18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2007
It is almost amazing that even after nearly 40 years, this book still stand the test of time as one of the best studies of General U.S. Grant's tenure as the military commander of all Federal forces. The book starts off from the Chattanooga campaign in late 1863 and moving on to his promotion as overall commander and his attachment to the Army of the Potomac for the rest of the war. By this move he clearly determined that General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia will be his primary target and a key to overall victory for the Union. Bruce Catton does a wonderful job in narrating each event in a clear and colorful way that make this book a joy to read.
Best part of Catton's writing is the way he make individual characters stand out in a way that most pertaining to the event at hand. We understand how Lincoln and Grant bonded so well, how even Meade and Grant worked well on surface and why Grant kept his eye on the ball when grinding Lee down to earth.
This book is a follow-up to Catton's earlier work, Grant Moves South which was published 7 years prior to this book and captured Grant's military activities from the beginning of the war to end of the Vicksburg campaign in 1863. As part of the two book set, Bruce Catton continued to captured the essence of Grant's military chronicles with clarity and understanding that any reader can appreciate.
For anyone interested in the American Civil War, this book is sure to be part of your mandatory reading material and the best part is that its really is a great reading book.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
"Grant Takes Command" is the second of two volumes by Bruce Catton on Grant's Civil War service and the third volume of a trilogy on Grant's military career (beginning with Lloyd Lewis's "Captain Sam Grant"). However, this volume can easily be ready by itself. Catton picks up the story in the fall of 1863 with Grant's successful raising of the siege of Chanttanooga, following which President Lincoln picks him for a third star and command of all the Union armies.
Grant is the latest in a long series of Union commanders, most of whom have been badly beaten by General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, and none of whom have been able to bring superior Northern resources effectively to bear on a slowly weakening Confederacy. In fact, as Grant takes command, the war has not yet been won and could still be lost.
Grant will be the commander that Lincoln has long sought. Lincoln's telling exchange with an aide, repeated by Catton, lays out why. Grant is the first general to take the supreme command who will work in harness with Lincoln and in full acceptance of Lincoln's constraints as President of a democracy in the midst of a civil war. Grant is prepared to take full responsibility for the conduct of the missions of the armies, and without setting up an alibi in advance for possible failure. And as it becomes apparent in the course of Catton's absolutely superb narrative, Grant understands the terrible math. Lee and his army are too proficient to be easily beaten; great persistance will be called for. Grant grasps the essential truth that Lee's army is the Confederate center of gravity, and the corallary that Lee's requirement to protect Richmond ultimately limits his ability to maneuver. Further, Grant is able to cause the Union armies to work at a common design, denying Lee the ability to reinforce Virginia by drawing on other theaters of war. The result will be a long, grinding, and exceedingly bloody campaign stretching from 1864 into 1865, as Lee's army is slowly bludgeoned to death.
Catton's narrative does not spare Grant his errors; in the 1864 campaign, Grant underestimates both Lee's abilities as a general and the difficulties of conducting campaigns on such a huge scale. Grant has to learn the job of Army commander in chief on the move; the unnecessary casualties of Cold Harbor and the repeated failures to flank Lee out of position in Virginia are proof of the learning curve. But Grant's great gift is his refusal to be deterred from his objective; he pins Lee at Petersburg and uses the Union armies of Sherman and Sheridan, among others, to destroy the Confederacy's means to make war.
"Grant Takes Command" was first published in 1960, and the details of the history of the Civil War have evolved since then. However, Catton's prose has stood the test of time. This is a truly magnificently told story on an epic scale and a highly recommended treat for the Civil War enthusiast and the casual reader alike.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2000
A change in Focus--Grant takes the Reins
Until 1864, the Army of the Potomac had never won a campaign. Each Union attempt to capture Richmond drove south, was repulsed, withdrew to Washington, found a new general, and tried again. After his successes at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, Grant came east to a promotion, to general in charge of all Union Armies.
Grant brought a different focus, and Catton defines this superbly in this book, drawing on many of Grant's memoranda to other officers, as well as President Lincoln. Catton captures the essence of a Grant campaign: hold on to the enemy, grasp and retain the initiative, and always move your logistics aggresively forward.
Catton also tries, albeit weakley, to show that Grant was not a "pure" attritionist. He offers examples of Grant's desires to push west and sever Richmond from the Shenandoah. Catton explores the political reality of uncovering Washington to a Confederate thrust, while attacking the logistics that sustained Confederate armies, while Sherman simultaneously attacked Atlanta and its strategic railhead. Catton states that after the battle of Cold Harbor Ggrant's numerical superiority was at its lowest level, but he does not provide the hard math to support this stance. On the other hand, Catton shows well the manuever warfare used by Grant to slip away after Cold Harbor, steal a march, and get across the James River before Lee, stripped of his cavalry, could discover the move and react.
This book does a very solid job of capturing Grant's determination, his unyielding efforts to impose his will on the leaders and staff of the Army of the Potomac, and to integrate the political realities of volunteers, political appointee generals and a presidential election with the cold hard reality of constant campaigning.
A good read not just for students of the martial art, but for any leader who must address the Sisyphean task of invigorating old "we've always done it that way" people with a new ethos and drive.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
In this superb second volume on Grant's war-time service, Bruce Catton shows how Grant devised and executed the grand strategy that ensured we'd be one country.
