As the United States lurched toward civil war 150 years ago, the political leaders in both the North and the South, Thomas writes in this concise book, were profoundly ignorant of their true situation. Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the most deluded of them all; both his words and his deeds were predicated on the belief that only a handful of hotheaded aristocrats really cared about the Confederacy and that the silent majority of moderate Southerners would return to the Union once passions had cooled. Jefferson Davis had a clearer idea that the war might be long and bitter, but he believed -- and would continue to believe into 1865 -- that the South could fight a successful guerrilla war against the North. Neither president knew how to use military leaders effectively in 1861. In Thomas' view, Davis never quite understood that Robert E. Lee believed that the South's only path to victory lay in destroying the North's army on the field of battle. And although Lincoln's chief military officer (the aged War of 1812 veteran Winfield Scott) thought from the beginning in terms of a long and bitter war, Lincoln rejected his advice as unpalatable.