Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Battle of Wills: Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and the Last Year of the Civil War

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Battle of Wills: Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and the Last Year of the Civil War

Article excerpt

Battle of Wills: Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and the Last Year of the Civil War. By David Alan Johnson. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2016. Pp. 317. $28.00, ISBN 978-1-63388-245-4.)

David Alan Johnson, the author of several popular works on the Civil War and World War U, has written a highly readable account of the contest between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee in Virginia in 1864 and 1865. Each chapter begins with an ongoing vignette about events surrounding the surrender at Appomattox before shifting back to the main narrative. Chapter 1 presents the formative factors in Grant's and Lee's prewar lives. Both did well in the U.S.-Mexican War, but Lee's achievements as a member of General Winfield Scott's personal staff were more prominent. Though Lee never lost his devotion to Virginia, which he learned from his father, Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, he was anxious to avoid imitating his father's undisciplined life and was eager to emulate the brilliance and bearing of General Scott. Grant inherited his determination from his father and patterned his military persona after the methods and manners of Scott and Zachary Taylor, his commanders in the U.S.- Mexican War. During the war, both Grant and Lee learned that wars were won with offensive campaigns.

Grant's arrival in the East, though heralded in Washington, D.C., did not impress the cynical veterans of the Army of the Potomac, but Abraham Lincoln trusted Grant. Lee, however, never fully understood Grant. In chapter 3, Johnson plunges into a straightforward account of the battle of the Wilderness from Lee's perspective. At the end of the battle, Lee reacted to reports that Grant was moving toward Spotsylvania Court House by moving his own army toward Spotsylvania. Only then did Lee begin to realize that Grant was unlike previous Union generals in the East. Johnson then tells the story of the battle of the Wilderness from Grant's perspective and concludes the chapter with the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac realizing that a very different type of general was in control of their movements. …

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