I have always been a Civil War nut – it is the era that started me on my lifelong love of history. My most recent read, Born to Battle: Grant and Forrest–Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga by Jack Hurst, examines the two generals that had commoner roots. Hurst not only examines their military records in the three battles, but also their struggle against the West Point elite (in the case of both men) and the aristocratic antebellum slave owners (in the case of Forrest).
Hurst alternates chapters between Grant and Forrest. He discusses both generals’ roles in the various campaigns – the only one of the three battles covered that both men participated in was Shiloh. Thus, two of the three battles essentially are about Grant’s actions, but Hurst includes discussions of Forrest’s actions during the time period of the respective battle and how his actions affected the Union’s movements. For example, while Grant was trying to take Vicksburg, Forrest was in Tennessee disrupting the railroads and capturing or destroying supply depots for the Union. These Forrest raids caused some supply issues for Grant in the Vicksburg vicinity.
I think that Hurst provides a balanced analysis of each man. For example, Hurst does not sweep Grant’s purported drinking problem away. He states that Grant had a problem, but did not drink alcohol to excess during a campaign. As an example, Grant was sober during the Vicksburg campaign, but shortly afterward he injured his leg while riding a horse drunk. Hurst also discusses Forrest’s legendary temper and insubordination. Hurst explains that Forrest’s insubordination only flared when he was frustrated with his superiors’ continual disrespect or inane orders. His practical ideas did not always fit well with the “trained eye” of the West Pointers.
Hurst provides an excellent overview of two of the best generals on either side of the Civil War. He brings forth his points in a succinct manner that keeps the reader intrigued throughout the book.