Civil War Book Review: Thunder Across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February-May 1863

Thunder Across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February-May 1863
by Dr. Donald S. Frazier

Product Details

  • Reading level: Ages 16 and up
  • Hardcover: 630 pages
  • Publisher: State House Press (September 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933337443
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933337449

Thunder Across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February-May 1863 by Donals S. FrazierAfter the fall of New Orleans Civil War history moves away from Louisiana toward Grant in Tennessee.  The battle for control of the Mississippi River centers on Vicksburg not the lower portion of the river.  History drops in for the fall of Port Hudson and lingers for the Red River Campaign.  After that, history runs off to Georgia and Virginia, never to return.  Even a well-read person could conclude that nothing happens in Louisiana during most of the war.

Dr. Donald S. Frazier is changing this view with his excellent books on the war in Louisiana and Texas.  “Fire in the Cane Field” covers January 1861 to January 1863 setting the stage for this book.  These two books are the first volumes of the “Louisiana Quadrille” covering this theater for the entire war.  Doing this is a labor of love for the author and new history for the majority of the readers.  Each book is a complete standalone history but reading them in sequence is the best learning experience.

This is a complex area, national politics, occupation problems, the need for sugar and cotton and questions about the status of the newly freed Blacks compete with fighting a war.  The Confederates are not going to lose control of the Mississippi River and Louisiana without a real fight.  This is a critical area keeping the Confederate States of America a single geographic unit.  Additionally, Texas cattle and Louisiana sugar are vital resources.  While Vicksburg hangs on, Louisiana fights to maintain or retake territory.

With Grant closing in on Vicksburg, N. P. Banks embarks on a campaign to bypass Port Hudson and open an alternate water route to the Gulf.  This is a history of that campaign and the relationship between Banks and Grant.  The fighting is both on land and on the water.  The rivers, lakes and bayous force each side to have a “Brown Water Navy”.  The author moves from land to water to land without any problems.  We see how the Ironclads and Cottonclads are built, maintained, fight and are repaired.  The problems of operating in a largely unmapped area, trying to find the enemy are well covered.  The author writes in the present, meaning we see the campaign unfold just as they did.  The reader understands why wrong decisions seemed right at the time.

This is a serious history, fully footnoted with excellent sources.  While detailed the text is clear concise, descriptive, informative and fun to read.  Maps are in the right place.  We have enough maps to not get lost and stay in the picture.  I am a big fan of this series.  It opens a new theater with experience that is closer to the majority of commands.  This is not the war of huge armies with plenty of supplies.  This is a war of small armies, always in need of more Cavalry and artillery.  Of commands that need to supply themselves, long before Sherman’s March.  This is an exhausting deadly war of small battles and grueling marches.  Doctor Frazier is seeing that these men finally have a quality history.


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