Vicksburg by Donald L. Miller is:
Winner of the 2019 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for Operational/Battle History
Winner of the 2019 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award in the Category of Operational/Battle History
“When Vicksburg fell, the fate of the Confederacy was sealed.” – Ulysses S. Grant
“The war history of Vicksburg has more about it to interest the general reader than that of any other of the [Mississippi] river towns…Vicksburg…saw warfare in all its phases, both land and water – the siege, the mine, the assault, the repulse, the bombardment, sickness, captivity, famine.” – Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
Inspired by William Faulkner’s classic novel, Absalom! Absalom!, Donald L. Miller’s Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign That Broke the Confederacy (on sale October 29, 2019) is an epic tale of the rise and fall of slavery and plantation culture in war-ravaged Mississippi. In little over three decades, pioneer families built a cotton and slave empire out of former Native tribal country and saw it utterly destroyed, at the peak of its economic influence, by the invading army of Ulysses S. Grant. Miller’s brilliantly written book, hailed by renowned historian James P. McPherson as “the fullest and best history of the Vicksburg campaign,” tells the dramatic and deeply researched story that has never been told in full until now. This is the astonishing tale of the longest and most decisive military campaign of the Civil War, which opened the Mississippi River, split the Confederacy, freed more than 100,000 slaves, sparked a social and racial revolution, and elevated Grant to command of all Union armies.
Although Gettysburg is often cited as the war’s most important battle, it was Vicksburg that sealed the fate of the Confederacy. Lincoln said that the war could not be won until Vicksburg was taken, as Vicksburg, Mississippi, was the last stronghold of the Confederacy on the Mississippi River. It prevented the Union from using the river for shipping between the Union-controlled Midwest and New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The Union navy, under David Farragut, tried to take Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1862, but rampant disease, powerful rebel river batteries, and tortuous terrain—Vicksburg sat atop high river bluffs and was surrounded by broken terrain and flooded swamps—allowed the Confederates to hold. The following winter, General Grant moved his army south, through Tennessee and invaded northern Mississippi, assisted Admiral David Dixon Porter, head of the Union ironclad gunboat fleet on the Mississippi, but for five frustrating months Union forces failed to penetrate rebel defenses. Grant tried and failed to build two canals, one of them over one hundred miles long, to allow his troop transports and gunboats to avoid the city’s river batteries, get south of them, and attack Vicksburg from dry ground. In one of the most audacious moves of the war, opposed by the Lincoln administration, Grant also sent troops and gunboats into the guerilla infested Yazoo Delta, north of the Vicksburg, a howling, semi-tropical wilderness, where General William T. Sherman, Admiral Porter, and the precious gunboats the Union needed to take Vicksburg were nearly captured by rebel forces, and Grant very nearly lost his command. He persisted, nonetheless, and in the largest biggest American amphibious operation before D-Day, ran the gunboats by Vicksburg, ferried his army across the Mississippi, defeated two rebel armies in five successive battles, and bottled up the main rebel army inside Vicksburg. Then, in one of the oldest forms of warfare known—a siege–he bombarded and starved the city’s defenders, forcing them to surrender on July 4, 1863, one day after the Union victory at Gettysburg.
The victory split three Confederate states—Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana—from the rest of the Confederacy, took an entire rebel army out of the war, and made the Mississippi, the commercial spinal cord of the country, once again, a Union river. But the real revelation of this book is that Vicksburg initiated a social revolution in the Mississippi Valley. With such a strong presence of Union troops on southern soil, more than 100,000 slaves fled to the Union lines. Over 21,000 of them joined the Federal army, and Grant created work for their families, cultivating cotton for wages on abandoned Confederate plantations guarded by black troops. Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his brother Joseph owned two of the plantations that Grant confiscated and attempted to turn into, in his words, a “Negro paradise.” It can be argued that Vicksburg was not only the turning point of the Civil War but also the real beginning of Reconstruction. And Grant, not Lincoln, was seen by many of those he liberated as the Great Emancipator.
This story has drama, characters, and significance to rival any war story in history: Lincoln, Sherman, Jefferson Davis, Confederate and Union soldiers, Union nurses and aid workers, spies, former slaves, and plantation masters and mistresses people it, in the style of a sprawling social novel. Miller, an accomplished social historian, has drawn on original sources from over 40 archives to create a richly revealing portrait of the major players but most of all, of Ulysses S. Grant. In 1861 Grant was a washed-up veteran of the Mexican War, drummed out of the army for drinking. But in electrifying fashion he won a succession of major battles in the Mississippi River Valley at Forts Henry and Donelson and Shiloh on the Tennessee River, and eventually took Vicksburg, silencing his numerous critics in the Northern press and inside the Lincoln administration. Lincoln stuck with him, even after he was shown strong evidence that he was drinking, occasionally and excessively, while on duty. Today no general would ever be permitted to fail as often as Grant did, but when the city of Vicksburg fell, Lincoln said, “Grant is my man and I am his for the rest of this war.”