Book Review by Roy E. Perry: “A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg” by Jeff Shaara

 Jeff Shaara--Chain

Editor’s Note: Roy E. Perry reviewed books for “The Tennessean” and Nashville Banner” for more than thirty years. “Underground Nashville” is always proud to post Mr. Perry’s latest book review.  


Lincoln once said, “The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.” The “key” was Vicksburg, Mississippi. Considered by some to be an impregnable fortress, Vicksburg, controlling the flow of traffic on the Mississippi River, was of vital importance to both North and South.

In A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg (2013), Jeff Shaara presents a captivating Civil War narrative which, although fictional, is solidly based on historical research. In fascinating detail, he chronicles the nearly-seven-week siege—May 19, 1863 (some authorities say May 22) through July 4—of “The Gibraltar of the West,” and the city’s ultimate surrender to the Union army.

Chapter titles alternate between Ulysses S. Grant; his three Corps commanders (William T. Sherman, James B. McPherson, and John A. McClernand); General John C. Pemberton, C.S.A.; Fritz “Dutchie” Bauer, of the 16th (later the 17th) Regiment of Wisconsin Volunteers; and Lucy Spence, 19, an endearing Southern belle who volunteers as a nurse ministering to the sick, wounded, and dying soldiers.

In the Afterword, Shaara writes: “The 1986 edition of the United States Army’s Field Manual on Operations describes Grant’s campaign thus: ‘His operations south of Vicksburg fought in the spring of 1863 has been called the most brilliant campaign ever fought on American soil.’” It was indeed a bold and brilliant campaign.

After several failures to attack Vicksburg from the north, Grant decided to have his troops run the gauntlet past the Vicksburg batteries and cross the river south of the city. He dared cut his army adrift from its base of supplies and “live off the land,” as Sherman did later in his famous (infamous?) march from Atlanta to the sea. Grant first turned east, capturing Jackson, the state capital, and then turned west toward Vicksburg. Met by the Confederate forces under Pemberton, the Union army fought the Battle of Champion Hill (a.k.a. Baker’s Creek) and the Battle of the Big Black River. Then, proceeding farther west, they surrounded Vicksburg with “a chain of thunder,” a nine-mile ring of artillery that bombarded the city with cannon fire.

Starvation caused desperation. After the Rebel troops exhausted their rations, they were reduced to eating their own mules. The citizens of Vicksburg, living in caves dug in the hillside, ate “squirrel stew,” dogs, and rats. After more than six weeks of siege, on July 4, 1863 (the same day the three-day battle of Gettysburg ended in Robert E. Lee’s retreat), Pemberton surrendered the 29,500 men under his command.

Sherman enthused, “The best Fourth of July since 1776!” And Lincoln, rejoicing that the Mississippi River was now entirely under Union control, remarked, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”


Jeffrey M. “Jeff” Shaara’s other Civil War novels include Gods and Generals (1996), The Last Full Measure (1998), A Blaze of Glory (2012), The Smoke at Dawn (2014), and The Fateful Lightning (2015). He also is the author of Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields.

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at and Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer. ************

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit:


Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit (link below) and consider making a financial contribution. Any amount is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you.


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.” Dave Carew



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