I just finished listening to William C. Davis’ book Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee–The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged. The book is 688 pages in hardcover and took over 24 hours to listen to it. I listened to it over a period of 4 months. I really enjoyed the book and I wanted to share some thoughts with you about it. This is not a review or a factual history lesson from the book, but simply some of my reflections on the book.
- Both Lee and Grant were men of high moral character. It is often assumed that men of power are allowed indiscretions in their personal character and morals. Affairs are common for military and political leaders. Both Lee and Grant struck me with their desire for honest and Christian virtue. Grant’s presidency is known for corruption, but much of that has to do with him blindly trusting his friends and appointees.
- The concept of a Civil War is really unnerving to consider. You have men like Lee who served in the US military his entire career until 1861. You have citizens who have worked and lived together for decades now being forced to choose sides. But this is not just a political divide, but one that turned quickly into war. I found myself a bit unnerved with how quickly our forefathers could let political differences dissolve into killing one another. You can talk about all the reasons, but in the end, they were fighting and dying for these causes. As our nation today seems to be more divided and contentious, I don’t predict Civil War, but I do fear how quickly it can turn from political and social difference to bloodshed and brutal fighting.
- Lee’s view of God was fascinating. Lee grew significantly in his protestant faith from a young man to his war years. His wife likely had a large influence upon his personal faith. But what was fascinating to me was his view of God’s providential workings. He believed that it was all up to God’s divine plan. Victories and defeats were all ordained by the sovereignty of God. He took courage in being risky in his decisions as well as finding peace in sending men into battle because of the providence of God. He believed God was on His side and the battle’s outcome was left to God. He then was able to resiliently handle defeat and encourage Christian conduct and peace in the post-war area because he saw the outcome as God’s will. He was very cognizant of his own sinfulness and desired greatly the peace and rest of heaven.
- The desire to heal and move on was remarkable. These two giant leaders help forge the peace. While the south was destroyed and newly freed black slaves were being mistreated throughout the south, these leaders help encourage their people to work for unity. They sought peace and prosperity for their futures. Lee encouraged labor, education, political influence, and Christian virtue. Grant sought restraint towards and pardons for former Confederates. He wanted states to be readmitted into the union and worked as President to draw the nation together. Grant was conciliatory even in death as he had two confederate generals serve as his pallbearers along with Northern leaders.
- History is never as clean or clear as the public narrative wants to suggest. Today, we are taking down statues of Lee and seeing his name being disassociated with because of him being a southern general. Grant is often portrayed as an overly aggressive butcher in war and later a corrupt president. History involves many more details and shows that both men had many admirable traits as well as flaws and problems. A study of their lives shows they are far more complicated and intricate than today’s image may suggest.