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  • Thunder across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February 1863–May 1863
  • Brett J. Derbes
Thunder across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February 1863–May 1863. By Donald S. Frazier. (Buffalo Gap, Tex.: State House Press, 2011. Pp. 630. Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 9781933337449, $59.95 cloth.)

Control of the Mississippi River was a crucial element of the Union strategy to divide and ultimately defeat the Confederate States of America. The western [End Page 210] frontier states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas supplied a significant amount of manpower, livestock, sugar, corn, and cotton crucial to maintaining Confederate forces on both sides of the great river. In early February 1862, Union forces captured Forts Henry and Donelson, and by late April Major General Benjamin F. Butler occupied New Orleans. During the spring of 1863, domination of the Pelican State became a major military objective of the Union army and navy.

Thunder across the Swamp examines the offensive struggles against fog, mosquitoes, cane fields, bayous, sandbars, and swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin by Union and Confederate forces during the Teche Country Campaign. Author Donald S. Frazier is a professor of history at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. He consulted northern and southern archives, including the personal library of William T. Shinn, which became part of the Young-Sanders Center in Franklin, Louisiana. Frazier utilized official government records, more than thirty manuscript collections, and eighteen newspapers to express the personal experiences of soldiers engaged in the 1863 campaign across western Louisiana.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks was expected to cooperate with other Union military leaders, including Admiral David D. Porter, Admiral David G. Farragut, and General Ulysses S. Grant, in a campaign that could have determined the outcome of the war. Farragut declared, “We must beat them in the end, but we must do it by poking them, butting them wherever we see them. . . . I am sick of hearing my officers talk of cotton-clad boats and impregnable rams” (69). Banks’s opponents, Confederate Generals Richard Taylor, Alfred Mouton, Henry H. Sibley, and Thomas Green clashed with incoming department commander General Edmund Kirby Smith, who appeared primarily concerned with maintaining control in Arkansas. Texan soldiers recorded their observations of luxurious plantations in “frog eating country,” including Private Henry Wright of Company F of the 4th Texas Infantry who wrote, “The Louisianans don’t like Texans, but prayed for a few more when they found the Yankees coming” (107).

Battles at Bisland, Irish Bend, Vermillion Bay, Opelousas, Fort DeRussy, and Alexandria resembled the violent “cat and mouse” movements of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign in Virginia. As Union artillery pushed further into Louisiana along roads, tributaries, and rivers their thunderous cannons were increasingly heard across the swamp. On May 1, 1863, Banks issued General Orders Number 40, which created the Corps d’Afrique composed of eighteen regiments of emancipated slaves who served as an army of occupation. Banks successfully scattered Taylor’s army by penetrating deep into Confederate controlled western Louisiana, but his indecision and lack of cooperation with Grant, Farragut, and Porter created a “cloud of confusion” that forced the Army of the Gulf into a destructive retreat in support Union operations against Port Hudson and Vicksburg (475).

Frazier’s Thunder across the Swamp is a valuable addition that provides a detailed account of the 1863 Union efforts in western Louisiana. The author includes myriad pictures, brief biographical notes, illustrations, and maps that assist readers in visualizing the people, places, ships, and troop movements. The absence of introductory and concluding chapters does not inhibit or detract from the overall value of this book. Frazier crafted an excellent companion to his award-winning Fire in the Cane Field: The Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861–January 1863 (State House Press, 2009) for the Louisiana Quadrille series. [End Page 211]

Brett J. Derbes
Auburn University


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