A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg (the Civil War in the West)

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9780449008652: A Chain of Thunder: A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg (the Civil War in the West)
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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 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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About the Author:

Jeff Shaara is the New York Times bestselling author of A Blaze of Glory, The Final Storm, No Less Than Victory, The Steel Wave, The Rising Tide, To the Last Man, The Glorious Cause, Rise to Rebellion, and Gone for Soldiers, as well as Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure—two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic, The Killer Angels. Shaara was born into a family of Italian immigrants in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University. He lives again in Tallahassee.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

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 barbarity 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 understand that the civilians would be buoyed by a party, a show of defiance toward the ever-present gunboats. Though the attendance was not as large as the major had hoped, the air of protest was there still, and like the others who attended the ball, the young Miss Spence thought it entirely appropriate that the townspeople make some effort to improve their own morale. Since Christmas, most of the people had gone about their business as though nothing were really happening upriver, as if the Yankees were there just for show, a protest of their own. Businesses continued to operate, the markets mostly able to stock their shelves, citizens freely traveling to the countryside. Even the occasional bombardments were part of the routine, and for the most part the damage had been minimal, the shelling more random than targeted. Like Lucy, most of her neighbors had sought the protection of Providence, that if a shell was to find them, it would be the hand of God and not the unfortunate aim of some devilish Yankee gunner. After all, the people of Vicksburg had done nothing to deserve such violence.
 
She watched her young lieutenant across the room, was disappointed to see a glance at a pocket watch. The music began to slow, and the atmosphere in the grand room was growing heavy with shared sleepiness. It was, after all, near ten o’clock, far beyond the bedtime of even the young.
 
Lucy felt the same weariness, suppressed a yawn, heard the talk around her, much as it had been all evening. The young women spoke of those things Lucy had kept mostly to herself: who among the men in their gray finery were the best dancers, the most handsome, who had embarrassed himself by enjoying a bit too much wine. She held quietly to the warm glow that came from the single dance with her lieutenant, that it was her young man who outshone them all. She wondered about Louisiana, not the swamps that spread out for miles across the river, but down south, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, sophisticated places she could only imagine. Surely he was from the cities, she thought, a cultured man, familiar with music and libraries, perhaps from a military academy. Her imagination was fed by the sleepiness, and she blinked hard, fought to keep anyone from noticing that, saw him glance at his watch again, a scowl on his face. Then he glanced toward her, and she looked away, then back, wanted to smile, held it, scolded herself. He was speaking to another officer now, a captain, both men showing regret that this one beacon of color and gaiety had to come to an end. He began to move toward her, and her heart jumped, a blend of hope and alarm that he might ask to escort her home. She felt a slight shiver, and he seemed to hesitate, gathering courage of his own.
 
And now came a large thump of thunder, a jolt in the floor beneath her feet, the chandelier quivering, the entire room suddenly motionless. Another rumble came, but it was not close. She saw the lieutenant looking past her and realized he was staring toward the river, where the army had anchored its largest guns. Now the firing thundered closer, the officers speaking up, calming voices, that it was their own guns, not the enemy. To one side a door burst open, an older officer moving in quickly, searching, finding Major Watt, a quick word between them. Watt turned to them all and gained their attention.
 
“I regret,” he said, “this ball has concluded. The Yankee boats are coming downriver, and you must retire to your shelters. Do not hesitate. Officers, report immediately to your posts.”
 
There was authority in his words, and the men were quick to move, filing toward the wide entranceway, already disappearing into the darkness. She caught sight of the lieutenant, but he did not look back, and she pushed that from her mind, rose up with the other women, some of the officers lingering, standing to one side, allowing them to pass. There were questions, but no panic, so many of the civilians having experienced all of this before. Major Watt stood by the door, still their host, and offered a smile, pleasantries to the women, with the slight edge of firmness.
 
“Go on home, now. We shall deal with the Yankees. This has been a most pleasant evening. It shall be still, if our artillerymen have their way.”
 
She passed the major, was outside now, a cool night, no moon, a hint of lantern light from the homes that lined the street. But quickly those grew dark, the usual caution, no needless targets offered to any Yankee gunner who might be telescoping this very place. She stepped onto the hard dirt, being careful to avoid the ruts from wagon wheels, and heard the talk around her in hushed excitement. She felt it as well, that there was something different about this assault. She looked in every direction, still no shells coming into the town, the sounds all toward the river. The soldiers were mostly gone, with only a few, the usual guards drifting past, offering assistance if any was required. Lucy saw a cluster of women moving uphill, not toward their homes, but toward the magnificent vantage point, what they all called Sky Parlor Hill. It was the highest point in the city, a knob of land the width of two city blocks, and during the daytime it was the most popular place for couples to gather, for picnics and courtship.

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