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Born to Battleexamines the Civil War's complex and decisive western theater through the exploits of its greatest figures, Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest. These two opposing giants squared off in some of the most epic campaigns of the war, starting at Shiloh and continuing through Perryville, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga-battles in which the Union would slowly but surely divide the western Confederacy, setting the stage for the final showdowns of the bloody, protracted conflict. Grant is widely regarded as the man most responsible for winning the war for the Union, Forrest as the Confederacy's most fearsome defender in the West. Both men had risen through their respective hierarchies thanks to their cunning and military brilliance, and despite their checkered pasts. Grant and Forrest were both "lower"-born officers who struggled to overcome particular, dubious reputations (Forrest's as a semi-literate rustic and Grant's as a doltish drunkard). In time, however each became renowned for his intelligence, resourcefulness, and grit. Indeed, as Hurst shows, their familiarity with hardship gave both men a back-against-the-wall mindset that would ultimately determine their success-both on the battlefield, and off it. Beginning with the Union victory at Tennessee's Fort Donelson in February 1862 (when Grant handed the Union the largest force ever captured on American soil, refurbishing his reputation and earning himself the nickname "Unconditional Surrender Grant"), Hurst follows both men through the campaigns of the next twenty months, showing how this critical period-and these two unequaled leaders-would change the course of the war. Again and again, Grant's hardscrabble tactics saved Federal forces from the disastrous decisions of his fellow commanders, who seemed unable to think outside of the West Point playbook. Just as often, Forrest's hot temper and wily, frontier know-how would surprise his Federal adversaries and allow him to claim astonishing victories on behalf of the Confederacy. But as Grant pressed south and east over the course of these twenty months, routing Confederate forces at such critical strongholds as Corinth, Vicksburg ("Gibraltar of the Mississippi"), and Chattanooga, the systemic differences between the North and South began to tell. The more inclusive, meritocratic Union allowed Grant to enter into the military's halls of decision, whereas the proudly aristocratic Confederate high command barred Forrest from contributing his input. As Hurst vividly demonstrates, that disparity affected, and possibly dictated, the war's outcome. Thoroughly disgusted with his disdainful superiors and their failure to save his home state of Tennessee from the clutches of the Union, Forrest eventually requested a transfer to a backwater theater of the war. Grant, by contrast, won command of the entire Union army following his troops' stunning performance at Chattanooga, and would go on to lead the North to victory over the forces of another exceptional Southern general: Robert E. Lee. An utterly American tale about class, merit, and their role in one of the most formative wars in the nation's history,Born to Battleoffers an impassioned account of two visionary Civil War leaders and the clashing cultures they fought-in some cases, quite ironically-to protect. Hurst shows how Grant and Forrest brought to the battlefield the fabled virtues of the American working-class: hard work, ingenuity, and intense determination. Each man's background contributed to his triumphs on the battlefield, but the open-mindedness of his fellow commanders proved just as important. When the North embraced Grant, it won a stalwart defender. When the South rejected Forrest, by contrast, it sealed its fate.
Amid the aristocratic ranks of the Confederate cavalry, Nathan Bedford Forrest was untutored, all but unlettered, and regarded as no more than a guerrilla. His tactic was the headlong charge, mounted with such swiftness and ferocity that General Sherman called him a "devil" who should "be hunted down and killed if it costs 10,000 lives and bankrupts the treasury." And in a war in which officers prided themselves on their decorum, Forrest habitually issued surrender-or-die ultimatums to the enemy and often intimidated his own superiors. After being in command at the notorious Fort Pillow Massacre, he went on to haunt the South as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.Now this epic figure is restored to human dimensions in an exemplary biography that puts both Forrest's genius and his savagery into the context of his time, chronicling his rise from frontiersman to slave trader, private to lieutenant general, Klansman to -- eventually -- New South businessman and racial moderate. Unflinching in its analysis and with extensive new research, Nathan Bedford Forrest is an invaluable and immensely readable addition to the literature of the Civil War.From the Trade Paperback edition.
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