Beginning at Chattanooga, Catton chronicles Grant's successful battle to save a beleaguered federal army there and his selection as head of all of the armies of the Union.
The strategic plan, the overland campaign, the investiture of Petersburg and the finale with Lee at Appomattox are chronicled well.
What Catton does very well here is focus on Grant the General-in-Chief. We see how Lincoln and Grant are drawn toward each other through a shared and fundamental understanding of what it would take to win the war and the will to do it -- incredibly a trait Lincoln could find in no other General selected to head the Army of the Potomac.
The actual management of the Union's armies and efforts is given great attention. Even the Civil War devotee who knows a lot about the battles of the war will appreciate this focus on grand strategy, army management and the particular and singular attributes possessed by Grant to manage the affair to a successful conclusion.
A wonderful book, as is it's predecessor, "Grant Moves South."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2000
This is a well-researched account of the last two years of the Civil War (1863-1865). The harsh realities of the battles and living conditions are especially given great detail here. The final days of the war and the surrender of General Lee are extremely poignant as the author examines the tattered remains of the once invincible Army of Northern Virginia. The exchange between the victors and the vanquished at Appomattox is the highlight of the book. The author also takes pains not to overlook any of Grant's military blunders such as Cold Harbor and gives an even-handed viewpoint throughout. I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the darkest days of our nation's history.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2009
This is an excellent second-half of Mr. Catton's military biography of Grant. In the first half, Grant Moves South, we experience Grant evolving as a General. In Grant Takes Command, we still experience Grant's evolution, but also his stubborn determination to win the war against many obstacles: Lee, the Washington bureaucracy, and the petty in-fighting between Union generals.
Grant, we see, was a great diplomat, and only a great diplomat could have balanced so many opposing forces and held the Union army together.
And so, Mr. Catton brings Grant, a humble and likeable man, to life, partly by reprinting many of his important letters and telegrams, including some to his loving wife. Page after page, we feel we are alongside Grant and know him as a military strategist - often underrated - and also as a husband and father.
But it's not just Grant who comes to life. So do most of the other major characters. Mr. Catton, therefore, never allows us to forget that war, for better or worse, is not just about strategy, but also about personalities and character.
All the battles in the eastern theatre are well described, though not in great depth. (If they had been the book would have probably lost its focus.)
Finally, I guess what makes this book so special is Grant himself, a man who didn't always know how he was going to get there, just that, one way or another, in spite of all the doubt surrounding him, he was going to win the war and preserve what he believed in: the Union.
To me, the only weakness of the book is a lack of maps and of photographs of the main characters.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
No one could figure out how to defeat Robert E. Lee until Ulysses S. Grant took command of the Union forces. Grant alone understood that the North's advantages in manpower, industry, and logistics would doom the Confederacy to defeat so long as the Union avoided a disastrous military debacle and was willing to take terrible casualties repeatedly. These things Grant did. After big battles often featuring terrible losses on both sides, the Union Army continued South rather than turning North to lick its wounds as previous Union generals had done. Grant explained to his commanders that he was not concerning himself with Lee's plans against his Army--his focus and theirs was to be upon what they were going to do to Lee. This simple fact inspirited Grant's Army and before long the soldiers on both sides began to understand that the Union would eventually emerge victorious.
This book details many aspects of the command of General Grant, and causes the reader to appreciate the unique nature of the Union Army. It was the first truly modern army, where the soldiers were uniformed and provisioned through a modern logistical system based on railroads rather than simply foraging for provisions. (Not that they did not forage--General Sherman's Army was renowned and hated for that.) Grant's great achievement was that he brought the Union's advantages in industrial and logistical might to bear against the Confederacy, which lacked a comparable economic base. The South's bravery and elan could not prevail against this plenty, and Grant understood this. Our world is what it is today because of Grant's application and understanding of this principle, and it is probably not too much to say that every American war since Grant has been fought by applying the same principle.
Highly recommended for Civil War and military history enthusiasts. RJB.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2014
I've read "Grant's Memoirs" and "Not War but Murder." The former is without an ounce of fanfare, contains omissions and yet is revealing in the nature of the first person narrative. All aside "Grant's Memoirs" is fantastic in Grant's workman like effort, even as he is approaching his death, in condensing the writing and history much like his commands in the field. "Not War but Murder" describes the horrible battle at Cold Harbor. The weeks in advance, the battle itself, to the week after the battle , are described expertly. Grant really can't escape the dark shadow of objective analysis contained in this book. Yet who am I to give judgement, but Grant himself said "...it accomplished no advantage." It was a bloody story in a bloody war. In "Grant Takes Command" one learns another whole aspect of the war and the manifestations that led Grant to become Lt. General of all the Union Armies. It is quite fascinating and enlightening. Grant was a great man.
on December 14, 2014
This and the first volume, "Moves South" are very fine works and good companion pieces to Grant's memoirs. In particular Catton has done a great service in putting to rest the myth of "Grant the drunk" as regards the civil war period of his life.
on March 4, 2015
A must in the Grant lexicon. By the way I am now in the new Smith biography of Grant which is another must.