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Terrible Swift Sword: The Centennial History of the Civil War Series, Volume 2

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The second episode in this award-winning trilogy impressively shows how the Union and Confederacy, slowly and inexorably, reconciled themselves to an all-out war—an epic struggle for freedom. In Terrible Swift Sword, Bruce Catton tells the story of the Civil War as never before—of two turning points which changed the scope and meaning of the war. First, he describes how the The second episode in this award-winning trilogy impressively shows how the Union and Confederacy, slowly and inexorably, reconciled themselves to an all-out war—an epic struggle for freedom. In Terrible Swift Sword, Bruce Catton tells the story of the Civil War as never before—of two turning points which changed the scope and meaning of the war. First, he describes how the war slowly but steadily got out of control. This would not be the neat, short, “limited” war both sides had envisioned. And then the author reveals how the sweeping force of all-out conflict changed the war’s purpose, in turning it into a war for human freedom. It was not initially a war against slavery. Instead, this was, Mr. Lincoln kept insisting, a fight to reunite the United States. At first, it was not even much of a fight. Cautious generals; inexperienced, incompetent, or jealous administrators; shortages of good people and supplies; excess of both gloom and optimism, kept each side from swinging into decisive action. As the buildup began, there were maddening delays. The earliest engagements were halting and inconclusive. After these first tests at arms, reputations began to crumble. Buell, Halleck, Beauregard Albert Sidney Johnston. Failed to drive ahead—for reasons good and bad. General McClellan (impaled in these pages on the arrogant words of his letters) captured more imaginations than enemies, and continued to accept serious over estimates of Confederate strength while becoming more and more fatally estranged from his own government.


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The second episode in this award-winning trilogy impressively shows how the Union and Confederacy, slowly and inexorably, reconciled themselves to an all-out war—an epic struggle for freedom. In Terrible Swift Sword, Bruce Catton tells the story of the Civil War as never before—of two turning points which changed the scope and meaning of the war. First, he describes how the The second episode in this award-winning trilogy impressively shows how the Union and Confederacy, slowly and inexorably, reconciled themselves to an all-out war—an epic struggle for freedom. In Terrible Swift Sword, Bruce Catton tells the story of the Civil War as never before—of two turning points which changed the scope and meaning of the war. First, he describes how the war slowly but steadily got out of control. This would not be the neat, short, “limited” war both sides had envisioned. And then the author reveals how the sweeping force of all-out conflict changed the war’s purpose, in turning it into a war for human freedom. It was not initially a war against slavery. Instead, this was, Mr. Lincoln kept insisting, a fight to reunite the United States. At first, it was not even much of a fight. Cautious generals; inexperienced, incompetent, or jealous administrators; shortages of good people and supplies; excess of both gloom and optimism, kept each side from swinging into decisive action. As the buildup began, there were maddening delays. The earliest engagements were halting and inconclusive. After these first tests at arms, reputations began to crumble. Buell, Halleck, Beauregard Albert Sidney Johnston. Failed to drive ahead—for reasons good and bad. General McClellan (impaled in these pages on the arrogant words of his letters) captured more imaginations than enemies, and continued to accept serious over estimates of Confederate strength while becoming more and more fatally estranged from his own government.

30 review for Terrible Swift Sword: The Centennial History of the Civil War Series, Volume 2

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jay Schutt

    Like the first volume of the Centennial commemorative trilogy by Bruce Catton, this volume two is extensively researched and written in a manor that is easy to comprehend. It covers the period from late 1861 to late 1862. It is detailed politically, militarily and civilly. It opened windows into many aspects of the Civil War that showed more insight of the activities of the war than I can talk about. A great educational experience. Highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    This is the second book in Bruce Catton's trilogy called The Centennial History of the Civil War. It is well-written and full of rich details. The first book in this trilogy is "The Coming Fury," which I also gave five stars. Now I look forward to book three, "Never Call Retreat." Since I loved Ron Chernow's "Grant," I cannot wait for Grant to take over the Army of the Potomac in the next book, since McClellan is making such a mess of things. (And, oh, to read McClellan's arrogant letters home t This is the second book in Bruce Catton's trilogy called The Centennial History of the Civil War. It is well-written and full of rich details. The first book in this trilogy is "The Coming Fury," which I also gave five stars. Now I look forward to book three, "Never Call Retreat." Since I loved Ron Chernow's "Grant," I cannot wait for Grant to take over the Army of the Potomac in the next book, since McClellan is making such a mess of things. (And, oh, to read McClellan's arrogant letters home to his wife!) Actually, I intended to start Catton's other trilogy that ends with "A Stillness at Appomattox," which is highly recommended, but got confused and started the wrong set. No matter -- this series is excellent so far and I will read the other set, too.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rae

