The Warrior Generals

Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant are the household names of the American Civil War: all of us have heard of them and most have an opinion of their qualities as men and as generals. Other generals of that conflict, such as John Hood or George Thomas, have faded into the mists of history while most, including once famous paladins as Francis Barlow and John B. Gordon, have disappeared to all but the specialist or the devotee.

These six are resurrected from their oblivion in Thomas Buell’s outstanding work, THE WARRIOR GENERALS: COMBAT LEADERSHIP IN THE CIVIL WAR, which gives the reader an intense, unflinching view of the Civil War as it unfolded in all its chaos and fury to those who were charged to be in command—but who were all too often at the whim of events.

Here are Barlow and Gordon, now almost unknown generals, one Federal, the other Confederate, who emerge as talented, dedicated and even gallant warriors whose enmity during battle was fittingly matched by their friendship before and after the war. John Bell Hood, last and youngest full general of the Confederacy, makes his appearance, losing an arm, a leg and finally an entire army from his blind belligerence. He is counterpoised by the steady and far-sighted George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” whom Buell presents as probably the finest overall general of the entire war.

Finally, the most intriguing resurrections are those of Lee and Grant, the classic antagonists in the American ILIAD. Despite their successes and their subsequent myths, Buell sees both as deeply flawed and does not stint from an unsparing but richly documented assessments of their campaigns.

In all, THE WARRIOR GENERALS is that rarest of works: a book about the American Civil War which says something fresh and new.