Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River

Article excerpt

Vicksburg is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River. By William L. Shea and Terrence J. Winschel. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. Pp. xii, 232. Series editors' introduction, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliographic essay, index. $35.00.)

The subtitle of this volume accurately reflects its purpose and scope. Shea and Winschel have provided a brilliant account of the struggle during the Civil War for the Mississippi River, a series of campaigns marked by a "diversity of military operations," the use of "every existing type of naval vessel," and military engineering on a "scale never before witnessed in modern warfare" (p. 205). The achievement of this short single-volume account, the first in a century, is its ability to cover the complex subject in a way that is accessible to the general reader while remaining essential reading for the expert.

The book, first and foremost, is an interesting and insightful narrative of Union and Confederate efforts to control the Mississippi River. Without an adequate navy, the Confederacy established a defense of the river based on fixed positions. This passive defense would fail under the onslaught of active Federal operations on land and water. Shea and Winschel describe these operations and the Confederate moves to counter them and clearly explain how each of the actions related to another. The authors show the reader exactly how an ironclad duel, a cavalry raid, or a peripheral battle at Arkansas Post fit into the larger picture. The book gives equal weight to the different aspects of military operations. Indeed, one of the best chapters describes how Union engineers, miners, and sappers conducted the siege of Vicksburg. …

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