Anyone who follows this blog realizes that periodically I read yet another book on America’s Civil War in an attempt to understand the complexities of that monumental struggle. For all practical purposes the war ended April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. That was over one hundred sixty years ago yet the cultural, economic, and demographic differences that divided the nation still remain. Today, the discord that resulted in five years of bloody conflict still resonates in the debates over reparations to the ancestors of former slaves and the removal of Confederate monuments.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Bruce Catton first released his book in 1960 complete with photos, maps, illustrations, captions, and an introduction by James M. McPherson, Professor Emeritus of U.S. History at Princeton University. This Kindle version (which I downloaded for free) contains none of the amplifying material, retaining only the original text. However, for anyone trying to understand the underlying causes of the war; the attitudes, desires, and fears from both sides, as well as the major events, places, or key military and political figures involved, there is no better reference material. There are certainly voluminous works by many noted historians on the subject, and for those who want detailed analysis of the politics, military campaigns, battles, strategies and tactics, they should most certainly be read.
Catton synopsizes this information in a manner that is deeply insightful, easy to read and understand. It isn’t so bogged down in details that it becomes a challenge to comprehend and a labor to complete. It is a concise overview of the social, political, and military forces that propelled the nation to war, tore it apart, and despite decades of efforts to heal those wounds, left a legacy of racial division and cultural misunderstanding that continues to impact our politics and our interaction with one another.
I highly recommend the book regardless of where you are in your study of America’s Civil War. It can serve as an introduction to your reading or a very important companion piece to the books you’ve already read on the subject.