Grant is widely regarded as the man most responsible for winning the war for the Union, Forrest as the Confederacy s most fearsome defender in the West. Both men had risen through their respective hierarchies thanks to their cunning and military brilliance, and despite their checkered pasts. Grant and Forrest were both lower -born officers who struggled to overcome particular, dubious reputations (Forrest s as a semi-literate rustic and Grant s as a doltish drunkard). In time, however each became renowned for his intelligence, resourcefulness, and grit. Indeed, as Hurst shows, their familiarity with hardship gave both men a back-against-the-wall mindset that would ultimately determine their successboth on the battlefield, and off it.
Beginning with the Union victory at Tennessee s Fort Donelson in February 1862 (when Grant handed the Union the largest force ever captured on American soil, refurbishing his reputation and earning himself the nickname Unconditional Surrender Grant ), Hurst follows both men through the campaigns of the next twenty months, showing how this critical periodand these two unequaled leaderswould change the course of the war. Again and again, Grant s hardscrabble tactics saved Federal forces from the disastrous decisions of his fellow commanders, who seemed unable to think outside of the West Point playbook. Just as often, Forrest s hot temper and wily, frontier know-how would surprise his Federal adversaries and allow him to claim astonishing victories on behalf of the Confederacy. But as Grant pressed south and east over the course of these twenty months, routing Confederate forces at such critical strongholds as Corinth, Vicksburg ( Gibraltar of the Mississippi ), and Chattanooga, the systemic differences between the North and South began to tell. The more inclusive, meritocratic Union allowed Grant to enter into the military s halls of decision, whereas the proudly aristocratic Confederate high command barred Forrest from contributing his input. As Hurst vividly demonstrates, that disparity affected, and possibly dictated, the war s outcome. Thoroughly disgusted with his disdainful superiors and their failure to save his home state of Tennessee from the clutches of the Union, Forrest eventually requested a transfer to a backwater theater of the war. Grant, by contrast, won command of the entire Union army following his troops stunning performance at Chattanooga, and would go on to lead the North to victory over the forces of another exceptional Southern general: Robert E. Lee.
An utterly American tale about class, merit, and their role in one of the most formative wars in the nation s history, "Born to Battle" offers an impassioned account of two visionary Civil War leaders and the clashing cultures they foughtin some cases, quite ironicallyto protect. Hurst shows how Grant and Forrest brought to the battlefield the fabled virtues of the American working-class: hard work, ingenuity, and intense determination. Each man s background contributed to his triumphs on the battlefield, but the open-mindedness of his fellow commanders proved just as important. When the North embraced Grant, it won a stalwart defender. When the South rejected Forrest, by contrast, it sealed its fate."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-03-12
- Reviewer: Staff
Hurst (Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography) juxtaposes Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest during the period when each began demonstrating the abilities that made them respected opponents. They first faced each other at Shiloh in April 1862. By the summer of 1863, Forrest had developed a reputation as the western Confederacy’s “wizard of the saddle,” master of the lightning strike and the long-distance raid. Grant was established as an artist of maneuver. His feints and slashes had confounded his opponents and culminated in the capture of Vicksburg. At Chattanooga he showed he could fight and win a head-to-head battle as well. Making sophisticated use of archival and printed sources, Hurst maintains that the marginalization of Forrest, a blacksmith’s son, by a Confederacy insisting on “blue-blood leadership” was “a chief cause of the Confederacy’s death.” The Union, by contrast, made effective use of the equally lowborn and unpolished Grant. Both, Hurst asserts, exemplified the common men who did most of the war’s dying. Both understood what soldiers could do in particular situations. And both were accustomed by peacetime hardship to the fears and anxieties of wartime command. The comparison, if not entirely convincing, is original and provocative. Photos. Agent: Deborah Grosvenor, Grosvenor Literary Agency. (June)