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.