Book Review: Grant and Lee: Victorious American and Vanquished Virginian


by Edward H. Bonekemper III

Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2008. Pp. xxi, 436. Maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN:0313349711

For those interested in Ulysses S. Grant or Robert E. Lee (and really, what Civil War addict isn't?), this book is a must read. Bonekemper convincingly demonstrates that Grant was the better general and also offers some ground breaking analyses of Lee's performance. As outlined by Bonekemper, Lee's major failings were:

1) a passion for the aggressive offensive with disastrous use of frontal assaults;
2) weak leadership during battles that could result in uncoordinated attacks; and
3) a Virginia-centric view of operations?continually asking for more troops from other theaters and refusing to send troops out of area.

Lee is most damned by casualty figures: cumulatively he suffered a 20.2 percent casualty rate (p. 244) while he was at an overall 4:1 manpower disadvantage; Grant's forces suffered 11 percent casualties which was sustainable. In his first 14 months of command, Lee suffered casualties as great as the number of men with which he started (p. 130).

In terms of battlefield leadership, Grant issued precise orders, keeping up a continuous flow of information, but flexible control of operations during battles. The Vicksburg campaign especially showed Grant's efficient, effective use of forces in a "classic surprise maneuver." Once he became general-in-chief, Grant used the armies in tandem to defeat Confederate forces throughout the South. Unlike Lee and Davis, Grant and Lincoln correctly conceptualized their problems and in their minds had the whole strategic picture in focus.

The only major criticism of Bonekemper's analysis is that he undervalues the role of Union commanders, such as William S. Rosecrans, the U. S. Navy, and the support the Lincoln administration provided Grant, such as at Forts Henry and Donelson (see this reviewer's "The Tennessee River Campaign") and Chattanooga.

Overall, however, this is a very well thought-out work. It suggests that the most important keys to military success are critical conceptualization and decision-making; flexibility and economy of force, and bulldog determination.                    


Reviewer: C. Kay Larson, NYMAS   

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