    This is the second of Catton's Civil War trilogy, apparently picking up where his first, The Coming Fury, left off (I say apparently because I started with this one). I've never read Catton before but now I'm hooked on his work. He had a wonderful way of writing about history, bringing it to life with a great deal of humanity and a sometimes sardonically wicked sense of humor. He was a superb historian as well; he knew the Civil War and had an ability to write about it from the viewpoint not onl This is the second of Catton's Civil War trilogy, apparently picking up where his first, The Coming Fury, left off (I say apparently because I started with this one). I've never read Catton before but now I'm hooked on his work. He had a wonderful way of writing about history, bringing it to life with a great deal of humanity and a sometimes sardonically wicked sense of humor. He was a superb historian as well; he knew the Civil War and had an ability to write about it from the viewpoint not only of the generals and politicians, but from the common soldiers of both the North and South. This "every man's" touch helps to give his story a tenderness that merely writing about the concerns of "the professionals" would not have provided. Besides being a terrific source for learning about the Civil War from after Bull Run up to the time the War drew near its end, Terrible Swift Sword is a thrilling read. Catton captures the gritty sense of the battles, the urgency and uncertainty, the back-and-forth strategy of the commanders, as well as the fear all the soldiers fought their way through. If you are a history reader, or are interested in becoming one, get a book by Bruce Catton. (Warning: Like I, you'll probably want to hit General McClelland, commander of the Union Armies, with a large stick for being such a ridiculous, juvenile git!)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Bruce Catton continues to amaze! Mr. Catton spends most of this volume (the second of a trilogy) bringing to light the events between First Bull Run and Antietam. Again, he focuses less on the minutia of the details of specific battles and spends his time relating how the various events and battles formed the opinions and actions of the players, major and minor. When focusing on battles, Mr. Catton is very good at showing the big picture so that you know why Forts Donelson and Henry were such sign Bruce Catton continues to amaze! Mr. Catton spends most of this volume (the second of a trilogy) bringing to light the events between First Bull Run and Antietam. Again, he focuses less on the minutia of the details of specific battles and spends his time relating how the various events and battles formed the opinions and actions of the players, major and minor. When focusing on battles, Mr. Catton is very good at showing the big picture so that you know why Forts Donelson and Henry were such significant Union victories and how events in the Western theatre (and his knowledge of McClellan's shortcomings) affected Lee's decision to move into Maryland in 1862. I repeat... if you haven't read Mr. Catton's works, you've really missed out.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Canfield

