The latest martial history from Leckie (Delivered from Evil, 1987, etc.), whose penchant for finding the small human touches in every great conflict is given free rein in this lengthy rehash of the War Between the States. Appropriating America's brief war with Mexico in 1847 as his point of departure, since it was a proving ground for many future generals of both sides, Leckie offers a capsule summary of other significant events paving the way for the bloodbath that began soon after the secession of South Carolina, including John Brown's nefarious nocturnal activities and the fateful election of 1860. Major and minor battles from Fort Sumter to Appomattox are fully detailed, with emphasis on tactics, troop movements, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of leaders in the field. Many prominent figures in the conflict come alive in thumbnail biographies, so that Lincoln's shrewdly homespun manner can be dramatically juxtaposed to Jefferson Davis' genteel vanity; or so that Grant's patient, determined maneuvering against Lee's masterful blend of defense and attack can be understood as the outgrowth of prewar experience. While political and social considerations have a lesser place in the narrative, secondary to the fire and ice, the smoke mid deadly glories of the battlefield, there is compensation in the skillful rendering of a vast pas de deux of opposing armies--usually accompanied by intimate, personal tragedies such as that of the Union soldier whose last diary entry read: ""June 3, Cold Harbor. I was killed today."" A solid popular history, dramatic and thorough, but with nothing substantially new to offer.