- Occupied Vicksburg by Bradley R. Clampitt
Recent scholars of the Civil War have demonstrated how the home front and battlefront were inextricably connected. Epitomized by LeeAnn Whites and Alecia Long's edited collection, Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War (2009), and joined by various studies of soldier-civilian relations, occupation, and irregular or guerrilla warfare, the field has increasingly collapsed the distinction between home front and war front. In Occupied Vicksburg, Bradley R. Clampitt's narrative of the Mississippi town brings the participants to life and shows how years of Union occupation transformed "most residents of Vicksburg … into hardcore Confederates" (3). Based on extensive archival [End Page 341] research, Clampitt's vision of Vicksburg nevertheless falls short of a complete portrayal of life under Union occupation.
Vicksburg offers an exciting opportunity to explore the meaning of wartime occupation. After a long siege that drove some residents into caves, Union forces took control of the Mississippi town on July 4, 1863, and occupied it until the war's end. For two years Union men, black and white, regulated the river town and its largely female civilian population. Clampitt's account commences with the negotiations over and ultimate surrender of Vicksburg. Subsequent chapters discuss the occupation, including the initial interactions between Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers and civilians, the challenges of occupation over time, the Union policies about freedpeople, and the persistence of Confederate nationalism. The book ends with a three-page epilogue that gives a glimpse of one African American woman's postwar life.
Clampitt's reconstruction of wartime Vicksburg uses the words of Union soldiers and officers, enslaved and free African Americans, as well as Confederate soldiers and women. Readers get a sense of the vast differences between what soldiers thought they were doing and how civilians viewed those actions. Clampitt similarly highlights how "realism triumphed over idealism" (73) in General Ulysses S. Grant's policies. Following in the footsteps of Stephen V. Ash, Clampitt further demonstrates the frustration Union soldiers felt when white women openly defied Federal authority, blamed Union soldiers for the upheaval, played a visible role in resistance, and showed reinvigorated Confederate patriotism. These women also insisted their support of the Confederacy did not preclude the protection afforded to their sex.
Clampitt's assessment demonstrates that Vicksburg women reacted to Union control in ways that bore a marked resemblance to how Confederate women responded to similar situations elsewhere. Uninformed readers, however, will not get any hint of these parallels. Clampitt's discussion of Vicksburg proceeds unaware of recent scholarship on occupation, gender, women, and civilians. This omission is especially evident in the book's disregard for gender as an analytical concept. The term hardly exists in the text; when it does it almost always serves as a euphemism for sex. For example, Clampitt draws attention to how southern women's behavior belied Union soldiers' expectations of them as "the harmless, weaker gender" (187). Scholars of gender and the Civil War are equally absent. Given that Clampitt repeatedly touches on southern women's behavior and attitudes, it comes as a surprise to discover that the work of leading historians such as Victoria E. Bynum, Catherine Clinton, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Stephanie McCurry, among others, is absent from the text. Nor [End Page 342] does he seem aware of the work of other scholars, including Crystal N. Feimster's findings concerning sexual violence against African American women or Laura F. Edwards's treatment of legal marriages and freedpeople. Even Whites and Long's Occupied Women, which Clampitt's title mirrors, inexplicably receives short shrift. That volume's introduction merits a few citations, but the work's larger contributions and insights are ignored. Clampitt's approach follows a long tradition of military history that segregates and slights women and the home front in favor of what some scholars deem the real Civil War. Scholarship on the former is too developed to neglect, however, especially in a book focused on occupation.
This historiographic myopia has an impact on the story Clampitt tells and...