Time Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1997. 10 1/4 x 10 1/4, hardcover with dust jacket, 168 pages, illustrated, index. Brand new condition.
This book is by and of the soldiers and civilians who experienced the struggle for Vicksburg. Through their words and images you can relieve the intense emotions, the terrifying rush of events, the horrors- and even the humor- of this protracted, bloody campaign. You hold in your hands an album of personal recollections, embellished with drawings, maps, photographs of artifacts, and especially, images of the people.
To compile this special volume, we combed hundreds of sources, both published and unpublished. We had invaluable help from a network of consultants. Using our own diverse resources and historical materials in libraries and archives around the United States, we were able to assemble a dramatic narrative told from many perspectives: manuscript letters and journals- some previously unpublished- regimental histories and privately printed memoirs, articles in little known historical society publications, and more. Then we set about the painstaking task of locating photographs of these soldiers and townsfolk to accompany their personal accounts.
That so many firsthand accounts survived is due to a few accidents of history. Soldiers could mail a letter home for only three cents. And the mail systems set up by the opposing armies were amazingly reliable. A surprising number of recruits could write, and write vividly. Lieutenant Samuel H.M. Byers of the 5th Iowa Infantry, on the fierce fighting of Champion's Hill, said: "Pretty soon a musket ball struck me fair in the breast. I am dead, now, I said, almost aloud. It felt as if someone had struck me with a club. I stepped back a few paces and sat down on a log to finish up with the world...My emotions I have almost forgotten. I remember only that something said to me, It is honorable to die so. I had not a thought of friends, or of home, or of religion. The stupendous things going on around me filled my mind."
Field sketches abound, too. Before photoengraving was developed to reproduce photographs in newspapers and magazines, periodicals such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly employed artists who traveled with the army to depict events for readers. These correspondents drew virtually everything of possible interest: battles, lounging soldiers, the odd piece of equipment. Sketches dashed off in a few minutes during a battle- often at great personal peril- were taken by courier to the publication, where they were transformed into woodblock engravings suitable for printing.
Another element that adds to the unique texture of this album is the photographs. Technical innovations during the 1850's brought the fledgling craft into its own, and the Civil War was the first in history to be extensively recorded by the camera. In the blockaded South, photographers lacked supplies and equipment and rarely covered the action. The North's activities, by contrast, are well chronicled, thanks to the efforts of men who endured great hardship. Photographers like Mathew Brady and his assistants spent months following the army, etching with light the brave faces of the soldiers, as well as the bodies stiffened on the field.
So here you find living testimony of the grim, drawn-out struggle for the geographic linchpin of the Confederacy. As you look into the eyes and read the words of the soldiers who fought over Vicksburg, and the townsfolk who endured in the midst of the strife, perhaps it will be possible to understand the extremes of emotion to which combatants and civilians alike were pushed.
Cover Photograph: Union bombproofs and dugouts riddling the once beautiful grounds and bountiful gardens of Wexford Lodge on the outskirts of Vicksburg typify the underground shelters resorted to by people on both sides during the 47 day siege of that key Mississippi city.
Cover quotation: "War, terrible war, had come to our very hearthstone." Alice Shirley.