Isbell, Timothy T. Vicksburg: Sentinels of Stone. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS. 2006. 170 pages, color photos, index, bibliography, website listing. ISBN 1578068401 $40.
As the Civil War worked its way through the third year both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis understood the importance of Vicksburg and control of the Mississippi River to the ultimate winning of the war. Lincoln is quoted as saying "Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket." He also believed "As valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg will be more so." Davis believed Vicksburg to be "the nailhead that held the South's two halves together."
As we all know after failed attempts to win the city Ulysses S. Grant lay siege to Vicksburg and after a brutal 47 day term Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863. In total approximately 29,500 men and their arms were lost. Coupled with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg the day prior and the fortunes of the Confederacy were in rapid decline.
Timothy Isbell has produced an interesting book on the Vicksburg battlefield and the monuments that now dot the landscape. Part history and part coffee table book at first I was not quite sure which way to take the book. Ultimately I think it is really more a coffee table/photo book and looking at it that way it succeeds for the most part. In 170 pages we have 85 full page color photos. On the opposite page from each photo we have a brief essay discussing the photo and what it is or describing the person pictured.
The photos are beautiful. Many were attempts at "art" it appears. There are extreme close-ups of statues such as on page 60 of William Loring, or there are attempts at showing depth such as on page 68 for the Men of West Virginia. There are photos were taken at different times of day and the sky shows colors that are unbelievable (were some photoshopped--maybe but I don't know). Then there are photos that are really "normal" such at the Bethel Church on page 47 or perhaps the monument to Isaac Quinby shown on page 121.
The essays are brief, as mentioned, one page. This makes it easy to pick up and put down this book. As for the scholarship of the writing I am not knowledgeable enough on the battle to comment fairly. I did find them to be easily readable and that they reinforced each other well.
An area of concern for me however was that there is no map of the area included. In a large coffee table book such as this a nice fold out map should have been included. In addition, the photos are just kind of put out there. There appeared to be no particular order to them. They weren't alphabetical nor were they grouped by subject. If they are by location there is no way to know. The photos aren't given any kind of location information. A big help would be GPS coordinates or at least road names or directional information. I know a book of this size is not something you would take with you on the battlefield but readers who have never been to Vicksburg might make notes from it.
Well constructed and beautiful to look at this is a book that would make a nice addition to many Civil War libraries. It is also the type book that many tourists might be interested in taking back as a souvenir though the price tag might make it a bit out of range. As a photography book this is top notch but as a history of the battle/siege you would be better off looking elsewhere.
For more information on Vicksburg National Military Park visit their website here. Also, visit the Civil War Trust's page for Vicksburg here. They have lots of links, photos, maps, reading ideas, and more.