Vicksburg & Port Hudson

Updated 11/07/05

Western ACW Books

The Vicksburg Campaign was Grant's greatest achievement, and was what I believe to be the turning point of the war, not just in the west, but period. After Corinth, while Rosecrans was fighting Bragg up in Tennessee, Grant first tried a route overland through Mississippi but quickly abandoned this after Earl Van Dorn's cavalry destroyed his main supply depot at Holly Springs. Then Grant, hearing rumors of McClernand possibly taking a separate army down the Mississippi to attack Vicksburg, decided to circumvent this by sending Sherman and an Army Corps to Vicksburg first. Sherman landed at Chickasaw Bluffs north of the city but was bloodily beaten back and forced to retreat. After this Grant took his whole army, including McClernand's Corps (which McClernand stubbornly kept calling the "Army of the Mississippi") down to the west side of Vicksburg in Louisiana. During the winter he sat there and tried numerous plans to bypass Vicksburg through alternate waterways. He built a canal from the bend below Vicksburg to the bend above, meaning to make Vicksburg useless as a fortress. This didn't work during the war, but interestingly enough the Mississippi cut a new channel through the canal after the war, and modern-day Vicksburg is no longer next to the river! He also tried to cut canals from the Mississippi to the numerous bayous in Louisiana, but this didn't work either. Eventually, he decided to march his troops south of Vicksburg, have the Navy run Vicksburg's batteries at night, and then ferry his troops to the east side of the river. Critics charged that he was cutting himself off from his supplies, but Grant intended to live partially off the land and wasn't concerned. The move worked brilliantly, and after a few battles Grant reached Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. He then headed west for Vicksburg. Pemberton, with his Vicksburg Army, had moved east of Vicksburg to try to link up with a force Joseph Johnston was assembling east of Jackson. Unfortunately for the Rebels, Grant had already interposed himself between the two armies, and they would never hook up. Grant met Pemberton at Champion Hill and routed the Confederates. After a delaying action at the Big Black River, the Confederates moved back to Vicksburg to await the inevitable siege. After this it was only a matter of time, and Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1862, leaving Port Hudson as the only Confederate presence on the Mississippi. It fell only a few days later, and the Federals had control of the entire length of the Mississippi.


The Vicksburg Campaign Volume 1: Vicksburg Is The Key

Edwin Cole Bearss
Since this is a three-volume set, I'll give you the overall picture first and then talk about what each individual volume contains. This is the finest Campaign study I've ever read. The maps are solid and there are many of them. Bearss also has OOB's following every chapter which involved any relatively major operation of the Campaign. It is the beginning and the end as far as knowledge of the campaign. If you want to know what truly happened during Grant's masterpiece then buy this set. It is expensive at $125, but you get the definitive work on the campaign and need never buy another book on it. You can get each individual volume from, but I would recommend going to Morningside Books to buy these. In Volume 1, Vicksburg Is the Key, Bearss discusses Grant's first attempt to start the Vicksburg Campaign over land from northern Mississippi. He then details how cavalry raids by Van Dorn and Forrest showed Grant how vulnerable his supply line was. Then Bearss talks about the Union move down the Mississippi River to the west side of Vicksburg. He sketches out Grant's numerous waterway plans and the skirmishes that resulted. 769 pp., 18 maps

The Vicksburg Campaign Volume 2: Grant Strikes A Fatal Blow

Edwin Cole Bearss

In his second volume, Bearss details Grant's plan to send his men south, run the Vicksburg gauntlet, and then ferry his army across the Mississippi River. After this, Bearss recounts the battles as Grant worked his way inland: Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and finally the Big Black River. By the end of the volume, Grant is poised to begin his siege. 689 pp., 28 maps
Edwin Cole Bearss
The third and final volume concentrates on the Siege of Vicksburg itself. Bearss relates how after two failed major assaults and a mine explosion experiment, Grant finally settled down to starve Pemberton out. 761 pp., 17 maps

Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg

James R. Arnold

If you don't feel like shelling out $125 of your hard-earned cash for the definitive multi-volume work on Vicksburg, perhaps this book will appeak to you. It's the best single volume book on Vicksburg that I've come across (update: now maybe the second best to Grabau's Ninety-Eight Days. Arnold does a little more analysis than Bearss, who tends to mostly relate what happened without commenting too much on it. The maps are very good for a book of this size. This book also works great as an introduction before reading Bearss' books. To make a long story short, if you don't buy Bearss' masterpiece then buy this one. 387 pp., 15 maps

Vicksburg 1863: Grant Clears The Mississippi

Alan Hankinson
Another very good book in the Osprey "Classic Battles" series. Alan Hankinson does an excellent job with the little amount of space he has to work with. As usual, the complete OOB is present, but only for the siege itself, not for the earlier battles. The "Wargaming Vicksburg" section is also interesting, giving tabletop gamers tips on wargaming a siege. For the cost-conscious, owning both this and Arnold's book would give you a good foundation for understanding the campaign. 96 pp., 8 maps

Triumph & Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign

Terrence J. Winschel

This is another book from Savas Publishing in the "Essay" format, but with a unique twist. Terrence Winschel is the author of all the essays. This isn't a bad thing either, since the author has been working at the Vicksburg NMP since the 1970's. Essay topics include the battles of Port Gibson and Champion Hill, Grierson's famous Union cavalry raid, and the efforts of Trans-Mississippi Rebels to relieve their brothers in arms besieged in Vicksburg. There are ten essays in all, and I enjoyed all of them. This is a great addition to the current Vicksburg literature. 248 pp., 12 maps
Vicksburg (National Park Service Civil War Series)
Michael B. Ballard
As always, these books are only available through the National Park Service book stores located on the battlefields. This one goes for $5.95, and is a great book to bring along while tramping the fields around Vicksburg.

Guide to the Vicksburg Campaign (U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles, Vol 6)

Leonard Fullenkamp, Stephen Bowman, and Jay Luvaas (editors)
New 08/18/03 I just recently bought this book on my tour of the Vicksburg Battlefield. It is the U.S. Army War College's official guide to the campaign. The book consists of three parts. The first part details the campaign in the words of the commanders themselves. The second part offers a driving tour of the campaign, while the third offers a driving tour of the Siege lines themselves. 482 pp., 23 maps
A Soldier's Story of the Siege of Vicksburg
Osborn H. Oldroyd
New 08/18/03 My Dad just recently bought this book on my tour of the Vicksburg Battlefield. It is the diary of Oldroyd during the campaign. I will give my review after I have read the book. 91 pp.
Confusion Compounded: The Pivotal Battle of Raymond: 12 May 1863 (The Papers of the Blue & Gray Education Society, Number 12, 8 November 2001)
Warren E. Grabau

Updated 06/27/04 I bought this book on my tour of the Vicksburg Battlefield in August, 2003. It does not look like it is widely available. This book and the book below were both still on shelves at the Battlefield bookstore in Vicksburg National Park. I am pleased to report that I have a copy signed by the author, a man who has been studying the Vicksburg Campaign for almost 50 years now. In the introduction, Grabau mentions that this pamphlet is simply a “greatly expanded” version of his chapter on Raymond in his book Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer’s View of the Vicksburg Campaign. I’ve heard great things about that book, so I am interested in seeing the general format before I read it in its entirety, and this pamphlet serves that purpose well. Grabau even received permission to use some of his maps from that chapter of the book in this pamphlet. He also explains that probably the easiest way to describe things is by recounting the action twice, first from the perspective of one side and then from the other. He proceeds to do this throughout the pamphlet, and I would assume throughout his book as well. In the remainder of the introduction, Grabau explains that due to strange atmospheric conditions on May 12, 1863, the smoke clung to the ground even more heavily than usual. Add to this the fact that the battle was mostly fought in a second-growth forest, and you have a recipe for some serious confusion. Grabau freely admits that this is HIS interpretation of the battle, that other interpretations are possible, and that due to all of the conflicting accounts he is sure some mistakes have been made in his account. I can only applaud him for admitting this up front. Some authors would take the “my way or the highway” approach and defend their interpretation to the death. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this pamphlet. Grabau has an interesting style and kept me interested throughout. I read the book in two sittings. It consists of 92 pages, mostly text, although the book does contain 9 maps, an excellent ratio and one that I’m looking forward to when I read Ninety-Eight Days. And the maps are terrific. They contain topographic contour lines, and the labels are numerous and neat. Woods are denoted, although Grabau himself says it is impossible to know exactly how the woods were placed. The text contained notes at the end of individual chapters, which is fine for a pamphlet of this size. There was no index, but considering this book was a Blue and Gray Education Society pamphlet, that is to be expected. It may be very difficult to find this pamphlet, as I bought mine from the bookstore at Vicksburg National Battlefield. I would instead recommend buying Ninety-Eight Days, since this pamphlet is basically just an expanded chapter from that book.96 pp., 9 maps

