A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg

A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg

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by Jeff Shaara
     
 

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Continuing the series that began with A Blaze of Glory, Jeff Shaara returns to chronicle another decisive chapter in America’s long and bloody Civil War. In A Chain of Thunder, the action shifts to the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. There, in the vaunted “Gibraltar of the

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Continuing the series that began with A Blaze of Glory, Jeff Shaara returns to chronicle another decisive chapter in America’s long and bloody Civil War. In A Chain of Thunder, the action shifts to the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. There, in the vaunted “Gibraltar of the Confederacy,” a siege for the ages will cement the reputation of one Union general—and all but seal the fate of the rebel cause.
 
In May 1863, after months of hard and bitter combat, Union troops under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant at long last successfully cross the Mississippi River. They force the remnants of Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s army to retreat to Vicksburg, burning the bridges over the Big Black River in its path. But after sustaining heavy casualties in two failed assaults against the rebels, Union soldiers are losing confidence and morale is low. Grant reluctantly decides 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 surrender, yielding command of the Mississippi River to the Union forces on July 4—Independence Day—and marking a crucial turning point in the Civil War.
 
Drawing on comprehensive research and his own intimate knowledge of the Vicksburg Campaign, Jeff Shaara once again weaves brilliant fiction out of the ragged cloth of historical fact. From the command tents where generals plot strategy to the ruined mansions where beleaguered citizens huddle for safety, this is a panoramic portrait of men and women whose lives are forever altered by the siege. On one side stand the emerging legend Grant, his irascible second William T. Sherman, and the youthful “grunt” Private Fritz Bauer; on the other, the Confederate commanders Pemberton and Joseph Johnston, as well as nineteen-year-old Lucy Spence, a civilian doing her best to survive in the besieged city. By giving voice to their experiences at Vicksburg, A Chain of Thunder vividly evokes a battle whose outcome still reverberates more than 150 years after the cannons fell silent.

Praise for A Chain of Thunder
 
“[Jeff] Shaara continues to draw powerful novels from the bloody history of the Civil War. . . . The dialogue intrigues. Shaara aptly reveals the main actors: Grant, stoic, driven, not given to micromanagement; Sherman, anxious, high-strung, engaged even when doubting Grant’s strategy. . . . Worth a Civil War buff’s attention.”Kirkus Reviews
 
“Searing . . . Shaara seamlessly interweaves multiple points of view, as the plot is driven by a stellar cast of real-life and fictional characters coping with the pivotal crisis. . . . [A] riveting fictional narrative.”Booklist

“Shaara’s historical accuracy is faultless, and he tells a good story. . . . The voices of these people come across to the reader as poignantly as they did 150 years ago.”—Historical Novels Review

“The writing is picturesque and vibrant. . . . [an] engrossing tale.”—Bookreporter

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Shaara (A Blaze of Glory, 2012, etc.) continues to draw powerful novels from the bloody history of the Civil War, offering here an account of the siege of Vicksburg. Analyzing what historians call the "brilliant and innovative" campaign to secure the Mississippi River for the Union, Shaara rides into the camps of Grant and Sherman and lurks with Pemberton, the general charged with the Confederate's linchpin defense. Shaara also follows Lucy Spence, young resident of besieged Vicksburg, and Fritz Bauer, Wisconsin infantryman and Shiloh veteran. Apart from the occasional anachronism--"jerk" as a denigration in 1863?--the dialogue intrigues. Shaara aptly reveals the main actors: Grant, stoic, driven, not given to micromanagement; Sherman, anxious, high-strung, engaged even when doubting Grant's strategy; Pemberton, a ditherer, caught between the conflicting demands of his personal enemy Joseph Johnston and his personal friend Jefferson Davis, beset by disobedient underlings, and perceived disloyal because of his Pennsylvania origins. Diagrams deconstruct the initial steps in Grant's end-run campaign, the naval bombardment, the bloody battle prior to the siege and the subsequent trench warfare. Shaara writes competently of the "fog of war," the inevitable confusion made worse during that period by lack of secure communication. The best of Shaara's work comes as he follows Spence and Bauer. Spence evolves believably from a sheltered young woman to a gore-stained, dedicated nurse and, amid Shaara's graphic descriptions of combat, Bauer holds hard to his fragile courage and learns to kill, becoming a coldblooded sharpshooter. A sesquicentennial series volume worth a Civil War buff's attention.
From the Publisher
Praise for A Chain of Thunder
 
“[Jeff] Shaara continues to draw powerful novels from the bloody history of the Civil War. . . . The dialogue intrigues. Shaara aptly reveals the main actors: Grant, stoic, driven, not given to micromanagement; Sherman, anxious, high-strung, engaged even when doubting Grant’s strategy. . . . Worth a Civil War buff’s attention.”Kirkus Reviews
 
