by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
Recently I attended a meeting where the guest speaker was Samuel W. Mitcham Jr., who has been a history professor at several colleges here in the South. He has written several books about World War 2, and also some about the War of Northern Aggression. Years back he did one about Richard Taylor and the Red River Campaign here in Louisiana that I loved. A couple years ago he did a biography of Nathan Bedford Forrest which I have not gotten around to yet but will add it to my list.
Just this year he has gotten a new book published about the Vicksburg Campaign which I was able to get a copy of and I’m now working my way through it. Eventually, I hope to do a regular book review of it, but right now I just want to pass along some of Mr. Mitcham’s observations while they are fresh in my mind, as well as adding a bit of my own commentary.
I’ve been to the battlefield at Vicksburg twice over the years and don’t recall learning as much on those trips as I have gotten from Mr. Mitcham’s book. I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but the battlefield at Vicksburg always seemed like a dreary place. The fact that it rained both times we were there, sometimes quite hard, might have had something to do with it. We ended up going over the battlefield “between the rain drops” as it were. Then, too, it might be what Vicksburg represents to me, and others I have spoken with–part of the death knell of the old Confederate States, which, though they never officially surrendered, were not able to win the day either. And the ensuing “reconstruction” period after the War (which continues in various forms until this very day) has been the most shameful period in this country’s history.
Going over the battlefield, even with listening to the narrative tape they let you borrow at the visitor center, doesn’t give you the whole history of what went on there and now, with all the political correctness (cultural Marxism) going on today, you might get even less of the real history than we did years ago.
Mr. Mitcham noted in his book that, during 1862-63, there were ten separate attempts by the Union to take Vicksburg. He details them all. The battles at Port Hudson, Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, Raymond, Champion Hill, and others were all major parts of the Union campaign to take Vicksburg.. They did it from different areas, in different stages, but it was all part of the Yankee/Marxist plan to reduce Vicksburg and render the Mississippi River unusable to the Confederacy, thus cutting the Confederacy in half and separating the trans-Mississippi area from that part of the Confederacy east of the river.
As I’ve read in other places, doing this accomplished several things for the Yankee/Marxists. Lots of cotton moved south through Texas, across the Rio Grande into Mexico, where ships the Union blockade couldn’t touch anchored at or near Matamoras. Many of these ships picked up cotton and off-loaded guns, new Enfield rifles from England, as well as powder and ammunition and other goods needed in the South that couldn’t make it there because of the Union blockade. This material was then freighted up out of Mexico into Texas and from there shipped east as needed. But this could not aid the Confederacy as a whole if this war material could not get across the Mississippi to the Confederate States east of the river.
Over the years I have read many comments about General John Pemberton who was in overall command in Vicksburg. Many of these comments would lead you to believe that General Pemberton, who was Northern-born, was a weak and ineffective general and that’s why Vicksburg fell. Mr. Mitcham presents Pemberton in a much more positive light, and he goes into the fact that, had General Joe Johnston been more willing to help Pemberton with reinforcements Vicksburg might not have suffered the fate it did. Johnston had reinforcements he could have sent, but he vacillated until it was too late for them to do any good.
All things considered, with what General Pemberton had to work with, as far as troops, and very diverse personalities in the commanders serving under him, he probably did as well as anyone could have. He wasn’t perfect. None of us are. But he was not the bumbling ineffective personality he has been made out to be. I would not want to be dealt the hand Pemberton was dealt and then be forced to try to make a go of it.
Mitcham’s approach to the Vicksburg Campaign is anything but politically correct. He notes in several places in the book how the Yankee/Marxists plundered and destroyed private property and how, in many cases, they just outright stole everything that was not nailed down. And if they couldn’t steal it they destroyed it!
He noted their, in most cases, brutal incivility, toward all Southerners, black as well as white–and when it came to raping Southern women, the Yankee troops were “equal opportunity” rapists. They didn’t care about color–only sex! He noted in one place where a Southern woman demanded to know of Yankee soldiers if they had come south to free the slaves.They just laughed! They thought that idea was ludicrous!
Mr. Mitcham also observed how Sherman treated Southerners and how he loved to find some reason, any reason, to burn property, private as well as military. I have often contended that Sherman was a pyromaniac, and Mitcham’s book does nothing to change my mind.
He also commented how, in many cases, some Confederate generals would not cooperate with or help one another when the chips were down, and there were some important battles that were lost because one general couldn’t be bothered sending some of his men as reinforcements to another general to assure a victory. There were little, individual fiefdoms that had to be protected–even if you lost the country doing it. And you could always write a book later on, blaming the general you refused to help (preferably after he was dead) for losing the War because he didn’t have enough men on hand to win a particular battle.
Anyway, this is enough to give you a small taste of what Mr. Mitcham had to say about Vicksburg, along with my own commentary on what he said. Hopefully when I finish the book I can do a regular review, but you can tell from this much that Mr. Mitcham has really written an interesting book–one I recommend.