This is the meat. The first volume of the Shelby Foote trilogy focused pretty heavily on the politics of both Lincoln and Davis, the lead up to secession, the political make up of the country, and then the early battles. The early Southern successes at Bull Run and a few other places spoke to the enthusiasm gap of the two armies and the general competency of the Southern generals (although I do think this is more in doubt than otherwise supposed) and the unreadiness of the North to actually fight a war. This is the general push until Antietam changed things and didn’t swing the war to the North, but did stop the momentum a little.
We begin this volume first with Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, which were resounding Confederate victories but at the cost of Jackson. Jackson was a skilled general it’s true, but more than his loss on the battlefield, this death clearly broke Lee. The next step of course is the push north toward Gettysburg, and we spend a huge amount of this book there, the next focus is the Vicksburg Campaign. We learn that “Vicksburg falls to Grant” is only the final piece of a much larger, dicier, and brilliant strategy to cut off the West from the rest of the country.
Next comes Gettysburg, and well, luck breaks toward the North, but boy so does the foolish arrogance of Lee. Refusing repeatedly to listen to Longstreet or to modify his battle plans, in addition to what comes off as competent leadership by Meade, and especially brilliant commanding by Hancock, this battle stopped the Northern invasion, and turned the tide in a real way (along with Vicksburg). The final parts of the book focus on the wrap up of 1863, western battles like Chickamauga and more setting the scene for later.
The book is still very strong in having tons of sources represented, a narrative energy that is deeply compelling, and mostly avoiding “Lost Cause” but still falling into it periodically. The Northern ladies swooning over Confederate soldiers etc.