A Stillness at Appomattox

A Stillness at AppomattoxThis was not just battle strategy as I had feared that it would be It was very readable and felt like the author had actually interviewed the troops It explored the personalities behind the successes and failures The battle accounts were quite vivid I intend to readof his books. I re read this a few years back, and it s simply one of the best history books I ve ever read Grant s brutal sledgehammer campaign, Lee s ferocious response, it s all here, but written in a way that comes across, at times, like some sort of dark war poetry I think I saw on Goodreads where someone said that Catton was a historian with great heart I couldn t agreeAnd as a Virginian, I love the way Catton captures a familiar landscape, since I actually live only a few miles from the Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania battlefields. This is not a book It is a holy thing.It s holy for what it says, how it says it and how well it understands it It is not read, it is lived It is experienced in short bursts and set aside, so that you can close your eyes and imagine and contemplate and feel, and pay all proper homage as you try to grasp its enormity I ve been to Civil War cemeteries where thousands of headstones radiate in all directions, endlessly, but even that does not make me feel the accumulated weight of death and struggle and pain like this book does.Bruce Catton felt the Civil War down to his very marrow It percolated and boiled hot in his blood and animated his very being It inflamed his imagination His love for it was passionate His rumination on it was deep and profound His feeling for it created electricity that shot to his fingers and moved them to write beautiful words about a terrible and momentous time.And because of that, he wrote this this inexpressibly beautiful and moving account of horror and hope It is one of the very greatest books I have ever had the pleasure to read.This, my friends, is how it s done.Trotting out superlatives for this is like someone who s too late for the party arriving with appetizers What can I possibly add that hasn t already has been said The book is famous, and justly so, and it s actually a relief to see that it is this good, because my elevated hopes were not only not dashed but amply fulfilled and exceeded.Catton set a standard for popular histories that is rarely equalled yes, I know, Mr Shelby Foote he is imminent But there I am, with the superlatives I said I wouldn t attempt I was moved, not just by the content, and not just by how beautifully it was stated, but by the fact that someone wrote this, period I was moved by the fact that someone achieved this in a book The achievement alone moves me.The book opens dreamily at a celebratory ball where soldiers and their most favored ladies danced in a makeshift, large pine scented hall, arrayed with flags and chandeliers There are pencil illustrations of this ball on the Library of Congress website that match Catton s description and seeing them makes for a haunting supplement to the reading It was the Washington s Birthday Ball of Feb 22, 1864 Its soldierly participants had no idea their war would drag on for another year, and this evening of finery and dance and civility was an attempt to suspend time and sublimate, if just a little, the inevitability of the savage battles soon to come, for they had no way of knowing that General Grant was about to unleash a new kind of war rarely seen in the memories of history It would be total war There would be no quarter, no letup, no mercy, and scorched earth, and all to the last man if necessary Catton makes us know that very few of the men dancing on this night would long last, and that the women with whom they danced would lose them.From there, Catton introduces leaders, battles, incidents, and issues that often seem so disparate that they shouldn t fit so smoothly together into a flowing narrative, and yet they do without pause It is the mark of someone who knows his subject this war inside and out who knows it so well that telling it with absolute mastery, authority, and withthan a little poetry is second nature to him These are words written not just out of duty to scholarship but in the service of love Catton loved his subject And this is a love letter to it A bittersweet love letter from someone who sees the terrible beauty in unimaginable pain and in stubbornly clutched hope.Some might say this is a history written by the victors text, and certainly the book s slant is Northern The book is, after all, largely about the trials and tribulations of the much aggrieved Army of the Potomac But there is balance aplenty, because Catton respects all of his combatants, and his over arching poetry is the driving sensibility here, not how many column inches are devoted to this or that side This is about how the war was won, by dint of a thousand cuts to all.The Germanic order gene in me says I am doing all wrong starting with the third of Catton s Army of the Potomac trilogy instead of starting with the first and proceeding therefrom But I don t listen to that spoilsport any Besides, I read Catton s The Civil War reduction overview primer of the war in advance so I knew my place in the order of things I have context.I am glad I have finally come to the Civil War, and to Catton I will be returning to him, with hat in hand, and properly humbled KevinR Ky 2016 This is the third installment in Bruce Catton s great Civil War trilogy Similar to the first two volumes, A Stillness at Appomattox continues the style of writing history for modern readers, concentrating on the human motivations central to important events These books are as readable and enjoyable today as they were originally in the 1950 s Beyond the broad appeal inherent in them, these three volumes, and especially A Stillness were important components in the mid twentieth century s rediscovery of the American Civil War, and the awakening of enthusiasm for the epic struggle, which continues This volume runs from early 1864 until the end of the war in April, 1865 The populace supporting each side in the conflict was becoming extremely war weary, but the events of the previous few years showed that General Robert E Lee s Confederate army was willing to suffer any hardship and keep fighting as long as the slimmest hope for survival existed President Abraham Lincoln finally found the individual who would be capable of leading his army to ultimate victory He placed Ulysses S Grant in charge of all of the armies of the United States Although this position involved huge organizational responsibilities, the commanding general would not spend the rest of the war behind a desk in Washington, D.C Grant s previous brilliant field leadership in the western army theater would be needed to directly manage the army on the ground He established his headquarters with General George Meade Meade was thanked by a grateful nation for his effective leadership at Gettysburg, and he retained the role of commanding general of the Army of the Potomac However, he would be kept under direct, daily supervision by his superior, Grant, who would be in charge for devising and carrying out the army s strategies The overall strategy at the beginning of 1864 would be similar to earlier Army of the Potomac plans, namely, to get the army into Virginia and defeat the Confederates in the field, enabling the capture of the Confederate capital, Richmond The significant difference this time was that the federal army was not going to return home until the job was done There would be no fighting the enemy to a bloody standstill, followed by a disengagement by both armies to prepare for the next battle, until the changing seasons allowed all of the forces to go into winter quarters and contemplate the next year s objectives Grant, and his core leadership cadre, consisting of generals who fought with him in the West the last several years, infused the spirit of winning into the army The federal army s existing leaders, including Meade, were forced to re think their approach to fighting a war The basics of this new way of thinking rapidly spread through the ranks and became the foundation for a surge of wide spread higher morale and tenacity among the soldiers Catton describes the ensuing clashes between the two armies as Grant tried to maneuver between Lee and Richmond, and Lee worked his characteristic magic of constantly falling back with his army in time to prevent the federal army from forcing an end of the war with its superior strength The death tolls mounted in battles as bad, if not worse, than some of the scenes of horror already enacted in previous years Thus, Catton tells us how events unfolded at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor Lee finally stopped Grant s advance at Petersburg, just outside Richmond, and the war settled into armies fighting from entrenched, fixed positions Catton shows how, when the end finally came with Lee breaking out of his fortified position in the spring of 1865, and having his exhausted army s movements finally blocked at Appomattox Court House, the prevailing mood in the Army of the Potomac was relief instead of jubilation So much would happen during the time period covered in this volume, and Catton tells it masterfully. This is the third book of the famous Bruce Canton trilogy about the Civil War Published about 65 years ago it is much heralded and maybe the most famous telling of the story of the Civil War And I did find it mostly compelling reading although I am far from a fan of Civil War history The portions of the book which retold battle strategy and the movement of troops etc etc were most arduous for me And there was a lot of that But the stories about what was going on inside the heads of the people was often compelling and fascinating The book is told predominately from the union point of view Which must be particularly irksome for southern readers But it just confirms what most everyone knows which is that the winners get to tell the story of the wars I have just recently read a biography of Robert E Lee so I had a little bit of that point of view in my head.I always thought trench warfare began in World War I But in reading the biography of General Lee and finding that he was trained as an engineer and relied heavily on digging trenches and digging in artillery, I was not surprised Possibly the biggest difference between trenches in the Civil War and in World War I were how close they were to each other Due predominately to the improvement in weapons there was a much greater distance between the trenches in WWI In the Civil War the trenches were sometimes very close to each other.One of theinteresting things shown was the occasional camaraderie between soldiers on opposite sides The final confrontation between the two sides at the very end ended without gun fire with opposing sides faced off Out pops a rebel with the white flag and both sides end the fighting to let the generals work out the details I gave this book 3 stars instead of four mostly because this is just not a book that I enjoyed a lot It s not really my kind of book But I was left feeling amazed that you could get thousands of men to stand up and run across the field while people on the other side shot at you And there were of course the incredible descriptions of bodies piled up two or three high Incredible and unbelievable.The story of Grant and Lincoln meeting once it seemed like the outcome was determined but not yet reached has probably been told over and over They both favored fighting all out until the war was finished but then taking a fairly let bygones be bygones with the south once the war was over The story of how they would get that to