The first week of July, 2013 commemorates the 150 anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, considered by many historians as the greatest battle of the war and the fateful turning point leading to the ultimate defeat and surrender of Robert E. Lee and the demise of the Confederacy. The great battle took place in three engagements on July 1, 2 and concluding with the disastrous Confederate Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, 1863. The sun rose on July 4th over a battlefield that witnessed over 5,700 killed and more than 27,000 wounded, thousands of whom died from wounds in the ensuing weeks. More has been written regarding this great battle than any other in history, including D-Day.
This week another new book, Gettysburg by Allen C. Guelzo is added to the library of Gettysburg non-fiction. Simultaneous to the release of Guelzo’s book and in conjunction with the Gettysburg 150th anniversary, the Smithsonian has released a fabulous interactive map that helps explain why General Lee made a critical mistake in underestimating the depth of the Union Forces he faced. The map addresses the issue of the extreme lack of intelligence and reconnaissance on behalf of either side during all of the Civil War engagements. Prior to the commencement of hostilities, Lee climbed to the top of cupolas, one at the Lutheran Seminary and the other at Gettysburg College to survey Union troops. The Smithsonian GIS generated map, together with the research of Middlebury College professor Anne Knowles, clearly shows that deceptive terrain made it impossible for Lee to judge the magnitude of the Union forces. Lee’s problems were of course magnified by the absence of his cavalry led be Jeb Stuart. To examine the new GIS map of the Gettysburg battlefield go to : http://bit.ly/1crQWYd
DO NOT OVERLOOK VICKSBURG!
With the natural focus this week on the Gettysburg anniversary it is easy to overlook yet another monumental Civil War battle that historically may equal and in some sense eclipse the great Gettysburg turning point. General U.S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg which culminated on July 3, ( the same day as Pickett’s Charge) in some sense had a greater impact on the war’s outcome than Gettysburg.
Following two weeks of battle including fierce fighting at Jackson Mississippi and Champion Hill Grant turned his forces West to Vicksburg, the last remaining Confederate obstacle to opening the entire Mississippi River to Union control. Following days of brutal fighting and bombardment Grant laid siege to the city and finally on July 4th, 1863 accepted the surrender of General Pemberton’s Confederate forces and took control of what had been an impregnable citadel above the river.
While there continues to be much debate over the work of Civil War historians ( See David Blight’s article That a Nation Might Live in the July 1 Book Section of New York Times ), it will come as no surprise to followers of Gordon’s Good Reads that I have turned to historical fiction and Jeff Shaara’s new Civil War book A Chain of Thunder, A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg. Jeff Shaara is the son of Michael Shaara, author of Killer Angels, the story of the Gettysburg battle. Like the writing of the father, Jeff Shaara places the reader in the boots of the front line soldiers and additionally, in the case of A Chain of Thunder the devastated lives of the Vicksburg’s citizens.
Why does Vicksburg equal the historical importance of Gettysburg? The answer lies in President Lincoln’s recognition that he found in Grant following Vicksburg and his earlier victory at Ft. Donnelson, a commander who could ” win.”! There is little doubt that the victory at Vicksburg catapulted Grant into being named General In Chief of all Union Forces. In that capacity, Grant’s tenacity, with Lincoln’s unbridled support, forged the final Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. There is no doubt that the Grant Civil War legacy led to his becoming President of the United States, following the failed short-term of Vice President Andrew Johnson following Lincoln’s assassination.
Whether you prefer non-fiction or historical fiction of any combination thereof, The Civil War is an epic human story that changed the future of not only the nation, but the world.
Other Civil War historical novels by Jeff Shaara” Gods and Generals, The Last Full Measure, A Blaze of Glory.