Civil War History 49.2 (2003) 194-196
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Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer's View of the Vicksburg Campaign. By Warren E. Grabau. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000. Pp. 720. Cloth $48.00.)
In his final comments concerning the 1863 campaign and siege of Vicksburg, Warren E. Grabau acknowledges the widely accepted aphorism held among professional soldiers which states "amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics." From this perspective, the author's lifetime study of logistics lies at the heart of Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer's View of the Vickburg Campaign. After probing into every conceivable aspect of how logistics constrained command choices during the climatic struggle for possession of the "Gibraltar of the South," the author understands the monumental complexities involved in the mass movement of men, weapons, and supplies remains central to comprehending one of the most complex military campaigns ever waged by American armed forces.
The crucial impact of logistics on this campaign is readily apparent from the initial preparations made by Ulysses S. Grant to march his army down the west [End Page 194] side of the Mississippi River; through his use of deceptive raids to confuse Confederate authorities; through his close coordination with the U.S. Navy to create an unprecedented combined arms operation; and throughout the extended field operations from the amphibious landing at Bruinsburg to the final investment and capture of John C. Pemberton's Confederate garrison defending Vicksburg. The narrative is mixed with analysis and explanation of the importance of terrain, the commanders, and factors such as unreliable communications, faulty intelligence, and inaccurate maps. The book also examines other factors that helped shape the course of events such as demographics and political philosophies, and even considers the effects of personal relationships, vendettas, or character flaws, among influential officers in both armies.
A professional geologist who spent the majority of his career in the Vicksburg area, Grabau offers sixty-eight high-quality terrain maps. These works of cartography were painstakingly hand-tailored by the author to reconstruct the closest possible approximation of 1863 landscape conditions by combining modern geographical terrain analysis with information painstakingly sifted from records compiled when the opposing armies marched across the landscape from March 29 to July 4, 1863. The accurately detailed maps provide a superior depth of understanding into campaign events and help illustrate why the commanders made the decisions they did—decisions which have often been portrayed in other campaign monograms as being baffling or highly questionable. As Grabau ably reaffirms, when the events of time, space, and motion are examined on a reconstructed, geographically accurate, chess board the "opaque" decisions made by combatants become "astonishingly transparent."
Where this book truly excels is in illuminating the minute details of war: the decisions of Grant and Pemberton as they struggle to tackle both the environment and their opponent, the day-to-day pressures of army command, the lives of the soldiers both rank and file, and the ever-present Mississippi loess soil combine to form a vivid picture of the war in Mississippi. A useful technique employed throughout the book is to present each sequence of the unfolding campaign, as viewed from both the Union and Confederate perspectives, at the moment a tactical or strategic decision is made and as events unfold. If a decision was made while soldiers labored to negotiate a muddy road or struggled to cross a rain-swollen creek, the author examines the effect such terrain and weather problems had on the decisions being made. This permits the reader to examine complex logistical details and situation analysis from a combatant's point of view. It is a narrative style that significantly enhances our understanding of the actions and reactions, moves and countermoves, of the opposing armies and their commanders.
The book offers meticulous detail, from names of military units to commanders and battle actions, and offers explanations on specific topographic, hydrographic, geologic, or other situational factors as introductions to developing both the National and Confederate viewpoints. Grabau even offers geologic detail on the clay [End Page 195] content of...