Read the full summary HERE.

The Winter of 1863: Grant's Louisiana Canals Expeditions (The Papers of the Blue & Gray Education Society, Number 4, Fall 1996)
Carolyn Pace Davis
Updated 06/23/04 I bought this book on my tour of the Vicksburg Battlefield in August, 2003. It does not look like it is widely available. This book and the book above were both still on shelves at the Battlefield bookstore in Vicksburg National Park. Carolyn Davis' Blue and Gray Education Society Pamphlet (Number 4) details the various canal digging operations throughout northeastern Louisiana opposite Vicksburg during the Winter of 1862-1863. Grant knew that he could not move during the winter, and so he devised some of these operations with a view towards keeping the men busy in a rather unhealthy climate. The De Soto Canal, the Lake Providence expedition, and the Duckport Canal all failed, but they kept Grant's men busy and whipped them into good shape so they would be ready for the coming Campaign. While not exhaustive by any means, the pamphlet was an interesting read and if you ever visit Vicksburg National Battlefield, I highly suggest picking this one up. 61 pp., 3 maps

Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River

William L. Shea & Terrence J. Winschel

New 02/29/04 I just bought this book recently. As a part of The Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series, it appears to be more of a campaign study rather than a tactical level book. I will give my review after I have read the it. 232 pp., 16 maps

Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer's View of the Vicksburg Campaign

Warren E. Grabau
New 06/23/04 I just recently bought this book, and I've heard excellent things about it. Mr. Grabau uses his background as a geologist to create many, many excellent maps. I've briefly looked through the book, and the maps do not disappoint. There are 68 maps of the action, and if Grabau's text were almost nonexistent, this book would be worth getting for the maps alone. Fortunately, I have also heard great things about the text, so I eagerly look forward to reading this one. 687 pp., 68 maps
Timothy B. Smith

Updated 8/26/05

Read the entire review HERE.

Dr. Smith sets out to write the first detailed history of the most important battle of the Vicksburg Campaign (some would say the entire war), and he has done an admirable job. Champion Hill is a detailed tactical level description of the battle, which occurred on May 16, 1863 on the eponymous hill, located over 20 miles east of Vicksburg. This is no “New History” book filled with the social or political aspects of Champion Hill and its results. Instead, Dr. Smith announces early on in the Preface that “what you are about to read is a battle study molded out of the old school”. And he makes good on his promise. The action picks up as Smith details how Grant’s Union Army of the Tennessee tried all winter of 1862-1863 to find a way to get at Vicksburg from dry land east of the Mississippi River. It then goes on to chronicle the battles leading up to Champion Hill. The majority of the text describes in tactical detail the ebb and flow of the Battle of Champion Hill. He follows up with a brief description of the pursuit to Vicksburg, the Siege, and the surrender of the Confederate Army on July 4, 1863. The book weighs in at just over 500 pages, with exactly 400 pages of text. The book contains an interesting amount of other material after the main read is finished. These include a “Thereafter”, which details the lives of the main players after the Battle, a regimental-level “Order of Battle” which includes even regimental commanders (but no unit strengths), and a very interesting set of modern-day photos of the battlefield along with a keyed map allowing you to see the facing and position of the camera. Dr. Smith includes almost 40 pages of endnotes and an impressive bibliography containing numerous primary sources from manuscript collections and of course many secondary collections, including the important previous works of Ed Bearss and Warren Grabau. And last but not least are the maps. Ted Savas, the publisher, has as usual filled this book to the brim with detailed tactical maps of the fighting. By my count, of the 41 maps, 32 cover the Battle of Champion Hill, with most of the others covering the preliminary action at Port Gibson, Raymond, and Jackson. As anyone who reads my reviews on a regular basis knows, I tend to recommend a book as long it is of reasonable quality if it this only one to cover a given battle. In this case, although Dr. Smith’s book is the only book to concentrate on Champion Hill to date, it is an almost perfect model of everything a tactical battle study should be. Smith delivers on his promise in the Preface, and delivers in a big way. This book was well-written, both in terms of being able to explain the often confusing action, and also in being able to keep me entertained at the same time. Dr. Smith has obviously done his homework, as the numerous manuscript collections in the bibliography suggest. His “Thereafter” section detailing the later life of the participants was also a fresh idea, as were the modern photographs of the battlefield. And the maps, as usual in a Savas-published book, were obviously seen as a major part of the book and not thrown in as afterthoughts. Every serious student of the Civil War, and especially of the war in the Western Theater, should own a copy of this book. I eagerly look forward to more work from Dr. Smith in the future. 502 pp., 41 maps.

Read the entire review HERE.

David F. Bastian

New 11/07/05 Here I'll take a look at David Bastian's coverage of the Union canal across De Soto point, which was built with the intent to bypass Vicksburg and make taking the city unnecessary for the control of the Mississippi River. As most students of Grant's Vicksburg Campaign already know, Grant's Canal ultimately failed during the war, although the Mississippi did change course in the 1870's, showing that what Grant wanted to accomplish was possible. Bastian is well-suited to write this book, as he is a Civil Engineer and a Canal specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Bastian, with his knowledge of Hydraulics, concludes that had the canal been dug to a depth of 11 feet and a width of 60 feet, the strength of the current would have eroded a permanent channel. Though the River later changed its banks, it did not use Grant's Canal to do so. It is an ironic footnote that Grant was President at the time of the River's change. I enjoyed this short retelling of the efforts to dig a canal across the base of De Soto Point. The author writes in an engaging style and is as qualified as anyone to write this piece. The maps are numerous and give the reader a clear idea of what the Union troops were trying to do. I also managed to pick up a signed copy of the book, much to my delight. Although this is not the only monograph covering Grant's Canal (both Bearss' monumental 3-volume work on Vicksburg and the BGES pamphlet listed higher on this page also do so to some extent), I would recommend picking this one up. It is currently listed at $6.95 at, and at that price you can't go wrong. Anyone interested in the Vicksburg Campaign or the war in the west should own a copy.

88 pp., 14 maps

Edward Cunningham

Updated 11/03/05 Anyone who has a decent understanding of the war knows about the Vicksburg Campaign. However, not as many know about a simultaneous Siege happening to the south in Louisiana at Port Hudson. General Nathaniel Banks and his Army of the Gulf (XIX Corps) besieged 6,000-odd men under Confederate Major General Franklin Gardner from May 23-July 9, 1863. After these 48 days, the Confederates surrendered, not because they were defeated, but because Vicksburg had fallen and they now had no hope of a rescue. Cunningham's book is a good introduction to this topic except for one important detail: maps. There are only two maps. One shows the larger area of operations along the Mississippi River from Cairo, IL to New Orleans. The other shows the siege lines in such a zoomed out map that I had trouble reading everything. This makes for a difficult time while following along. I pulled out my Official Records Atlas several times during my reading. The Order of Battle is slightly above average, with no strengths but with regimental commanders listed. Cunningham has adequate notes and a solid bibliography. The book was originally published in 1963, so that might explain the lack of maps. I enjoyed Cunningham's delivery. It was smooth and kept me interested throughout. However, he tended to make some grandiose claims from time to time regarding the ability of the Confederates to break the Siege. If you read it, you'll know what I'm talking about. This is a solid introduction to the Campaign, but it is by no means definitive. I would recommend the two-volume The Guns of Port Hudson by David C. Edmonds for that label. The books are not cheap and they're difficult to find, but judging by the second volume (which I own), they are worth it.

174 pp., 2 maps