A Chain of Thunder

Written by Jeff Shaara
Review by John Kachuba

Jeff Shaara once again visits the battlefields of the Civil War in this novel, this time recounting the siege of Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863. General Ulysses S. Grant understands the importance of capturing Vicksburg for the Federals; it is the last remaining impediment to complete Federal control of the Mississippi River. If he can capture the city, Grant will have cut the Confederacy in half and will have isolated the eastern war zone from much-needed supplies from the west. But the defenders of Vicksburg are a stubborn lot, and Grant is forced to lay siege to the city.

Shaara’s books have always been more about the people that live the events rather than the events themselves. It comes as no surprise that in this book he reveals not only the viewpoints of the military leaders on both sides such as Grant, Sherman, Pemberton, and Johnston but also those of the ordinary people, the soldiers that battle for the city and the citizens of Vicksburg that bear the brunt of battle. Using primary sources to great advantage, the voices of these people come across to the reader as poignantly clear as they did 150 years ago.

Fritz Bauer, a Federal sharpshooter serving in the 16th Wisconsin regiment, tells much of the soldiers’ story. In contrast to Bauer’s story of fighting and waiting out a siege is the story of Lucy Spence, a young resident of Vicksburg. Amid the hardships of famine, disease, and destruction visited upon the city, she finds a useful purpose serving as a nurse to wounded soldiers and civilians alike.

Shaara’s historical accuracy is faultless, and he tells a good story. Clearly, his formula for sold historical fiction is working yet once more.