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In May 1863, after months of hard and bitter combat, Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at long last successfully crossed the Mississippi River. They forced the remnants of Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton’s army to retreat to Vicksburg, burning the bridges over the Big Black River in its path. After sustaining heavy casualties in two failed assaults against the rebels, Union soldiers lost confidence and morale. Grant decided to lay siege to the city, trapping soldiers and civilians alike inside an iron ring of Federal entrenchments. Six weeks later, the starving and destitute Southerners finally surrendered, yielding command of the Mississippi River to the Union forces on July 4—and marking a crucial turning point in the Civil War.
Best-selling author Jeff Shaara draws on meticulous research in a discussion of the key actions and decisions of the commanders on both sides of this pivotal battle: on one stand the emerging legend Grant and his irascible second William T. Sherman; on the other, the Confederate commanders Pemberton and Joseph Johnston. He also provides a portrait of some less-known individuals whose lives were altered by the siege, such as the youthful “grunt” Pvt. Fritz Bauer and 19-year-old Lucy Spence, a civilian trying to survive in the besieged city.
Shaara’s book, A Chain of Thunder (Ballantine), a work of historical fiction on the Vicksburg Campaign, is available for signing after the program.
View a lithograph of the Siege of Vicksburg in the American History Museum’s collection.
S. Dillon Ripley Center Lecture Hall
1100 Jefferson Drive, SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Blue/Orange lines)