Vicksburg, 1863, by Winston Groom

This is by the author of Forrest Gump. I heard an interview with him about it, and it sounded good. On finding the book at the store, I saw lots of maps, which is a good thing in a Civil War history.

Schade, this is an odd and frustrating book. It is not a detailed account of the Battle and Siege of Vicksburg. About one-third of the book is of that sort, but the rest is filler. The author oddly starts with a 20-page chapter about the causes of the Civil War that adds nothing to what a tenth-grader would know. There are chapters and chapters about preliminary battles and operations, but unfortunately none of these seem to lead forward to the climactic battle itself. One can easily get lost and bored. The nice maps at the front of the book are of no use for many of the battles described, such as New Orleans, Ft. Donelson, and Shiloh.

The chapters on the siege are good. Groom describes how the citizens had to build caves to live in to get away from the Federal shelling, and how they resorted to living off their dogs, cats, and mules before it was over.

The book has an index, but no source notes (though there is a bibliography). The amateur historian’s treatment would be tolerable if Groom told a good story, but he does not.

How glad I was to read Lincoln’s words, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea,” but there were still 50 more pages to slog through!

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