Book Review: Bayou Battles for Vicksburg: The Swamp and River Expeditions, January 1-April 30, 1863


by Timothy B. Smith

Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2023. Pp. xxviii, 526. Illus., maps, appends, notes, biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN: 0700635661

Grant’s Unsuccessful Winter and Spring efforts to bypass Vicksburg

This is the fourth of Dr. Smith’s five-volume treatment of the Vicksburg campaign, covering events from the failure of U.S. Grant’s attempts to advanced down the Mississippi Central Rail Road and the Chickasaw Bayou operation. In this volume he deals with Grant’s efforts to bypass Vicksburg by building canals and the Lake Providence, Yazoo Pass, and Steele’s Bayou operations in winter and early spring of 1863.

In discussing these operations, Smith gives us a strong description of the many geographic and climatic difficulties faced by the army.

Success came when Rear Adm. David Porter, with whom Grant worked quite smoothly, ran the batteries at Vicksburg with warships and transports. This permitted Grant’s troops on the west bank of the Mississippi to cross to the eastern bank below Vicksburg, enabling him to approach the city from the south and east, encircling it and commencing a long siege, covered in Smith’s fifth volume.

The book demonstrates that Grant was adaptable, Smith writing “Grant showed he was flexible by throwing away the playbook, and worked out a new way of reaching Vicksburg.” Smith sees Grant's series of ventures as low-risk undertakings that expended relatively limited resources while holding out realistic possibilities of success. He notes that had Grant failed to take Vicksburg, he would probably have lost his command.

Smith also stresses that Lincoln showed a great deal of patience with Grant during the campaign during those four months in early 1863, while Halleck was losing patience.

Naturally, Smith’s perspective tends to be Unionist, but he does an excellent job of examining the Confederate side, which had its own difficulties, notably failures in policy and strategy. Smith argues that Lt. Gen. John Pemberton put up a tough defense and had some success early in 1863, when he had more time to react to Grants moves. But his orders were to hold Vicksburg, which ultimately was lost, along with his army. Pemberton's immediate superior, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, did not offer sufficient support, believing that he could not effectively protect both the Mississippi Valley and Tennessee fronts simultaneously,

Bayou Battles for Vicksburg, a volume in the Kansas series “Modern War Studies,” is highly recommended, especially for anyone interested in the war in the West.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, Man of Fire, To the Last Extremity, Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", Vol. 2, Outwitting Forrest, All That Can Be Expected, Force of a Cyclone, Lincoln and Native Americans, Detour to Disaster, Lincoln in Lists, A Wilderness of Destruction, Twelve Days, The Civil War Memoirs of Captain William J. Seymour, Stay and Fight it Out, Calamity at Frederick, John T. Wilder, The Sergeant: The Incredible Life of Nicholas Said, Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks, Brigades of Antietam, Lee Invades the North, From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton’s Regulars, Our Flag Was Still There, Never Such a Campaign, The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, from the Gettysburg Retreat through the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, Longstreet: The Confederate General Who Defied the South, and Unforgettables.


Note: Bayou Battles for Vicksburg is also available in e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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