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Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg Hardcover – July 15, 2004
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Description of the action is easy to follow across the battlefield as it progresses throughout the day. Excellent maps of the action are placed appropriately, as well as the accounts of participants from letters, journals, memoirs, official reports, etc. Many sensory details of the action are provided by participants, down to the individual soldiers, and the carnage of the battlefield and the dead and wounded afterward. The author provides ample information on key leaders down to the regimental level, including their backgrounds, activities over the course of the battle, and a follow-up on their military careers and lives afterward.
The author also provides adequate detail, including maps, on the Union's failed efforts to take Vicksburg prior to this campaign, as well as the battles for Port Gibson, Jackson, and Big Black River during the campaign, and a summary on the siege and fall of Vicksburg.
The organization and writing style of this book is outstanding, and it is one of the best battle/campaign CW books I've read. I hope to to read other books by T.B. Smith in the future.
The volume's initial fifteen pages briefly summarize Grant's various abortive attempts to take Vicksburg from the north before he was able to cross his Army of the Tennessee to the Mississippi's east bank south of the city on April 30. The next ninety describe the preliminary battles at Port Gibson, Raymond, and Jackson. The bulk of the book, 280 pages, concerns itself with the Champion Hill collision between Grant's forces and Lieutenant General John Pemberton's Army of Vicksburg. There's a penultimate 12-page chapter on the battle's aftermath that includes Vicksburg's capitulation on July 4, and a concluding 11-page postscript chapter on the post-battle and post-Civil War careers of the numerous commanders that are named (and pictured) in the text. Finally, there's a 10-page Appendix with the Order of Battle for both armies, thirty pages of Notes, sixteen pages of contemporary battlefield photos keyed to a reference map, and a 12-page Bibliography. I suggest that author Timothy Smith has penned a battle narrative as satisfyingly complete as any you'll ever come across.
Champion Hill was a seesawing, day-long, complex affair, the account of which will likely spellbind the reader to the point of emotional exhaustion. What I found most impressive was the extreme lucidity of Smith's description of the various military units' maneuvers across the landscape mostly described at brigade and regimental levels. The evolution of the Champion Hill clash is traced by forty - count 'em, 40! - marvelously illustrative maps rendered in black, white and gray that coincide at all times with the textual narrative. Smith even goes so far as to depict the field positioning of units during and after disintegration and, in some cases, their subsequent reformation and re-entry into the fray. At no time was I in the least confused about the tide of battle and the organizational identity of the combatants. These battlefield maps demonstrate how such should be constructed, but which so often are not in otherwise faultless works.
For Grant, who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at Fort Donelson and Shiloh, Champion Hill was another close run thing - more so than it should have been. Generally speaking, each side suffered from committing its forces piecemeal - Grant because of overcautious orders to his chief subordinate on-site, commander of the XIII Corps Major General John McClernand, and Pemberton because of inadequate intelligence as to Federal troop dispositions combined with a rancorous relationship with division commander Major General William Loring. Particularly speaking, the Confederates perhaps lost Champion Hill because of a wayward ordnance train that handicapped beleaguered rebels in the face of fresh, but the last, Union reserves at a critical point of confrontation.
CHAMPION HILL is an obligatory read for any student, casual or serious, of the Civil War. I was sorry to come to the end of the story, a reaction usually reserved for fiction.