Every year on July 4 the United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain in 1776. One hundred fifty years ago the American Civil War was raging across the breadth of the eastern half of the nation. Ironically, the two battles that provided the turning point of that war were decided on July 3-4, 1863, the nation’s 87th birthday. In the West, the siege of Vicksburg was ending, guaranteeing the United States armed forces would have control of the Mississippi River, splitting the Confederacy in half; in its aftermath, a whole Confederate army surrendered. In the meantime, the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg was the site of a furious battle between Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Meade’s Army of the Potomac. When the smoke cleared after three days, over 7700 soldiers were dead, 27,000 wounded, 11,000 missing and the southerners were retreating back across the Potomac.
The Fontana Regional Library system has a number of books on the Civil War in general and in particular the events leading to the surrender of Vicksburg and the Battle of Gettysburg. Some of these are listed here and below: Battles and Leaders of the Civil War contains articles on each battle, originally published in Century Magazine, written by participants twenty years after the fact. Vol. 3 of this title has articles on both battles. In Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, A Narrative, Vol. 2 contains a chapter each on Vicksburg and Gettysburg.
The late Bruce Catton, the author of the Centennial History of the Civil War, entitled his third volume of that work, Never Call Retreat. His other general history of the Civil War is This Hallowed Ground, the story of the Union side of the conflict. Both of these books have chapters on Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Catton also wrote the last two volumes of a three volume military biography of Ulysses S. Grant; Grant Moves South, narrates the Vicksburg campaign from Grant’s point of view.
There are other sources relating to the Federal attempt to capture Vicksburg. The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, written late his life when he was dying of cancer and edited by Mark Twain, is one. At least two other writers has published books on the Vicksburg campaign. While Winston Groom is generally known as fiction writer, his Vicksburg 1863 has garnished good reviews. Military historian James R. Arnold’s book is entitled Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg.
The accidental meeting of the two armies at Gettysburg has generated more books than the conflict on the Mississippi River. In addition to the books above, here are others focusing on the battle in the small Pennsylvania town: Gettysburg, 1863, High Tide of the Confederacy by Carl Smith, is well illustrated with photographs and maps. Albert A. Nofi’s book, The Gettysburg Campaign, is similar, but has biographical sidebars and others with interesting facts about the battle. The Voices of the Civil War series has volume devoted to Gettysburg filled with excerpts of letters, diaries, and other documents pertaining to the battle.
If the books listed above are not enough and you want to get in to the heart of the battles, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, generally known as the Official Records or OR. These volumes are now online and searchable. Vicksburg is in Volume 34, Gettysburg in Volume 37.
I almost forget: Seven score and ten years ago Abraham Lincoln dedicated the cemetery, the hallowed ground where those who lost their lives at Gettysburg to save their country lie buried; he said “… that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Gary Will’s book, Lincoln At Gettysburg, narrates the story of one famous speeches in a America History.
Next month is the 150th anniversary of both battles and the National Park Service is hosting a number special events, listed on their websites, to celebrate that milestone. You can log in to the Vicksburg Military Park ‘s website at http://www.nps.gov/vick/index.htm. Gettysburg’s is http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm.