Cover image for Crucible of commmand : Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee -- the war they fought, the peace they forged


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E467 .D33 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Popular Materials-Biography

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They met in person only four times, yet these two men--Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee--determined the outcome of America's most divisive war and cast larger-than-life shadows over their reunited nation. They came from vastly different backgrounds: Lee from a distinguished family of waning fortunes; Grant, a young man on the make in a new America. Differing circumstances colored their outlooks on life: Lee, the melancholy realist; Grant, the incurable optimist.

Then came the Civil War that made them both commanders of armies, leaders of men, and heroes to the multitudes of Americans then and since who rightfully place them in the pantheon of our greatest soldiers. Forged in battle as generals, these two otherwise very different men became almost indistinguishable in their instincts, attributes, attitudes, and skills in command.

Each the subject of innumerable biographies, Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee have never before been paired as they are here. Exploring their personalities, their characters, their ethical and moral compasses, and their political and military worlds, William C. Davis, one of America's preeminent historians, uses substantial, newly discovered evidence on both men to find surprising similarities between them, as well as new insights and unique interpretations on how their lives prepared them for the war they fought and influenced how they fought it.

Crucible of Command is both a gripping narrative of the final year of the war and a fresh, revealing portrait of these two great commanders as they took each other's measure across the battlefield with the aid of millions of men.

Author Notes

William C. Davis is the author or editor of more than fifty books in the fields of Civil War and Southern history, as well as numerous documentary screenplays. A three-time winner of the Jefferson Davis Award, given for book-length works in Confederate History, he was senior consultant for the A&E Network's 52-episode documentary series Civil War Journal . He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and serves on several other consultative bodies. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A well-regarded historian of the Civil War, particularly of the Confederacy, Davis compares the conflict's two most famous generals. Declaring that his work is not a dual biography of Grant and Lee, Davis casts it as a parallel portrait of their personalities and characters as men and military commanders. He relies on primary sources, such as family correspondence and Grant's and Lee's contemporaneous records. Presenting Lee as ever conscious of redeeming his family's name, which his father's scandals had tarnished, Davis securely anchors Lee to his Virginian home, slavery included. Grant, too, had a difficult father, but one who supported his son, sending him to West Point. From these hearthside influences, Davis follows their army careers, identifying command traits that the Civil War revealed. That exploration is central to Davis' sifting of their letters and reports, and it furnishes his audience with evidence to view whether Grant's repute as a capable but limited general and Lee's renown as being akin to a military genius are justified. A solid pick for the Civil War collection.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2015 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The two great opposing generals of the Civil War, who had both served in the Mexican War 15 years earlier, were largely active on different fronts and met only at Appomattox (and briefly at the White House four years later). Davis, a specialist in Civil War and Southern history, focuses on their respective military styles, largely by examining particular campaigns, though he also looks at their personalities and early achievements or failures. In the process, he draws a multi-dimensional portrait of each man, succinctly capturing their particular skills, and uncovers some little-known facts: at the Battle of Gettysburg, "Lee maintained only moderate control of his army," and "in more than a dozen instances... his orders were not obeyed," while in May 1865, the magnanimous Grant intervened with President Andrew Johnson to save Lee from civil prosecution. Davis also examines some of the larger issues with which each man struggled, such as the growing problem of desertion near the war's end, which hastened the demise of the Confederate Army. This meticulously researched, well-written book greatly enriches our understanding of each of these extraordinary figures and of the terrible war in which they fought. Agent: Jim Donovan, Jim Donovan Literary. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Davis (The Pirates Laffite) compares the experiences and leadership styles of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) and Robert E. Lee (1807-70) in this dual biography. Grant fought with an optimistic confidence in his ability to change the American Civil War, while Lee showed a spirit of pessimistic fatalism. Grant's confidence led him to underestimate the enemy at times but ultimately brought him victory, while Lee's fatalism ironically freed him to take incredible risks that frequently resulted in battlefield successes, but in the end, contributed to his defeat. Davis debunks many of the myths surrounding the two generals and treats both fairly. A typical chapter describes what the men did during a certain period, offers critiques of their mistakes, and praises their successes. During most of their lives-even during the Civil War-the generals had very little to do with each other; however, the comparisons between the two are helpful for understanding the general sensibilities of North and South. VERDICT Accessible to all readers, this history will appeal to anyone who enjoys comparative biography. Lee and Grant viewed the war very differently and Davis only touches on whose perspective was closer to reality. For a more rigorous assessment of the subjects at the end of the war as well as the lost cause myth, see Elizabeth Varon's Appomattox.-Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.