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A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg (the Civil War in the West) Hardcover – Lay Flat, May 21, 2013
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Although Civil War novels abound, Shaara’s searing trilogy “explores the often overlooked story of the Civil War in the west.” A Blaze of Glory (2012), the best-selling first volume in this series, documented the fiercely bloody Battle of Shiloh, in Tennessee. The second installment details a different—but equally devastating—type of military action. Pushing further southwest, General Grant and the Union forces have driven the beleaguered Confederates to the outskirts of Vicksburg, Mississippi. With no surrender in sight and control of the crucial Mississippi River hanging in the balance, Grant reluctantly opts to lay siege to the city, subjecting both soldiers and civilians to an agonizing combination of starvation, degradation, and barragement. Shaara seamlessly interweaves multiple points of view, as the plot is driven by a stellar cast of real-life and fictional characters coping with the pivotal crisis. --Margaret Flanagan
Praise for A Chain of Thunder
“[Jeff] Shaara continues to draw powerful novels from the bloody history of the Civil War. . . . The dialogue intrigues. Shaara aptly reveals the main actors: Grant, stoic, driven, not given to micromanagement; Sherman, anxious, high-strung, engaged even when doubting Grant’s strategy. . . . Worth a Civil War buff’s attention.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Searing . . . Shaara seamlessly interweaves multiple points of view, as the plot is driven by a stellar cast of real-life and fictional characters coping with the pivotal crisis. . . . [A] riveting fictional narrative.”—Booklist
“Shaara’s historical accuracy is faultless, and he tells a good story. . . . The voices of these people come across to the reader as poignantly as they did 150 years ago.”—Historical Novels Review
“The writing is picturesque and vibrant. . . . [an] engrossing tale.”—Bookreporter
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Here, the focus is the siege of Vicksburg. The characters? A young woman resident of Vicksburg, giving us a civilian's eye view of the harshness of the conflict on ordinary people. John Pemberton, commander of the Confederate forces at Vicksburg. Fritz Bauer, a Union foot soldier, who gives a soldier's eye view of the siege. Then, Generals Sherman and Grant. By adopting this method, as noted, we get a sense of the many facets of the battle. Lucy Spence's travails, including serving as a nurse in Confederate hospitals, gives a sense of the horrors of the operating room. Her interaction with civilians captures the dire straits facing ordinary citizens of Vicksburg. From Pemberton and Grant and Sherman, we get a larger view as to what is transpiring.
The novel begins on April 16th, recording the movement of Union ships along the Mississippi as they passed under the guns of Vicksburg. This began Grant's remarkable lightning movements leading to the siege. The last entry is on July 6, 1863, as Bauer reflects on the end of the battle. His story began with the first novel from the West authored by Shaara--on the deadly fight at Shiloh. The Confederates, ironically, surrenders on July 4th, after the troops had run so low on food, ammunition, and so on that their doom was obvious.
A nice addition to Shaara's oeuvre. Sometimes, the multi-viewpoint approach loses its power, but it works pretty well here.
Shaara tells the story through the eyes of several characters, from commanding generals to front line troops (and in this case, a young woman inhabitant of Vicksburg), a device first used so successfully by his father Michael Shaara in Killer Angels, a dramatized look at the Battle of Gettysburg and one of the best books I’ve ever read. Sadly, the father overshadows the son, and though this is a good summary of the events leading up to and through the Siege of Vicksburg, it pales in comparison to Killer Angels (possibly, in part, because the Battle of Gettysburg provides a richer cast of characters and events).
Nevertheless, it is a good history lesson for those interested in Civil War history or some of the major characters active in the western theater of the war.