Kirkus Reviews QR Code
BORN TO BATTLE by Jack Hurst

BORN TO BATTLE

Grant and Forrest--Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga

By Jack Hurst

Pub Date: June 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-465-02018-8
Publisher: Basic

A lively narrative of the Civil War's Western theatre, too often overshadowed by the better known armies and battles in the East. 

Historian Hurst (Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest, and the Campaign That Decided the Civil War, 2007, etc.) continues the work he began in Men of Fire, following the careers of Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest from Shiloh to the defense of Chattanooga. These biographies appear together in support of his thesis that both generals were of working-class origin but "Northern inclusiveness permitted the rise of Grant...while Southern insularity predestined the Confederacy to squander the brilliance of Forrest, whose fertile brain and vicious valor might have helped fashion an opposite outcome." This appears to be a stretch, however; it is not clear that given greater command, Forrest could have done more to turn the Union tide. Further, Grant was a West Point graduate, while Forrest was a nearly unlettered former slave trader who spoke "primitive English." These differences would have been significant in any officer class, but Forrest nevertheless achieved the rank of major general. He appears here as a brilliant, determined, crude and insubordinate warrior, chafing under snubs from the aristocratic Gen. Braxton Bragg, who considered him "nothing more than a good raider" despite his spectacular exploits against superior forces. Grant, the stolid but surprisingly resourceful commander, suffered under similar prejudices on the part of his superior, Gen. Henry Halleck, but ultimately brought Halleck around through battlefield success and their shared opposition to the scheming politician Gen. John McClernand. Hurst amply illuminates the misery visited upon Tennessee and Mississippi as the armies moved back and forth across the land, along with the backbiting, blunders and inflated egos that abounded in both armies.

Particularly recommended for fans of the controversial Forrest.