A Stillness at Appomattox

Today is the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, ending our Civil War. Carl Cannon observes the occasion in this RealClearPolitics column as does Jarrett Stepman in a good Breitbart column. To these columns I would only like to append a brief literary footnote.

Bruce Catton’s three-volume history of the Army of the Potomac concludes with Catton’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Stillness at Appomattox, published in 1954. It is one of the best histories I have ever read.

I only thought to read the book because I heard David McCullough say in the course of a long C-SPAN interview with the great Brian Lamb that he had received it as a gift when he graduated from Yale in 1955 and that he traced his interest in writing history to reading it after graduation. If the book had that kind of an impact on him, I wanted to try reading it myself. Following up, I found it to be unbelievably powerful.

The book tells the story of Army of the Potomac during the final year of the Civil War. By the time I finished reading it, even though it didn’t take long, I felt as though I had lived and fought alongside the exhausted survivors of the devastating battles of that final year–emotionally spent, grateful to be alive, distraught over the carnage. What an utterly beautiful work of popular history it is.

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