The Civil War's western theater is the focus of this vivid history by the author of Forrest Gump (1986). A southerner whose great-grandfather was involved in the events depicted, Groom focuses on the Confederate side of the conflict and the rebels' last great offensive push to drive Federal forces from their soil. The center of the story is Southern general John Bell Hood. A flamboyant and aggressive leader, Hood fought at Antietam and Gettysburg, lost a leg at Chickamauga, and was for a time presumed dead, but he went on to become a lieutenant general. When Sherman, on his march to the sea, ordered the expulsion of the populace from Atlanta, Hood fired off a searing series of letters to his former colleague, challenging Sherman to fight and declaring that it was better to ""die a thousand deaths"" than to live under Yankee tyranny. Abandoning the defensive posture of his predecessor in command of Georgia, he vigorously attacked Sherman but was repulsed and forced to retire to Atlanta. Hood again suffered defeat at Franklin, Tenn., where he was so moved by the carnage that he broke down and wept, but he kept on coming. He moved on Nashville in a last desperate flourish, but on December 16, 1864, his forces were routed by Union troops under General George Thomas. At his own request, Hood was then relieved of his command. Five days later, Sherman captured Savannah, and the last gasp of Southern offensive was over. With the skill of a mature novelist and an eye for detail, Groom manages to imbue Hood's futile and awful efforts with the dignity and nobility of medieval chivalry. Highly readable and intensely evocative, a fine addition to the growing body of literature about the western war, once largely a forgotten footnote to the ""real"" action in the East.