Born to Battle
Grant and Forrest: Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga: The Campaigns that Doomed the Confederacy
Basic Books, New York, 2012, 512 pages
Book Review published on: June 2, 2017
Born to Battle is a concise historical biography of two of the most extraordinary and nonaristocratic generals of the American Civil War with included analysis of the three most important battles that doomed the confederacy. Jack Hurst vividly and historically describes the events of the battles of Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga through the perspective of Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest from April 1862 to February 1864. The author has written a thoroughly researched and historically detailed Civil War book. This book is relatively long but historically concise, with over 417 pages and an additional fifty pages of notes and references.
Most Civil War military historians will appreciate the details of this book, but Hurst’s intent is to tell the unique story about the personal and military lives of Grant and Forrest. Hurst abbreviates the personal lives of Grant and Forrest through early childhood, civilian, and early military careers but writes with exceptional historical clarity on the exact actions during the battles of the Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga and after their outcomes.
Hurst’s main theme throughout the book is that the Southern West Point aristocratic military leaders failed the South and prevented victory in key battles especially Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Hurst also describes how Northern elitist officers did everything they could to prevent Grant from succeeding and winning the war sooner. He clearly blames the West Point political military machine for causing the additional years of war. Hurst severely criticizes the many Northern officers from West Point as blue-blooded classists who could not be adaptive, flexible, or show any initiative unless it came from the curriculum of West Point. Hurst describes how the teachings of West Point professors in reference to military tenets went right over the heads of students who were self-serving aristocrats like Braxton Bragg and Henry Halleck.
The book clearly describes the difficult military service that Grant and Forrest faced daily by not coming from a socially elite class, and how they had to work against the aristocratic elitist officers to win the war instead of receiving credit or fame like their fellow officers. Both men proved to be exceptional combat commanders, but sometimes their worst enemies were not the opposing force but their fellow military officers. Both of these men conducted some the most difficult fighting in the Civil War, which caused their superiors to have a distaste for success instead of letting them achieve more victories. Grant’s famous quote provides a clear conviction, “War means fightin’ and fightin’ means killin,” which was a clear distinction from the West Point theorist minimal mind-set of an academic exercise.
Hurst successfully, and with an acute historical background, tells the unlikely story of two lower-societal men who in spite of the national military culture became two of the most legendary generals of the Civil War. He clearly tells the true story of both sides of military elitism and how it cost the South any chance of victory. Born to Battle encompasses the quality of leadership values and duty that are relevant today, especially with the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan generalship. I highly recommend this book for those interested in Grant and Forrest, and especially those interested in the battles of Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Paul Berg, PhD, U.S. Army, Fort Rucker, Alabama