    Terrible Swift Sword picks up where The Coming Fury left off, and it would be correct to say this book absolutely serves as a readable in-depth Civil War history. This volume begins with an examination of the war from the civilian perspective. President Lincoln is attempting a balancing act by keeping the war's narrow focus on bringing the South back into the Union while (for the time being) putting off the question of slavery, while men in his Cabinet (William Seward, Salmon Chase) and the Cong Terrible Swift Sword picks up where The Coming Fury left off, and it would be correct to say this book absolutely serves as a readable in-depth Civil War history. This volume begins with an examination of the war from the civilian perspective. President Lincoln is attempting a balancing act by keeping the war's narrow focus on bringing the South back into the Union while (for the time being) putting off the question of slavery, while men in his Cabinet (William Seward, Salmon Chase) and the Congress (Thaddeus Stevens and other abolitionists) want a more aggressive stance taken toward the issue. Lincoln urges compensated emancipation, pointing out it would be much less expensive than carrying on the increasingly devastating war for even three more months, but once this offer was, despite his urging, spurned by the border states, he moves more and more in the direction of full emancipation. The Army of the Potomac's controversial general, George McClellan, whose self-aggrandizement is brazenly apparent in letters to his wife, comes across badly. To hear Catton recount the condescending language he used to describe peers in various letters, including references to superiors like Lincoln, it is apparent D.C. was not big enough for the top hat and the mustache. As the Civil War drags into year two and the Northern public begins to push for more decisive, bolder action, there begins to be a growing suspicion McClellan is hesitant to attack the Confederate military not out of strategy purposes, but out of sympathy with their cause. While no fan of McClellan, Catton points out the irony in these accusations lodged against the Army of the Potomac's leader: a swift end to the war would have been better for McClellan's supposed sympathies had he truly wanted to see the Union as well as slavery remain intact. After all, a rapid end to the war might have still kept alive the chance the South would sign a deal whereby they rejoined the United States while maintaining slavery in their borders. (Such a rapid end was obviously not forthcoming). It is these political aspects of the war that Catton attends to with as close of an eye for detail as the military ones. McClellan's ultimate failure in his attempt to end the war via invasion of the peninsula takes up a lot of space. The Seven Days Battle, fought as part of this Peninsula Campaign which was supposed to bring the Confederacy to its knees, is certainly not a proud moment of fighting for the Army of the Potomac. The collapse of this campaign made it even more apparent to the country's leadership that the war very well might be a long one, and some officers underneath McClellan-possibly egged on by borderline-seditious statements of his own--were thought to have considered overthrowing the civilian leadership in D.C. and installing McClellan as a sort of military dictator. This reflects how much distrust there was in 1862 between the Army of the Potomac and Lincoln's White House. The fact that McClellan's men were more loyal to him than their own government made the idea of removing him from his post an even trickier one to implement. Ultimately, this would be done when the leadership determined that he failed to aggressively follow up on the victory at Antietam. The delicate internationalist situation is taken into consideration as well. Charles Francis Adams, U.S. minister to England, was well aware of how close England came to recognizing the Confederacy. The blockade during the war and subsequent denial to their mills of desperately needed Southern cotton was not looked on too kindly by the British. Absent an overarching moral crusade (and a victory) behind the war's ruthless fighting, many were concerned the British would extend recognition, if not active assistance, to the Southern government. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee begin to assert their abilities on the battlefield in Terrible Swift Sword. Although Lee's initial campaign in what would become West Virginia left much to be desired, Catton shows how much Jefferson Davis came to rely on him to hold the Army of Northern Virginia together. And on the Union side, Ulysses S. Grant begins to build on his Forts Henry and Donelson momentum during the Battle of Shiloh. The brutal fighting at that site in southern Tennessee is covered in ample detail, providing a haunting recounting of what made the Civil War warfare so monstrous. The taking of Forts Jackson and St. Philip by Admiral David Farragut in the spring of 1862 ensured Union control of New Orleans, and this memorable moment for the U.S. Navy is walked through in step-by-step fashion. The manner in which the book balances a focus on both the western and Virginian theaters is admirable; this allows the reader to get a full picture of what was going on across many, many miles of action during the Civil War. Ultimately, Lincoln and his Cabinet decided to wait to make the Emancipation Proclamation's official announcement until after a big, propaganda-achieving victory was achieved. And this win comes toward the end of volume two: Antietam, the agonizing September 1862 battle day still remembered as a costly Union victory and the bloodiest day in United States history, creates a feeling in the North that momentum might very well be turning. Outnumbered more than two to one, Robert E. Lee would make the questionable decision to take his men to battle against their enemy near Antietam Creek in Maryland, and despite the best efforts of men in units led by Jeb Stuart, John B. Hood, and Stonewall Jackson, the fighting of George McClellan, Joe Hooker, and Edwin V. Sumner's men ended up denying the Confederates a win north of the Potomac. The win at Antietam, combined with a failed chance for Braxton Bragg to notch a victory over Don Carlos Buell's men and force a pro-Southern uprising in Kentucky, dealt a blow to the Southern cause. They were still picking up the pieces from these catastrophes as the book ends. The dire financial situation faced by the South-hemmed in by its allegiance to states' rights during a war that required a powerful central government to win--meant Terrible Swift Sword end on a sour note for Jefferson Davis and the states he led. This is a terrific book. Bruce Catton picks apart the second year of the Civil War with an eagle eye for information, all of it told in a format that keeps readers wondering how each succeeding battle will be recounted. -Andrew Canfield Denver, Colorado