“Searing . . . Shaara seamlessly interweaves multiple points of view, as the plot is driven by a stellar cast of real-life and fictional characters coping with the pivotal crisis. . . . [A] riveting fictional narrative.”Booklist

“Shaara’s historical accuracy is faultless, and he tells a good story. . . . The voices of these people come across to the reader as poignantly as they did 150 years ago.”—Historical Novels Review

“The writing is picturesque and vibrant. . . . [an] engrossing tale.”—Bookreporter

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345527387
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/21/2013
Series:
Civil War in the West Series
Pages:
592
Sales rank:
174,126
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

9780345527387|excerpt

Shaara / A CHAIN OF THUNDER

CHAPTER ONE

SPENCE

VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI

APRIL 16, 1863

The ball was a glorious affair, the Confederate officers in their finest gray, adorned with plumed hats and sashes at their waists. There was dancing and a feast of every kind of local fare, even the wine flowing with no one's disapproval. By ten o'clock, most of the older citizens had retired, the senior officers gone as well, offering the reasonable excuse that there were duties to perform, an early morning that would come too soon. Those who remained were the young and the unmarried, no one among them objecting to that. The music continued, more lively now, the quartet of violinists respecting the youth in the room, waltzes that brought the officers closer to the young women, hands extended, those girls who had caught the eye, whose furtive glances spoke of flirtation, the daring willingness to accept the invitation of a young man who had the courage or the skills to lead a dance.

As the night wore on, and the matrons drifted away, Lucy had allowed herself a single dance, had caught a beaming smile from a young lieutenant, one of the Louisiana regiments. She knew nothing of a soldier's life, what authority he carried, but the face was handsome, a firm jaw and bright blue eyes, clean-shaven, the young man's hand extended toward her with smiling optimism, hinting of hope. She knew he had been watching her for most of the evening, and she had smiled at him once, was immediately embarrassed by that, quick glances to be certain that none of the others noticed. But now, as the energy of the ball rose with the youthfulness of those who remained, so too did her courage. And, apparently, his.

The waltz they danced to had been familiar, the violins doing admirable service with a pleasing rhythm that seemed to intoxicate her, the young officer admirably graceful. The couple was one of a half dozen who moved with elegance across the floor, but it ended too soon. With visible regret, the lieutenant had done what was required, had properly escorted her back to one side of the room, where the ladies sat, the officers returning to their own station, closer to where the wine flowed.

She sat, maneuvering the wide hoops of her finest gown, still glancing at the other girls, the rivalry they all observed. Such occasions were rare now. The welcome invitation had come from Major Watt, the officer spreading word that a gala was well deserved. But many stayed away, a gloomy acceptance that perhaps this kind of frivolity was not yet appropriate, not with the Yankees so close. For months now, the citizens had endured shellfire, Federal gunboats with the audacity to throw their projectiles into the city itself. Most of those boats were anchored far upriver, and the officers in the town boasted of that, that Federal sailors knew they could not match the enormous power of the guns dug into the hillsides across the riverfront. But still the shells came, and many of the civilians had heeded the advice of the army's senior commanders, had begun to move out of their homes, digging themselves into caves and caverns, most dug by the labor of Negroes.

The first serious violence had come close to Christmas, and the customary Christmas ball had been rudely preempted by one of the first great assaults, what so many of the townspeople described as the bar- barity of the Yankees, their utter disregard for simple courtesy, for the sacred observance of Christmas ritual. Major Watt seemed to recognize that as well, and with the warmer weather came the army's gift to the town, driven by the kindness of this one major, who seemed to...

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR JEFF SHAARA’S ACCLAIMED CIVIL WAR NOVELS
 
Gods and Generals
 
“Powerful . . . Though the story of the Civil War has been told many times, this is the rare version that conveys what it must have felt like.”—Chicago Sun-Times
 
“Compelling . . . a work of vivid drama and skill.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
The Last Full Measure
 
The Last Full Measure is more than another historical novel. It is rooted in history, but its strength is the element of humanity flowing through its characters. . . . The book is compelling, easy to read, well researched and written, and thought-provoking. . . . In short, it is everything that a reader could ask for.”—Chicago Tribune
 
“Masterful . . . These characters come alive as complex, heroic, and flawed men.”—The Baltimore Sun
 
A Blaze of Glory
 
“Brilliant . . . riveting . . . a work to be embraced.”—Bookreporter
 
“Dynamic portrayals [of] Johnston, Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.”—The Wall Street Journal

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