Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, by Terrence J. Winschel, Savas Publishing Co., Mason City, Iowa, 1999, $24.95.
July 4, 1863, was known throughout the North as the “Glorious Fourth.” On that day Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat from Pennsylvania after having been defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg, and Union forces under Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant occupied Vicksburg, Miss. For all intents and purposes, the outcome of the Civil War was decided on July 4 even though it would take two more bloody years before the last Southern banner would be furled in defeat.
The Battle of Gettysburg lasted only three days, and the entire campaign lasted but six weeks. It could be argued, however, that the campaign for Vicksburg started with the firing on Fort Sumter, as the North’s overall military strategy emphasized the importance of occupying that critical Mississippi River town from the beginning of the war.
For all its strategic importance, Vicksburg, at least in comparison to Gettysburg, has been somewhat overlooked by scholars. While proponents of the Western theater will argue that this is true for any campaign or battle of that region, the fact remains that if sheer importance to the outcome of the war were the standard for how many books were published on a topic, Vicksburg literature should fill as many shelves as do books about Gettysburg.
Why has Vicksburg not received more attention? Some argue that Ed Bearss’ monumental trilogy on the Vicksburg campaign was the first and last word, leaving little left to be said on the subject. While those readers who can quote Bearss’ volumes by chapter and verse–and there are many of them–will find little new or surprising in Terrence Winschel’s Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, the same cannot be said for everyone.
This collection of essays by Vicksburg National Military Park’s chief historian is well-written and extensively researched. Triumph and Defeat walks the reader through the Vicksburg story from the first shots to the raising of the Stars and Stripes over the Warren County courthouse.
With language easily understood by expert and novice alike, Winschel has delivered the ultimate primer, placing the campaign in its proper perspective. A couple of the essays, such as “Playing Smash With the Railroads: The Story of Grierson’s Raid,” also serve to shed light on often-overlooked incidents of the campaign.
B. Keith Toney