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Posted on Dec 10, 2013 in Books and Movies

Hell or Richmond – Book Review

By John Antal

coverHell or Richmond. Ralph Peters. Forge Books, 2013. Hardcover: 544 pages. $25.99

Ralph Peters takes the writing of historical novels to a new level of truthfulness, authenticity and realism in his latest book on the Civil War.  Hell or Richmond is a must read.  For me, this is a book that is filled with leadership lessons that are powerful and timeless. Peters is a master storyteller and bestselling author who brings the past alive as very few writers can.

Hell or Richmond tells a story seldom told, about Grant’s Overland Campaign (also called the Wilderness Campaign), fought from May through June 1864.  Union General Ulysses S. Grant is determined to defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee and fight him wherever can find Lee’s Army. Grant wants to end the Civil War and stop the killing, but knows that the Confederacy will not surrender until Lee is blooded, beaten—and beaten decisively. This is a daunting task for Grant as the Confederate troops are defending their native soil and occupy entrenched, prepared positions in very rough, forested terrain.


Peters bring the narrative alive with vivid, expertly crafted and exciting prose that expresses this grim conflict, in which over 88,000 Americans became casualties in savage close-quarters and often hand-to-hand combat.  He tells this gripping story through the eyes of soldiers and commanders on both sides.  In these pages you will smell the stench of the fight and feel the fear and exhaustion of the participants. It is difficult to find this level of detail or passion in other historical fictions, which is why this book is so important. It places you in the fight, inside the horrible dilemma of combat as few other books can.

Ralph Peters also tells the story of the birth of modern warfare in this campaign, the lessons of which had to be relearned by leaders on the killing fields of the First World War.  Studying this book in depth will tell you more about leadership and war than ten other books.  Peter’s depiction of Union General Francis Barlow, for instance, is particularly brilliant and has caused me to yearn to learn more about this extraordinary leader.

I have read this book twice—that is how good it is—and I intend to read it again. If you are interested in leaders and leadership, or learning from history, military history and especially the Civil War, Hell or Richmond is your book.

United States Army Lt. Col. (ret) John Antal is the author of numerous books including 7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution and the historic novel Proud Legions. His FLASHPOINTS series appears bimonthly on

LandscapeUnion Generals Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock and generals Barlow (wearing his checked shirt), David B. Birney, and John Gibbon during General U.S. Grant’s Overland Campaign May-June 1864.  General Barlow entered the Civil War as an enlisted soldier and ended it as a general.



  1. I really liked Peters ‘Cain at Gettysburg’ and I have this book too. I haven’t read it yet but I’m sure it will be just as good. But Armchair contributor Antal waxing poetic over fellow Armchair contributor Peters books smells a bit like cronyism. Will Peters come back with a glowing review of ‘Seven Lessons’? Or has that happened already?

    • Ralph Peters has really matured as a Superior Writer over the years and “Hell or Richmond” is an incredible book written on several levels of interest to all. Tony, get “Cain at Gettysburg” as soon as you can and this one right after – you’ll be in for a real Treat! If you have already read “Cain at Gettysburg” read it again before starting this one!

      • Skip, I said in my post that I really liked Cain. I have Hell to Richmond and intend to read it soon. I’m sure it will be just as good, if not better. I have always enjoyed reading Ralph Peters analyses in Armchair, even if I do not always agree with him.

  2. Sorry Tony, it was unclear to me if you had read “Cain” or not, however for those who might read this, try to rear them in the order published.

    I too like Peter’s analysis’ in Armchair General, however more often than not I find myself agreeing with his points after giving them some thought.


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