Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review: The Beleaguered City--The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862 – July 1863

This book by Shelby Foote is an American treasure.  Foote himself should be considered among the great historians of the last 1/2 century or so. Though this book represents only an excerpt from Foote's 3000 page account of the American Civil War, it is a phenomenal work in and of itself.

Foote will be forever tied to Ken Burns' "Civil War" TV program on PBS but in truth had established himself as a leading Civil War authority decades earlier.

Regardless, this book which covers the Union's campaign to take the city/fort of Vicksburg which stood strategically overlooking the Mississippi and its crucial shipping/transportation lanes with heavy cannons.  As Foote suggests, the taking of Vicksburg may have been as crucial a turning point in the war as the South's defeat at Gettysburg but is frequently overlooked (perhaps due to mere bodycount at Gettysburg or its proximity to Northern media outlets?).

Foote's account of this campaign is brilliant.  It is as well crafted a military history as you will find.  The detail is here without becoming burdensome to the overall arch of battles.  You are made aware of each of the important figures without getting bogged down in minutiae.  The ebb and flow of battles and troop movements is clear and concise without ever becoming boring.

No, there are no footnotes contained herein (as some critics have griped) but to me that's the beauty of this narrative.  Foote is not merely regurgitating a string of items carved out from other sources--he is crafting his own accurate and descriptive account of the action on the ground.  The book doesn't sound encyclopedic because its not an encyclopedia--something I think may military historians miss the point on.

This book gave me a wonderful understanding of a small portion of the Civil War--one that I was certainly unaware of in only my very meager education on America's seminal conflict (for some reason my grade school and high school history never really covered or got to the Civil War--let alone anything in the 20th century, and god knows, my one college history course was a joke), and leaves me hungering for more knowledge about it.  I will be sure to return to Mr. Foote again for the education I have to this point been missing.

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