Book Review by Colin E Wilks
One of the benefits of being a member of the ACWRT(UK) is that you get to meet historians and authors who, otherwise, you could only see on YouTube, TV or a DVD. The closest you could get to them was to read their thoughts and research in their books. I make no secret of the fact that I am a big admirer of Timothy B Smith and have been fortunate, thanks to ACWRTUK and OCT, to meet him several times including on an unforgettable tour of the Shiloh battlefield.
He is well known for his detailed battle histories but, unlike many of his contemporaries, always manages to turn out a readable story. His latest work is entitled The Siege of Vicksburg: climax of the campaign to open the Mississippi River, May 23-July 4 1863. It joins his other volumes on Grant in the West, Grant Invades Tennessee, Shiloh Conquer or Perish, Corinth, Champion Hill, The Union Assaults on Vicksburg and now The Siege of Vicksburg. In fact, it has been pointed out to me by another RT member, Smith is now to Grant in the West as Gordon Rhea is to Grant’s Overland Campaign.
The siege of Vicksburg was a true siege, the city was surrounded on all sides either by Grant’s land army or Union gun boats on the Mississippi River. Many other so-called sieges in the ACW cannot be truly said to be a case where one army totally surrounded another. So, the Vicksburg siege offers an author the unique opportunity to describe such an action from the point of view of the attackers, defenders and those caught up in the happenings and Tim Smith excels in his research and his ability as a master story teller. Using diary and private letter extracts, as well as journals and official records, Smith has turned this major event in the Civil War into a truly personal one.
He also spends considerable time analysing the preparations made to throw back any attempt to relieve Pemberton and Vicksburg by Johnston. It becomes pretty obvious, fairly quickly, that he has no intention to assist his fellow Confederates in their predicament. In spite of all the signs and reports Grant continued worrying about an attack to the rear of his Vicksburg positions almost right up to the surrender and occupation of the city.
A detailed look at the Union naval operations on the Mississippi, as well as preparations made on the west bank of the river opposite Vicksburg to cut off the Confederates escape route in that direction are included. They were truly surrounded.
I knew about one crater explosion engineered by Union miners under Confederate earth works at Vicksburg but had no idea there were others as well. Not all reached the stage of being exploded but all of this was news to me.
If I have one negative comment to make about this book it’s the poorly reproduced photographs. Like almost all of the books we read in this hobby, there are plenty of head and shoulder shots of the principal characters followed by pictures of Vicksburg during the siege, the latter are particularly poor. A work like this deserves much better reproduced photographs.
Tim Smith’s next book in this series, Early Struggles for Vicksburg is due out in May this year and can already be pre-ordered from Amazon.