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alan Tomkins-Raney

    The second volume in Bruce Catton's famous and definitive Civil War history, this book covers 1862, focusing on the Federal advances in the West (that were not capitalized on by Henry Halleck), the amazing naval engagements along the southeastern coast and up and down the Mississippi River, and especially McClellan's frustrating to observe Peninsula Campaign. It ends with McClellan finally (belatedly, if you ask me) being relieved of command. McClellan was such an unbelievable ass, it's no wonde The second volume in Bruce Catton's famous and definitive Civil War history, this book covers 1862, focusing on the Federal advances in the West (that were not capitalized on by Henry Halleck), the amazing naval engagements along the southeastern coast and up and down the Mississippi River, and especially McClellan's frustrating to observe Peninsula Campaign. It ends with McClellan finally (belatedly, if you ask me) being relieved of command. McClellan was such an unbelievable ass, it's no wonder a member of Lincoln's cabinet remarked that he should be shot. It is absolutely painful to read about this deluded, egotistical man-child's mishandling of the Army of the Potomac, a feeling I've had with every history of this particular army that I've read. Why he gets away with it for so long is finally explained satisfactorily by Catton, that he was a conservative Democrat who had been able to politicize his army from his staff on down through the troops by their extended, nearly year long encampment around Washington while he was building, equipping, and drilling the Army of the Potomac. It became a huge personality cult of his; and his reluctance to put it into vigorous action was seen by his troops as loving protection of them. Anyway, his delusional grandiosity, his flagrantly insubordinate verbal and written trashing of President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton, along with his ingrained habit of always insisting that the Confederates he opposed had three times as many men as he did when he always outnumbered them two to one, and his refusal to budge unless he was resupplied and reinforced with more soldiers than the union had available...well, it maded me want to throttle the son of a bitch myself. But I digress. Although Catton does not go into vivid description of the battles to the degree of other historians like Edwin C. Bearss (Perryville gets barely a mention), he excells at political and sociological analysis that clarifies the circumstances and events involved while lucidly emphasizing the profound importance of the whole Civil War on all of America at the time, and particularly, for the times to come. In this book, with its excellent writing and exciting narrative, we see exactly how a limited war fought for a limited end is transformed into a fullblown war of revolution. That America would go into the future, not back to the past; and that Mr. Lincoln would never give up. As T.J. Barnett, an Interior Department clerk of the time wrote, "from the expiration of the days of grace the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation determination. The South is to be destroyed & replaced by new proprietors and ideas." This is a far cry from the first year of the war, when the aim was to put down rebellious leaders in southern states and restore the ante-bellum status quo. I have thoroughly enjoyed this Civil War History's first two volumes, both of which are real page turners, since Bruce Catton is not only an excellent historian, but also a wonderfully engaging and evocative writer. And now on to volume three.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lami Daja

    Middle volume of Catton’s war trilogy - starting with Lincoln in shock after losing the first set-piece battle, and ending with the narrow win that gave him the authority to ‘proclaim’ (though not procure) the freedom of all southern slaves, turning the war into an abolitionist crusade. This change in the whole nature of the conflict is well-handled - both governments slowly grasping that they did not control the war, because the war was increasingly controlling them. As always with Catton, the b Middle volume of Catton’s war trilogy - starting with Lincoln in shock after losing the first set-piece battle, and ending with the narrow win that gave him the authority to ‘proclaim’ (though not procure) the freedom of all southern slaves, turning the war into an abolitionist crusade. This change in the whole nature of the conflict is well-handled - both governments slowly grasping that they did not control the war, because the war was increasingly controlling them. As always with Catton, the battles are vividly described, especially the naval operations, which seem to bring out a special enthusiasm in the author (he had once served briefly in the navy, so perhaps there was still a sailor in him somewhere.) And he provides an interesting Greek chorus in the form of Charles Francis Adams, the US ambassador in London, who played a useful role in keeping Britain out of the war. The period in question (July 1861 – October 1862) saw the opening-up of the war in the west, with sickening corruption out in the wild places with nobody watching, and slow chaos dogging the Union agenda for many months. It saw the rise of Robert E. Lee and the quite unknown U.S. Grant. It saw the ascendancy of George McClellan, who talked big but dodged the action to an extraordinary degree (supposedly not through timidity, but through extreme reluctance to sacrifice the men to whom he was so devoted) before resigning in order to run against Lincoln for president. And it ended with the Emancipation Proclamation that would deprive the Confederacy of potential allies, since no democratic nation wanted to be seen fighting for slavery.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Riannon

