Born to Battle

Born to Battle Cover

Born to Battle

Grant and Forrest: Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga: The Campaigns That Doomed the Confederacy

By Jack Hurst

Basic Books (AZ), Hardcover, 9780465020188, 512pp.

Publication Date: May 29, 2012

"Born to Battle" examines 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 Chattanoogabattles 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 successboth 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 periodand these two unequaled leaderswould 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 Battle" offers an impassioned account of two visionary Civil War leaders and the clashing cultures they foughtin some cases, quite ironicallyto 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.

About the Author
Jack Hurst is a historian and former journalist who has written for newspapers including the "Chicago Tribune," "Philadelphia Inquirer," and "Nashville Tennessean." His books include "Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography," and "Men of Fire." A native of Maryville, Tennessee and a descendant of both Union and Confederate soldiers, he currently lives with his wife outside Nashville, Tennessee.

Praise For Born to Battle

Ernest B. Furgurson, author of Chancellorsville 1863 and Not War But Murder: Cold Harbor 1864
“In a finely wrought battle narrative and character study, Jack Hurst shows how two men seemingly so different—one flamboyant and daring, the other solid and determined—became great soldiers by struggling not only against their enemies, but against their own inner demons.”

Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country
“It is rare indeed to have a writer like Jack Hurst, both a careful and meticulous historian and a first-rate storyteller.  Born to Battle is what Jack Hurst does best.  Drawing on many years of examination and research, Hurst has laid out the details of history as if he were crafting an epic myth.  Grant and Forrest come alive as they take on the roles of the very human giants of the war, battling through the western campaign in what would be the death knell of the Confederacy.  Hurst’s epic tale of history gives us a better understanding of why the war would be won or lost far from borders of Virginia.” Gordon C. Rhea, author of Carrying the Flag“Jack Hurst’s Born to Battle brings the American Civil War’s Western Theater alive through dramatic portraits of Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan B. Forrest.  The product of working-class backgrounds, each general approached warfare with a uniquely American blend of cunning, resourcefulness, and resolve—traits that both contributed to their successes and baffled their superiors.  Masterfully recounted, this gripping tale will enthrall seasoned Civil War buffs and history novices alike.” John F. Marszalek, Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Mississippi State University, and Executive Director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association“Not all readers will agree with everything Jack Hurst says, but they will find the argument intriguing that a commoner won the Civil War because his side gave him the chance, while the Confederacy lost because it kept its most talented commoner at arms length.” Publishers Weekly
“Making sophisticated use of archival and printed sources, Hurst maintains that the marginalization of Forrest, a blacksmith’s son, by a Confederacy insisting on ‘blue-blood leadership’ was ‘a chief cause of the Confederacy’s death.’ The Union, by contrast, made effective use of the equally lowborn and unpolished Grant. Both, Hurst asserts, exemplified the common men who did most of the war’s dying. Both understood what soldiers could do in particular situations. And both were accustomed by peacetime hardship to the fears and anxieties of wartime command. The comparison…is original and provocative.”
American History“[A] well-told take on a great face-off.” Kirkus Reviews
“A lively narrative of the Civil War’s Western theatre, too often overshadowed by the better known armies and battles in the East.... Hurst amply illustrates the misery visited upon Tennessee and Mississippi as the armies moved back and forth across the land, along with the backbiting, blunders and inflated egos that abounded in both armies.”

Star-LedgerBorn to Battle is smoothly readable, packed with details of battles from contemporary sources…. It makes clear that much of the difference between [Grant and Forrest] was the smooth way Grant got past bad supervision and rivals, and the dyspeptic bad temper that kept Forrest from rising higher.”

Charleston Post & Courier“Hurst’s writing style has an easy story like quality to it…. Readers will appreciate the work. They also will appreciate that it is a subject treated with a unique perspective on these two soldiers and their rise to prominence in the western theater of the Civil War.”