In all fairness I have to start this review with a spoiler alert. If you haven’t read the preceeding book by these authors (‘Gettysburg‘) then I strongly urge you to so, since ‘Grant Comes East‘ picks up more or less where ‘Gettysburg’ stops. Still here? OK – my first comment on this book is how well the authors have managed the departure from ‘our’ timeline and the skill with which they use the best rules of counterfactual history to drive the plot. In ‘Gettysburg’, Lee comments that the Army of Northern Virginia has one good fight left in it and I soon found myself wondering in the aftermath of the Battle of Union Mills if was all downhill from here on. The Army of the Potomac is wrecked – only one corps of it has escaped more or less intact and the remainder has routed towards Washington. Rioting in New York against the draft is spiralling out of control. Despite all that, the Union hasn’t folded up – mostly because Lincoln has decided it isn’t going to.
General Grant, fresh from his capture of Vickburg, is bringing his army east. Lincoln has put him in charge of ending the war and Grant, in his careful methodical fashion is determined to do exactly that. Gingrich and Forstchen also make it clear exactly where the real strength of the Union lies – its economic power. Within weeks of Union Mills, Union railroad boss Herman Haupt can have the equipment for a new army made and stockpiled. Lee’s ragged veterans can’t access that sort of logistical muscle and deep down the leaders of the Confederacy know it. The invasion of the North was a gamble, one which must now be played out to the bitter end.
What makes this book such an enthralling read is that the authors understand how to write good counterfactual history. People make choices based on the range of options that were open to them at the time and this makes for realistic character development. There is no deus ex machina to give the Confederacy a deadly new advantage and they remain on the back foot logistically, just as they did in reality. In the end, Lee is faced with a difficult choice. Confederate President Jefferson Davis has sent General Beauregard’s corps north to bolster Lee’s men. Should Lee use them to capture lightly-defended Baltimore (thereby removing Maryland from the war)? Or ought he to accept that that is simply putting off the inevitable end game – an assault on Washington?
Either way, time is running out.