Friday, November 30, 2007

Triumph & Defeat (Vol 2) by Terrence J. Winschel

I reviewed this book for Civil War News and yesterday my copy arrived so now I can post the review here. My review appears on page 31 of the December issue. This was my first review published in Civil War News and it appears that they made only very minor editing changes. I haven't compared my version to the published version word for word but it looks and reads very similar to what appears below.

Triumph & Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, Vol. 2 by Terrence J. Winschel

This is a collection of ten essays by Terrence Winschel, chief historian at Vicksburg National Military Park, that he created partly for speaking engagements at roundtables. The essays are on a variety of subjects but are grouped in chronological order. The first three chapters cover the movement of the armies from the crossing of the Mississippi River on April 30 to the beginning of the siege. No battle is discussed in minute detail, instead an overview of the fighting is presented. The other seven chapters highlight other aspects of the campaign, including a few lesser known actions.
One chapter focuses on one of the controversial Union figures, General John A. McClernand. Winschel is of the opinion that McClernand demonstrated many fine leadership qualities but that he never developed the qualities of leadership he lacked. The chief shortcoming being selflessness. In a later chapter Winschel tackles one of the controversial Confederate figures, General Joseph E. Johnston. Winschel does a good job of showing that Johnston probably never had any intention of coming to Pemberton's aid, despite various messages to the contrary. Johnston knew enough about how the siege was progressing and what he could have done. He let the window of opportunity close and then made some half hearted efforts to look like he was coming to help Pemberton but it was too little too late.

The chapter on the USS Cincinnati is interesting because it also discusses its actions before and after the siege. The USS Cincinnati had a hard luck career with significant activities nearly every May. On May 10, 1862 it was sunk in a battle near Fort Pillow when it was rammed by a Confederate ship. It had to be repaired in Cairo but was soon part of the brown water navy again. On May 27, 1863 it was sunk again, this time by Confederate cannon on the bluffs above Vicksburg. After the surrender the Union raised it and repaired it. Near the end of the war, coincidentally on May 10, 1865, it captured the CSS Nashville in one of its brighter moments.

I found the chapter on the siege of Jackson that followed Vicksburg's surrender especially interesting. So little has been written about this part of the campaign, mostly because there were very few casualties and it had little impact on the campaign. Despite this it is still interesting to read about.

In responding to an article by Albert Castel in North & South magazine Winschel makes a good point about the importance of Vicksburg to the war effort. Winschel's focus is on how Vicksburg was a key component in the supply route with the trans-Mississippi. That once Vicksburg was lost the rich resources of the trans-Mississippi, as well as the route for goods brought in through the blockade, shriveled up.

There was also a chapter on the Lord family's experiences during the siege. Reverend Dr. William Wilberforce Lord was the minister for the Episcopalian Christ Church. Like many Vicksburg families the Lords lived in a cave during the siege. Reverend Lord though also held daily services in his church, venturing from his cave into the danger to minister to his flock, which now included many Confederate soldiers. The final chapter deals with Stephen D. Lee's role in the creation and development of Vicksburg as a national military park. Lee was one of the early principals working to get Vicksburg preserved. He became the first former Confederate to be the chairman of a national military park. He also strived to present both sides fairly in interpretation through the park tablets.

This is a very good book in that it illuminates many lesser known aspects of the campaign. This book is not intended to be a detailed study of the campaign, instead it is intended to give us a fuller understanding of the variety of events of the campaign. It does a very good job of that and belongs on the shelf of every Vicksburg and Western Theater enthusiast.


Sam Elliott said...

I have the book, but haven't read it yet. Glad its useful.

Congrats on your engagement.

Nick said...

It made me want to go get the first volume but I still haven't done that, mainly because I've run out of room.

Thanks, its been a bit wild but we were under a slight time crunch. Now we've got things a bit more under control.

Dave Powell said...

I like Winchell's writing in both volumes. Makes me wish he'd done a campaign study, but there are actually some fine ones out on Vicksburg right now.

I am also a big fan of Tim Smith's book on Champion Hill, which I thought was an excellent tactical study.

having studied Shiloh extensively, I can understand Winchell's take on McClernand. The man was within inches of being a great figure in the war, like Logan - but he lacked just enough of certain key personality traits to make him too difficult to actually work with. I see him as sort of the Volunteer Hooker.

Raymond and Jackson interest me because the troops that fought there have such a direct participation in Chockamauga. Gregg's brigade, for example, and Breckinridge's Division. I have a number of sources from Breckinridge's men tat start by describing the jackson fight, for example, and then go on to discuss their trip to Georgia.

Dave Powell