Friday, June 5, 2009

That these honored dead shall not have died in vain

I grew up in a town with many connections to the Civil War: the Milton House had been a stop on the Underground Railway and Whitford Hall at Milton College carried a plaque commemorating the students who had died in the war. As a high school student I guided tours of the museum during the Civil War Centennial and that was also when I discovered the histories written by Bruce Catton. His Centennial History of the Civil War was the first general history of that war that I owned, and soon after I acquired The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War for which Catton wrote the narrative. John J. Miller appreciates Bruce Catton in an article from
In 1951, Doubleday published Mr. Lincoln’s Army, the first volume in what would become a trilogy about the Army of the Potomac. In the next volume, Glory Road, Catton praised “the stand-up valor of the private soldier.” His readers began to appreciate that he was doing something different from earlier Civil War historians: The heroes of his books weren’t so much the generals and men of rank who issued orders, but the grunts who did most of the actual fighting. Catton relied heavily on their thoughts and observations, drawn from regimental histories and other sources. He approached his research like a good journalist: He took careful notes, made sound judgments, and relished in the discovery of colorful quotes and details. He also embodied a kind of Midwestern nationalism that endorsed the war’s outcome but was willing to give Southerners their due. Catton, for instance, made no effort to hide his admiration of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

.... Catton could have given lessons to professors on how history ought to be written—not in dry academic tomes full of impenetrable jargon, but in beautiful narrative prose that tells an accurate and compelling story. ....

.... A Stillness at Appomattox, the final volume in the Army of the Potomac trilogy, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Civil War buffs continue to recognize it as one of the finest books ever written on their favorite subject. David McCullough, the author of Truman, 1776, John Adams and other bestsellers, has described his own experience of reading it as a senior at Yale: “I think it changed my life. I didn’t know that then, naturally. All I knew was that I had found in that book a kind of splendor I had not experienced before, and it started me on a new path.” .... [more]
Michigan Author Bruce Catton Captured the Civil War

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