Sunday, September 19, 2010
Book Review "Grant Wins the War"
The scope of this book covers the entirety of Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign against
Starting with naval battles as early as 1862, which solidified the importance
of Vicksburg as a Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, the book covers all the key events of
the campaign. These include the battles
of Champion's Hill, Big Black River, Jackson,
Port Gibson, and Grierson's raid through Mississippi. The book goes into great detail about the
eventual siege, capitulation and end result of the campaign, covering the
impact that the Confederate loss of Vicksburg
had on both sides during the remainder of the war.
Arnold’s main thesis is to prove that the Union victory at Vicksburg was the turning point of the Civil War. In attempting to prove this thesis, he describes the negative impact that
Vicksburg’s fall had on military morale, as well as the
Confederacy’s ability to supply itself, and maneuver strategically due to the
loss of the Mississippi River as a major
logistical asset. On the Union side, the events at Vicksburg
not only raised morale, but thrust U.S. Grant into the spotlight, eventually
resulting in his command of all Union armies, and defeat of Robert E. Lee-
dooming the Confederate cause.
Carefully researched, Arnold includes research from newspapers, letters and journals to add to the impact of his writing. This helps to make it personal, giving one a real sense of what it was like to be a participant. Several hundred primary and secondary sources are listed in the biography, with the majority being primary. The author also pulls strongly from the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) Papers, and the papers of the Southern Historical Society, as well as resources available at the
. While the author
does not claim to include any “new” material, the book is excellently
researched, pulling from a wide variety of sources. Vicksburg National Military
Throughout the book, Arnold makes many assessments about the events of the campaign against Vicksburg, but backs these up with well researched facts and solid reasoning. One interesting point of the book that is a solid example of its accuracy is the issue of Grant’s supply line. Popular thought has it that Grant’s troops cut off their supply line and lived off the land as they moved inland from
Gulf. chalks this up to “hazy postwar
recollections” by Grant and others. Grant according to the author claimed to
have abandoned his supply line after May 3rd. “In fact,” according
to Arnold Arnold, “on a regular, almost daily, basis
through mid-May, wagon trains numbering up to two hundred vehicles hauled
ammunition and rations from Grand Gulf to the front.”(Page 127)
acknowledges Historian Edwin Bearss for uncovering this key piece of
“revisionist history” in his 3 volume work, The
Campaign for Vicksburg. Arnold
The campaign for Vicksburg is described in a sound logical fashion. Key events are portrayed in a manor that is easy to follow. And while covering a lot of detail, the author’s style is neither tedious nor dull--and it is not just a narrative—it is an enjoyable read. The author logically covers all facets of the Campaign for
Vicksburg to include the political situation,
personalities, as well as strategic and tactical considerations. Grant’s
particularly strong ability to win battles in this era of warfare is studied in
descriptions of the various naval battles leading to the campaign are
outstanding. Also, Arnold ’s
description of the battle of Champion Hill is another highlight, as one can get
a real sense of the issues that the soldiers who participated faced. Arnold
The author presents balanced criticisms of leaders on both sides. For example, Pemberton, according to
was too indecisive
and caught up in the petty politics that doomed the Confederacy in the West.
Rightfully so, the author also makes much of Pemberton’s disregard of Johnson’s
orders to attack Arnold Sherman at , among other things. Pemberton tells
his subordinates that to adhere to these orders would be suicidal. Clinton calls this a
“pitiful display which did not inspire confidence in his subordinates.” (Page
The author also shows strong disapproval of Grant’s decision to leave his wounded on the battlefield after the attack on the Confederate works at Vicksburg because of his belief that to care for his wounded would be an admission of weakness.
calls this “…abominable conduct, to be repeated once more in the next year.” (Page 257) Virginia
Some of the most powerful arguments occur after the description of the action ends, as the author begins his post campaign analysis of the long range affect Vicksburg had on the war. Interesting points include: the relationship between Davis and Pemberton after the battle, and how Davis did not lose faith in Pemberton; how the Union Army fell into “an understandable complacency” as the ranks thinned with many seeking discharges and earned furloughs; the failure of Grant to sell his Mobile scheme; and the Battle of words between Pemberton and Johnson, to name a few.
But at the heart of his post battle analysis is how Vicksburg “elated Union morale and deflated Southern spirit.” The loss of Pemberton’s army meant only one major army remained in the Western Theater, and this was devastating to the Confederate cause.
analysis of the importance of events described by his words that”the Father of
Waters again goes unvexed to the sea” ably described the importance of the
opening of the Mississippi to the Union
Few would argue that U.S. Grant won the war for the United States, as described in the title of the book—but was it at Vicksburg as the author contends? The answer is yes, for two reasons. First, Grant won the war because of the two previously described points about the morale of both armies and the logistical importance of the opening of the
Mississippi (and closing of it to the Confederacy)—these
were crucial turning points that many would argue were at least as important as
the Union victory at .
The second reason was Gettysburg 's
recognition of Grant as his next General-in-Chief, resulting in his command of
all Union armies, transfer to the East, and eventual defeat of Robert E. Lee-
dooming the cause of the Confederacy. Of course there would be the matter at Lincoln Chattanooga to contend with first, and Grant would of
course be in the thick of things there as well. As the author concludes in
regards to the Union Army besieged there, “It would be up to U.S. Grant to
rescue them.”(Page 317) And rescue them, he did.