As the forward in the book points out, the American Civil War provides the perfect setting for a story in which human drama, history, geography, and dedication to one’s principles are involved. Though we now know, the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery was being phased out across the planet, in the American south there was abundant rationalization for its retention, and through the course of the story we see members of our cast of characters altering their allegiances for a variety of reasons.

As pointed out in several places, gradual decline of the southern economy was ongoing and inevitable given the existing mindset. What seems most tragic today, is the effect the war had on that decline, primarily caused by the inflexibility of the politicians and some of the landed gentry to accept change.

Though it isn’t material to this story, students of the Civil War may wonder, as I did, why it was so difficult for General Grant, with all the strength of his Army of the Mississippi to invade and conquer Vicksburg, Mississippi. Confederate General Pemberton made repeated pleas for reinforcements for his position there, but not getting any help, he still held out for months. Why was that?

A visit to Vicksburg reveals the reasons. The prevailing winds, there are from the west, picking up dust from the vast expanse of the plains. Then, crossing the Mississippi, where moist air rises and traps the particles of dust from the air, those dust particles are randomly deposited east if the river, resulting in hills and valleys so steep that they can’t be scaled without great expenditure of time and effort. As a result, the terrain surrounding Vicksburg is so steep that resisting any assaulting army is like shooting fish in a barrel . . . virtually!

Siege and starvation were Grant’s only effective means of succeeding, and he used them wisely.