Gods and Generals follows the same format as Killer Angels, taking us through various characters’ points of view. We are primarily guided by Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson for the south, and Winfield Hancock and Joshua Chamberlain for the north.
The book is a prequel to Killer Angels and the battle of Gettysburg. I found Gods and Generals provided insight into two very interesting aspects of the war:
- The internal dilemmas the generals faced leading into the war
- The early ineptitude of Union leadership
- More broadly this gave an interesting lens into effective versus ineffective leadership
The Civil War was a war amongst countrymen, friends, and in the most extreme cases, brothers. I think this gray area is often overlooked in what we think of now as a very black and white affair of the pro-slavery south versus the anti-slavery north. Through historical fiction, Shaara provides insight into the minds of some of the most influential figures. Most of us are familiar with Robert E. Lee’s famed rejection of the Union command in order to fight for his beloved Virginia. What Gods and Generals also captures is the perhaps more minor in significance, but equally discomforting, decisions other soldiers had to make in their decision to fight against countrymen. From accounts such as Generals Hancock realization he will be fighting against his best friend, we confront issues that it is easy to imagine many soldiers grappled with.
The incompetence of the Union leaders is the most striking aspect of the book.
I am glad I read Extreme Ownership prior to Gods and Generals because we are repeatedly told of the Union’s inability to follow any of author Jocko and Leif’s core leadership principles.
Gods and Generals provides a compelling confirmation of Jocko’s statement that leadership is the most important aspect of success.
The Union army had more men, better equipment and supplies, yet still faced early defeat after defeat due to inadequate leaders.
The book’s portrayal of the unique ineptitude of Union leadership also provides important perspective on how someone with such an unremarkable reputation like Ulysses S. Grant was able to rise to the top of Union command. Grant symbolizes the important lesson that the capability to act is often more important than the ability to perfectly plan.