The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862–1863: Leadership Lessons. By Kevin J. Dougherty. (Philadelphia, PA: Casemate, 2011. Pp. 240. $32.95.)
Article first published online: 13 MAR 2013
© 2013 Phi Alpha Theta
Volume 75, Issue 1, pages 139–140, Spring 2013
How to Cite
Fuller, A. J. (2013), The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862–1863: Leadership Lessons. By Kevin J. Dougherty. (Philadelphia, PA: Casemate, 2011. Pp. 240. $32.95.). Historian, 75: 139–140. doi: 10.1111/hisn.12004_14
- Issue published online: 13 MAR 2013
- Article first published online: 13 MAR 2013
This short volume is a splendid example of how military history manages to appeal to a broad audience and reach across the boundaries of traditional fields of interest to draw in new readers. Kevin J. Dougherty, a retired army officer who now teaches at The Citadel, turns his military historian's eye to the Vicksburg campaigns, a topic often relegated to a secondary status behind the more famous Battle of Gettysburg. Historians usually agree that Vicksburg was strategically important, and when combined with the Union victory at Gettysburg, it marked a turning point in the conflict that redefined the nation. But too few scholars have examined the long months of planning, maneuvering, and fighting that led to the result at Vicksburg. In just over two hundred pages of text, Dougherty summarizes the campaigns and offers insights into a variety of leadership decisions that not only contributed to the historical outcome in Mississippi but also have application in present-day military, political, and business situations. He argues that the Union victory at Vicksburg, like the outcome of many other Civil War battles, can be “explained by one side's superior leadership over the other” (7). Ultimately, “Vicksburg was decided as much if not more by the leadership differential between Major General Ulysses Grant and Lieutenant General John Pemberton as it was by the troops they led” (7).
In the first section of the book, “Understanding Vicksburg,” Dougherty briefly outlines the context of the Vicksburg campaigns. He discusses the training of officers at West Point and summarizes the organization of the armies during the Civil War, explaining the ways in which the military context set both the “Capabilities and Limitations” for individual leadership decisions (19). He discusses the men in the ranks, the terrain around Vicksburg, and the events that led to the Union victory. Although the brevity of the book makes it more accessible, a more detailed history would better serve most readers.
In the second section, Dougherty makes his main contribution to the historical literature, using thirty separate vignettes to draw leadership lessons from the officers who made decisions during the campaigns for Vicksburg. These short vignettes, usually about five pages long, illustrate how individuals can be both agents of history and victims of circumstance, as some decisions turned the course of events while others demonstrated how difficult it can be to escape the reality of context. Again, brevity lends itself to readability, but it sacrifices the kind of depth that would make the author's arguments more persuasive. Familiar figures like Grant, Sherman, Pemberton, and Forrest are included, along with more obscure individuals like Zedekiah McDaniel and John Gregg. Each vignette closes with a boxed section entitled “Takeaways,” with a bullet-point list of leadership lessons to be learned and applied by the reader. Historically speaking, the Union won at Vicksburg, and though Dougherty admits that “[m]en on both sides exhibited innovative problem-solving, personal bravery, and technical skill,” he concludes that “the Federals excelled the Confederates in most aspects of leadership at Vicksburg” (197).