This book looks at one of the earliest critically important campaigns of the American Civil War, the Federal attacks on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and the roles of U.S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest in the fighting. On the face of it this was a fairly obscure campaign, often only noted as a key stepping stone in the career of Grant, but as the subtitle makes clear, Hurst does not share this view.
It does help that I agree with Hurst's main point, that it was the fighting in the west that decided the result of the American Civil War. While so much attention on both side (then and since) focused on the fighting in Virginia, in the west Federal armies under Grant and then Sherman dismantled the Confederacy. By the end of the war the Union's western armies were rapidly approaching Lee's army in Virginia from the south.
My only slight niggle with this book is that Forrest is rather over-billed in the title. He stands out on the Confederate side at Fort Donelson as just about the only competent senior commander present in the fort, but as a cavalry commander during a siege his actual role was really only to harass the Federal Troops, and then to escape before the end. In contrast Grant was the Federal commander on the ground, and so features rather more prominantly.
Although Grant and Forrest get top billing, Hurst does not neglect the important role played by figures such as the Federal naval commander Andrew Foote, the commander of the ironclad fleet, or by Forrest's incompetent superior officers at Fort Donelson.
This is a well written, very readable work, well supported by contemporary accounts of the fighting (but not overwhelmed by them). The campaign is set in it's historical and political context, with good sections on the roles of more senior Federal and Confederate commanders in the months before the fighting began (mostly infighting on the Federal side and indecision on the Confederate!).
Author: Jack Hurst
Publisher: Basic Books