- The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaignby Timothy B. Smith
In this volume, Timothy B. Smith examines the multiple social, familial, political, and military factors that shaped Ulysses S. Grant's decisions during [End Page 705]the Vicksburg campaign of 1862–1863. While traditional accounts of the Civil War in Mississippi have focused purely on military and political considerations, Smith's work examines the more intimate aspects of Grant's life in order to better understand why and when he made the choices that he did. Smith argues that the Vicksburg campaign determined the outcome of the Civil War and that Grant's decisions determined the course of that campaign.
To demonstrate its thesis, the book is divided into eight chapters, each of which centers on one of the eight major choices that Smith argues Grant made during the campaign. The book makes extensive use of Grant's memoirs, the recollections of the general's colleagues, and the Official Recordsto reconstruct Grant's thought processes during the Vicksburg operations. The book also relies heavily on Grant's personal papers and the memoirs of his eldest son, Frederick, to reveal the general's less-studied familial life and concerns for his family.
The Decision Was Always My Own: Ulysses S. Grant and the Vicksburg Campaignconvincingly portrays the complexity of Grant's life as he attempted to command a major military operation while simultaneously coping with political considerations and the cares and duties of a husband and father. Smith shows how the general deftly handled difficult subordinates, family members, and logistical problems. By viewing operations entirely from Grant's perspective, Smith maintains the fog of war, providing readers with only the information Grant himself possessed, and thus avoids charging the general with oversights and errors for which he could not have accounted.
Smith's analysis of the negotiations for the surrender and subsequent parole of the Army of Vicksburg exhibits Grant's delicate position. The book summarizes Grant's anxiety over a possible Confederate effort to relieve the beleaguered garrison, the Confederate commander at Vicksburg's attempts to stall the surrender proceedings, and the political backlash that followed Grant's decision to parole the Confederates he captured rather than shipping them elsewhere to be formally exchanged. Such details are often considered anticlimactic in the aftermath of the battles and sieges of the Civil War, but Smith shows how complicated they actually were.
Despite the above strengths, The Decision Was Always My Ownsuffers from several shortcomings. By focusing so heavily on Grant's eight major decisions as the decisive factors in the campaign, the work leaves little agency to the Confederate commanders in Mississippi and Louisiana. Generals Joseph E. Johnston, John C. Pemberton, Theophilus H. Holmes, and Richard Taylor either are never mentioned in the text or appear as merely passive subjects waiting for Grant's next brilliant decision to leave them stunned and their forces defeated. Acknowledging the military ineptitude of Grant's opponents would allow the general's decisions to be placed in better context.
The book does not maintain its emphasis on Grant's decision making. Most glaringly, at several points Smith departs from General Grant entirely to recall the misadventures of his son Frederick, whose antics put him in personal danger but occurred largely without his father's knowledge. The book reads in many places like a biography of Ulysses Grant, overlooking the general's failings while relating every aspect of his life, no matter how relevant to the campaign. Finally, while this work claims that Grant's decisions were crucial to capturing Vicksburg, it seldom enumerates the alternative choices the general faced at any [End Page 706]point during his army's operations, leaving the reader with the impression that Grant's choices were not only correct but also obvious.
Overall, while this book reveals the complexity of Civil War command, it does...