Book Review
By
General Parker Hills

Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg
Timothy B. Smith

(New York, NY: Savas Beatie, 2004), 592 pages, Foreword, Preface and Acknowledgments, Maps, Photographs, Order of Battle Appendix, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Visit www.savasbeatie.com/Champion Hill.html to view book excerpts and author interview or to purchase a signed copy for $34.95

 


Timothy B. Smith is the author of This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Mississippi State University and is a staff member of Shiloh National Military Park.

Author: Timothy B. Smith is the author of This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Mississippi State University and is a staff member of Shiloh National Military Park.

Precis: This work centers on the nationally significant Civil War battle of Champion Hill, and has detailed maps on that battle to illustrate the complexities of combat. The first four chapters are a general discussion of Grantís Vicksburg Campaign of late 1862 and early 1863 with campaign and battle maps. Chapters 5-12 discuss the Battle of Champion Hill on May 16, 1863, with maps of that battle. Chapter 13 briefly discusses the Battle of Big Black Bridge on May 17, as well as the climactic siege of Vicksburg.

Thesis: The Battle of Champion Hill was the pivotal battle of the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863, and as General Ulysses S. Grant stated, ďThe fate of the Confederacy was sealed when Vicksburg fell.Ē However, despite the strategic significance of this battle, the ridge known as Champion Hill and the adjoining area is virtually without battlefield interpretation signage today. The Battle of Champion Hill--in fact, the entire Vicksburg Campaign--suffered almost instant obscurity due to the events of the succeeding months of 1863. After Champion Hill on May 16, the fortress city of Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863, but the surrender (of not only the city but an entire Confederate army) was immediately overshadowed by the sanguinary three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, and Lincolnís Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. In order to help provide the Battle of Champion Hill its proper place in history, this work discusses that battle in detail. It also covers more than the action on the field by discussing the underlying personality conflicts between some of the commanders.

Place of Book Within the Field: The Battle of Champion Hill (often mistakenly referred to as Championís Hill) first received serious detailed discussion with Edwin C. Bearssí three volume work published in 1986, The Vicksburg Campaign. In Chapters XXX-XXXIV of Volume II (83 pages on Champion Hill with six battle maps) Bearss discusses the events surrounding the battle, as well as the battle itself. Bearssí monumental work assembled the vast puzzle of events discussed in primary accounts principally located in the three Volumes 24 of the Official Records, and complemented these accounts with information from soldiersí diaries and regimental histories. Even though written on the entire Vicksburg Campaign, Bearssíwork provided the benchmark for the future interpretation of the Battle of Champion Hill.

In 2000 Warren C. Grabauís Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographerís View of the Vicksburg Campaign provided a refreshingly different viewpoint of the same campaign in a less-detailed manner. Grabau, in the mold of Count Belisarius, views strategy as ďa sort of applied geography.Ē Ninety-Eight Days covers the days of Grantís final offensive, which officially began on March 29, 1863, with strong analysis of the events and decisions made by the commanders of both armies, stressing the influence of geography on the movements of armies, as well as its influence on the rivers and, thus, the routes of the Union navy. In Grabauís work, 50 pages and eight maps are dedicated to Champion Hill.

Even though both Bearss and Grabau cover the Battle of Champion Hill with excellent detail and maps, their works were not, by design, dedicated to that one battle. Other recent works on the Vicksburg Campaign, such as 2003ís concise and historically correct Vicksburg is the Key by William Shea and Terrence Winschel, and 2004ís well-written Vicksburg: The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi by Michael Ballard, are again, campaign works, with a single chapter devoted to Champion Hill. Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg, on the other hand, allocates 279 of its 592 pages and 31 of its 39 maps specifically to the battle of May 16, 1863. This important Civil War battle deserves the attention given it by this book.

Critique: Dr. Smithís work on the Battle of Champion Hill offers new detail and information that enhances the understanding of the Vicksburg Campaign events of May 15-16, 1863. The meat of the book begins in Chapter 5, where the author shines, and the Battle of Champion Hill is discussed crisply and with detail. Conversely, Chapters 1-4 discuss the Vicksburg Campaign preceding Champion Hill, and contain several misconceptions: one being that Grantís initial two-pronged coordinated attack on Vicksburg was planned as two independent actions.

But Champion Hill is the title of the book, and it is in the discussion of that battle that the book qualifies as a valuable asset to the history of the Vicksburg Campaign. The feud between Confederate Generals John Pemberton and William Loring is examined, but with a twist that includes General Lloyd Tilghman as a factor in the equation. This examination of negative interpersonal relationships is alone worth the price of the book. The roles and relationships of the Union generals are also accurately discussed. General John McClernand, often vilified by historians for his lack of aggressiveness at Champion Hill (a position propounded by Grant in his 1885 Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant), is accurately portrayed by the author as an aggressive commander hampered by restrictive orders and communication difficulties. Discussed in detail is the loss of the principle of Unity of Command in Confederate General Abraham Bufordís brigade when the 12th Louisiana and 35th Alabama regiments were ordered to other parts of the field by General Pemberton and General John Bowen without Bufordís knowledge.

The battle accounts include numerous heretofore unpublished primary accounts which add color to the action. The pages on the battle are liberally complemented by maps which focus on the portion of the field in discussion at the time. Thus, the complicated battle action is easily understood. The bibliography is impressive, and the author made liberal use of unpublished manuscripts and obscure, but important, primary sources. The final chapter refreshingly discusses the fate of the commanders after Champion Hill. There is an Order of Battle Appendix, and, as a bonus, the author included a section of modern photographs of the battlefield and related sites. The Index to the work is organized and useful. The book does have some editing oversights to include map errors. For example, Map D on page 11 places Yazoo City on the site of Haynes Bluff and Fort Pemberton on the Sunflower, rather than the Tallahatchie, River.

In 1929 J. F. C. Fuller succinctly analyzed the strategic significance of the pivotal battle of the Vicksburg Campaign: The drums of Championís Hill [sic] sounded the doom of Richmond. Tim Smithís scholarly work, with its vivid primary source battle descriptions and ample visual aids, ably portrays the events on which General Fuller made his analysis.

 


Parker Hills has conducted scores of military staff rides since he organized and conducted the first one in Mississippi in 1987. His audiences have included general officers, commanders of various levels, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers to include U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets), Army Rangers, U.S. Marines, and British soldiers. He has traveled the nation to conduct these staff rides, as well as to England at the request of Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. He has also conducted dozens of civilian tours of battlefields for non-profit organizations involved in  Book Store, and is a regular speaker at Civil War Roundtables,  Book Store groups, civic clubs and seminars.

During his 31 years as a Regular Army and National Guard officer, he served in various command and staff positions, and founded and served as the first Commandant of the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy (R.C.T.A.) at Naval Air Station in Meridian, Mississippi. Hills retired with the rank of Brigadier General in May, 2001. He served as president of an advertising agency for 15 years in Jackson, Mississippi, and established Battle Focus upon his military retirement in 2001. He holds a bachelor's degree in Commercial Art; a Master's Degree in Educational Psychology; is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College; and is the author of A Study in Warfighting: Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Brice's Crossroads.

E-Mail: parker@battlefocus.com
Web Site: www.battlefocus.com


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