"The Final Fortress" tells the story of the campaign for Vicksburg in detail enriched by a very readable style. Author Samuel Carter III records the activities of generals, privates and civilians.
High on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, traffic could navigate the river only with the Vicksburg's sufferance. The campaign for Vicksburg was a two pronged attack from land and water. Navy vessels coming from both down river and up from New Orleans provided transportation and artillery support for the Union troops. The Navy's runs of the gauntlet past the guns of Vicksburg are examples of the bravery which was common place in those days.
In the narrative of this battle, the reader meets such familiar characters as Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, John A. Logan, David Farragut, David Porter, Joseph Johnston, John Pemberton and Arthur Freemantle. The feel of battle is drawn from the memoirs and letters of common soldiers and helpless civilians.
The battle started out with Grant trying to dig a canal in order to approach the city. When that failed he crossed the river, attacked Jackson and invested the Vicksburg on three sides, with the watery limits controlled by the Union Navy under Porter. Confederate Commander in Vicksburg, Lt. Gen. John Pemberton, was torn between two superiors, Gen. Joseph Johnston, who ordered him to evacuate Vicksburg and join up with Johnston to save the army, and President Jefferson Davis, who ordered him not to yield. Throughout the campaign, the wildcard was whether Johnston would come to the aid of the city. When he did not, the defenders' fate was sealed. When the fighting east of Vicksburg had spent its fury, the defenders retreated to a perimeter outside of the city while the attackers settled into an ever tightening siege.
The siege brought new suffering for soldiers and civilians alike. The besiegers had the discomfort of summer Mississippi heat and rebel bullets. To this was added Confederates privation and Union shelling, both from land and river. Prices rose and commerce slowed while the residents sought safety in newly dug caves. Ultimately it was shortages of food and ammunition which brought Vicksburg to its knees.
This is a story of courage and suffering spirit and disappointment. There are glimpses of the intangibles which played a role in the outcome of the battle. On the pages of this book we read of Southern suspicion of Pemberton, the Pennsylvania native, and binge drinking by Grant. Bantering and exchanges between the warriors present the human style of the battle. The reader is invited to identify with these soldiers who fought so long ago. I read this in connection with a trip to Vicksburg. I visited the monument to my great-great-grandfather's unit and saw his name in the Illinois Monument. This book deepened my appreciation for what he and his comrades endured.
Although occurring at the same time of Gettysburg, Vicksburg was, arguably, the more important to the outcome of the war. In fact, Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania was, in part, intended to draw pressure off of Vicksburg. Vicksburg was truly a worthy contributor to the Glorious Fourth of 1863. Any student of the Civil War, or the War Between the States, must understand Vicksburg. "The Final Fortress" is a great aid to that understanding.