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Remembering the American Civil War via Bruce Catton

I was eight-years-old when out nation celebrated the 100th anniversary of the American Civil War and ten-years-old at the 100th anniversary of the war’s largest battle which was Gettysburg. I vaguely remember seeing newscasts of re-enactors at Gettysburg re-fighting this famous battle. I was hooked on American History and Civil War history in particular.

My dad took me to the West Allis Library which at the time was just a little hole in the wall but still was a treasure trove of American History. It was through that little library that I became familiar with Lincoln, Davis, Grant, Lee, Sherman and the two guys that most caught my ten-year-old imagination, Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. It seems odd since I’m from Wisconsin but it was these two gentlemen from Virginia that fueled my initial interest in the conflict.

In any event I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the Civil War and eventually (probably in high school) I came across Bruce Catton’s, A Stillness at Appomattox.  Never before I had a read such an interesting history book. Catton had the ability to weave the big picture of the war to the smaller picture(s) of the war by using countless illustrations drawn from the memories of the men who fought the war. I could not put the book down and then was thrilled to discover that  A Stillness at Appomattox was Part 3 of series written by Catton that chronicled The Army of the Potomac. The other two volumes were Mr. Lincoln’s Army and Glory Road.

Truly a classic

Much, much later Ken Burns did his famous documentary series on the Civil War and he used Bruce Catton (and Shelby Foote) quite liberally to put the war in perspective for a new generation of Americans.

Now it’s the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War and perhaps some will wonder what it was all about. I can think of no better place to start than to read the classic works of Bruce Catton. Just for the hec of it I searched Amazon for A Stillness at Appomattox and found a used one for 34 cents (less than the cost of a stamp).

Curious about the American Civil War? I recommend Bruce Catton and for less than the cost of a stamp you can get started.

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