An influential Civil War historian and author, he is best known for his three-volume work, The Civil War: A Narrative. He was one of the primary historians interviewed in the Ken Burns PBS mini-series, The Civil War.
He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and wrote for the university's literary journal. He published his debut novel, Tournament, in 1949.
His detailed historical accounts of the Civil War focus on everything from intimate moments (such as Robert E. Lee's tearful, post-surrender address to his Confederate troops) to large-scale military strategy.
He was born in Greenville, Mississippi, and he died in Memphis, Tennessee. He was married three times-- to Tess Lavery, Peggy Desommes, and Gwyn Rainer-- and had two children.
He considered fellow southern author, William Faulkner, to be his literary mentor.