happen is left for another book The opposing soldiers on the battlefield seemed willing to slap each other on the back and say they were all the same when it came right down to it but the bigger picture between the north and the south after the war was hardly so positive.I live in Lynchburg Virginia, a town that is very close to Appomattox and is mentioned quite a few times in the book as just being up or down the road Lynchburg was apparently always trying to be prepared for the onslaught of the war but was primarily used as a location for hospitals and treating the wounded This book does make me want to learn a little bitabout the role of Lynchburg but somehow I think I won t do it because ultimately I m just not drawn to the topic. I guess I read this book out of order, I didn t realize it was the third book in a trilogy That being said, it worked just fine as a stand alone book The last few months of the Civil War were really brought to life for me by this book sorry for the cliche phrase It s well written and reads like a novel, but it also contains a lot of quite interesting historical information I ve always found the Civil War a fascinating subject, and knew a moderate amount about it before reading this book, but the heights of bravery and cowardice attained by regular troops, the ineptness or heroic nature displayed by their commanders, and the terror of being under fire, were all thrown into vivid relief by A Stillness at Appomattox.I d recommend this book to anyone, whether particularly interested in the Civil War or not I could only wish that it had been assigned as reading for my high school history class in lieu of the reading material on the Civil War we were actually provided with I read A Stillness at Appomattox while touring the Richmond Petersburg area at the end of May 2016 I now understand why it took the leadership of a man like Grant to beat the Southern gentry of a man like Lee This was killing on a grand scale when the industial might of the North just out produced the South in everything from food to armaments This is a good book to read in order to understand the command structure, the middle leadership of the Army and the logistics of getting an Army ready to attack and then pressing forward, failing and pressing forward ever so slowly cutting supply lines and turning Lee s flank around Petersburg Bruce Catton brings to life this last year of the Civil War and the men who fought it Mr Catton Has Combined Historical Accuracy With Poetic Insight To Present The Story Of The Army Of The Potomac In The Final Year Of The Civil War Writing From The Point Of View Of The Citizens Who Found Themselves Soldiers He Has Reaffirmed The Great American Tradition Of A Peace Loving People Who, Faced With Necessity, Can Also Produce Greatness In War What can I say about Bruce Catton and this book I became a life long lover of all things history because of Bruce Catton I read these in my early twenties and I can still recall the sweet pleasure I got from realizing that history was actually FASCINATING when written by someone who seemed to sense the past as present Life changing for me If you would like to knowabout the Civil War and are a beginner I suggest you start with Catton If you need to remember why it is you became fascinated with the Civil War years ago, I suggest you re read Catton It will all come back to you. If their is ever again any rejoicing in the world it will be when this war is over That quote summarises the feeling of most of the people who fought in the American Civil War This is the third book in Bruce Catton s novels about the War Just for the record, I have not read the other two Here, the War has grown old and insane But what was beginning wasthan what was ending Lieutenant General Ulysses S Grant had joined General Meade and the Potomac Army He was the remorseless killer All the hopes and fears of the Union now rested on him He was considered another Napoleon who was going to win the war A new spirit was brewing among the soldiers The war was getting started Soon, the air was filled with a medley of sounds, shouts, cheers, commands, oaths, and sharp reports of rifles The Whitehouse was the real storm center President Lincoln hopefully expected that the seceeding stated would be brought back to the Union before they were beaten to death He had spent a lot of sleepless nights worried and in fear But, the war had grown and their was very minimal chances of peace Men died and many were wounded, sometimes, right in front of the president s door in Washington Never before on earth had so many muskets been fired There was nothing but death, death in the wholesale, death in all its forms, death in hospitals, in the blazing thickets, in ridges, in dust, and in smoke But, the Yankees were pressing on Word was being spread that every man who falls fighting that great battle of liberty was going to go to heaven They were not going to allow themselves to be discouraged The war had to be won, and it had to be won soon That feeling had to reign supreme in all who wanted victory From the Biblical Daniel, men believed that they were going to stand up against the King of the South who would fall eventually This is their story, written from the yankees perspective Superb

Catton was known as a narrative historian who specialized in popular histories that emphasized the colorful characters and vignettes of history, in addition to the simple dates, facts, and analysis His works, although well researched, were generally not presented in a rigorous academic style, supported by footnotes In the long line of Civil War historians, Catton is arguably the most prolific an

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  • Hardcover
  • 438 pages
  • A Stillness at Appomattox
  • Bruce Catton
  • English
  • 15 October 2018

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