal history collected 50 years after the war) and on the O.R. Both of these sources have major gaps in the material, gaps which Ed is quick to fill with supposition. The Vicksburg Campaign begs for a fresh assessment, a polished analysis that builds on Ed's Vicksburg trilogy by incorporating new sources and correcting some of the errors. This is not that book.

The most egregious error occurs in the narrative on the opening shots at the Battle of Raymond, where Bearss claims the 68th Ohio turned and ran. There are several sources which verify that this assertion is false: in reality, Smith's brigade ran out of room deploying in the field and the 68th Ohio was ordered to move by the left flank to the extreme left of the federal line before the fighting started, where it sat unengaged for the duration of the battle.

What makes this assertion stand out is that the 68th Ohio was a somewhat veteran unit that experienced almost no casaulties, and nobody ever reported seeing them run from the battle. Osborn Oldroyd was the only source originally used in Bearss trilogy, but there are two problems with this source: Oldroyd was face-down in a ten-foot ditch fighting for his life at the time, and he never actually mentioned the 68th Ohio (the 20th Illinois was the unit he was actually referring to, but they didn't run either). It takes a stark incuriosity to swallow this assertion, and yet the assertion has stood unchallenged since the publication of Bearss' trilogy 25 years ago.

Sadly, I have mentioned this to co-author Paker Hills previously, and was surprised to see the assertion uncorrected in Receding Tide.

With no footnotes and no bibliography, this book appears to be aimed at casual Civil War enthusiasts. With those readers, I believe the book has hit its mark. For serious students of history, Bearss' three-volume set would be a better read, if for no other reason than to use his footnotes to separate those assertions supported by the source material from those assertions fabricated from whole cloth.
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on April 29, 2012
Ed Bearss' offers a panoramic perspective on a pivotal period of the Civil War. In his inimitable style, Ed guides us back and forth across the country from west to east and then east to west, describing the campaigns that determined the outcome of the great conflict. With Parker Hills providing narrative that fills in the blanks, Ed's evocative style has you marching, bivouacking and fighting with the troops in Mississippi, then Virginia, then back in Mississippi before moving back again to Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. We also get Ed's invaluable insights into the inner workings of the various commanders' minds as events unfold. But most interestingly of all is the way events of one campaign are juxtaposed with those of the other on almost a day-by-day basis. It's a refreshing approach that's like watching history unfold in real time.
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on September 18, 2011
The authors deal with the two pivotal, perhaps epochal events of the Nineteenth Century American experience, with vast implications for all of western civilization. With the breadth of knowledge of Bearss and the energy and enthusiasm for detail of his co-author, the subject is well and definitively covered. Highly recommended.
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on January 16, 2013
Another excellently written book by Edwin Bearss. It is a joy to read all of his books. Great detail. I really enjoyed the reading on the Vicksburg campaign. Highly recommend this book to Civil War "buffs".
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on April 9, 2013
A very detailed and interesting account of Vicksburg and Gettysburg. The battles were so vividly described it made me feel as though I was an eye witness to them. I would strongly recommend this book to any enthusiast of the Civil War.
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on June 25, 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed the interesting approach the author's used to capture Edwin Bearss command of these critical Civil War battles. I found the non-academic style to be refreshing. It will not be everyone's favored approach but I loved it.

The author's detailed account of General W.S. Hancock's leadership ability, much overshadowed compared to Colonel Joshua Chamberlain's exploits, was a real gift and led me to further reading on a true American hero. The book has many gems like this and warrants paying attention to this book.

I took an unconventional approach to reading the book and read it "out of order" and then retraced my steps so I ended up reading this book 3 times. I don't suggest this for others but I do share that bit of detail to say I immersed myself in the book and I often could not put it down for hours on end. I also visited the Gettysburg Site last week, book in hand, to get a pure physical sense of the description of the hour to hour developments of that battle.

I think many will not appreciate the narrative style of the book and therein they may lose something valuable. I recommend readers push through and learn to love this book like I did.

One last thing, the maps were not quite where I think they need to be. But this is a quibble.
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