Book Review: Victors in Blue: How Union Generals Fought the Confederates, Battled Each Other, and Won the Civil War


by Albert Castel & Brooks D. Simpson

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011. Pp. xii, 362. Illus., maps, notes, index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700617930

A relaxed, almost gossipy collective look at the Union’s senior commanders.  Saying that, however, is not to say that this is not a serious book. 

Two of the most noted contemporary historians of the Civil War, Castel, author of biographies of Sterling Price and William Quantrill, among others, and Simpson, known particularly for an outstanding biography of U.S. Grant, do an excellent job of tracing the rise of the men who would ultimately lead the Union armies to victory.  Arguably, these men, among them Grant, Meade, Thomas, Sherman, Sheridan, even Rosecrans, were the Union’s second team, coming to high command after the McDowells, McClellans, Hallecks, Burnsides, Popes, Buells, and so forth had failed in the field.  What distinguises these “second team” officers is that at the onset of the war they were minor characters, and had time to learn and grow, in contrast to the others, who early in the war had too much responsibility thrust upon them too soon, and did not, or could not, learn quickly enough.  So in Victors in Blue we see some ultimately great commanders, including Grant and Sherman, making some serious mistakes, and we also see them growing.  There are some excellent word portraits of these and many other officers as well as some fine anecdotes, and occasional idiosyncratic assessments.

A volume in the outstanding University Press of Kansas series “Modern War Studies,” Victors in Blue is an important read for anyone interested in the Civil War, and an essential one for those interested in the art of command.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close