    I wasn't expecting this trilogy to measure up to Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy, because I liked those so much. To my happy surprise, however, it does, or at least this book definitely does; I haven't read the other two yet (Catton books are hard to find at the library sometimes). Amazingly, this trilogy manages to cover the same time period as the other one, yet with so much new interesting facts, and so many different perspectives, that it doesn't feel like a repeat at all (which amazes I wasn't expecting this trilogy to measure up to Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy, because I liked those so much. To my happy surprise, however, it does, or at least this book definitely does; I haven't read the other two yet (Catton books are hard to find at the library sometimes). Amazingly, this trilogy manages to cover the same time period as the other one, yet with so much new interesting facts, and so many different perspectives, that it doesn't feel like a repeat at all (which amazes me, since many authors can't make their books feel different from their other books even when the topic is entirely different). I loved this book and it was not the slight letdown I had expected after already having read the Army of the Potomac trilogy. I can't wait to read the other two! This book was Catton at his best, and if you read Catton you will realize that is really saying something.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Bruce Catton's second installment of The Centennial History of the Civil War trilogy covers the middle portion of the war beginning with the aftermath of First Manassas to the Battle of Antietam and the Emancipation proclamation in September 1863. It is a decent overview of this time-frame told chronologically, focusing on both the military and political aspects of the conflict. Catton does not get mired in details of the various battles, but instead, stays at a higher level view, explaining the Bruce Catton's second installment of The Centennial History of the Civil War trilogy covers the middle portion of the war beginning with the aftermath of First Manassas to the Battle of Antietam and the Emancipation proclamation in September 1863. It is a decent overview of this time-frame told chronologically, focusing on both the military and political aspects of the conflict. Catton does not get mired in details of the various battles, but instead, stays at a higher level view, explaining the big picture of each engagement.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    It is remarkable to note that Bruce Catton wrote several parallel histories of the American Civil War.  Growing up as a kid I was most familiar with his one volume illustrated histories, of which there was a smaller volume and a larger one, full of gorgeous artwork and maps.  Having never been familiar with the full range of his work, though, it is intriguing to note that he wrote a centennial three-volume set of the Civil War that is full of text (of which this volume is the middle part, I am r It is remarkable to note that Bruce Catton wrote several parallel histories of the American Civil War.  Growing up as a kid I was most familiar with his one volume illustrated histories, of which there was a smaller volume and a larger one, full of gorgeous artwork and maps.  Having never been familiar with the full range of his work, though, it is intriguing to note that he wrote a centennial three-volume set of the Civil War that is full of text (of which this volume is the middle part, I am reading them out of order), as well as a four-volume set on the Army of the Potomac, and a two-volume set on Grant's career in the Civil War.  In addition to these he has other volumes that deal with individual battles, for example.  Even if the various accounts are broadly unified by Catton's immensely expressive prose and humane interest in the well-being of others, including slaves and freed blacks, it is striking to see just how often Catton returned to the Civil War through different faces of the same prism.  And that is something worth reading if you have a passionate interest in the Civil War, as I do. This particular book is a massive one at nearly 500 pages of unadorned text, divided into seven chapters and numerous smaller sections that show the war in the Eastern and Western (and only very rarely the Trans-Mississippi) fronts.  The book begins in the period immediately after Bull Run where the North regrouped around Washington DC and built its green recruits into an army and sought to press the War in the west (1).  After that there is a discussion of the logistical work that was required to build a war effort and the initial lack of success the Union faced in 1861 (2).  The third chapter looks at the military paradox and the way that the Confederacy's move into Kentucky pushed that state over to the Union and prepared the way for the Union's moves in both the east and west (3).  The fourth chapter discusses the aftermath of Grant and Thomas' successful attacks in Shiloh and New Orleans (4).  After that Catton discusses the turning point of the war in Lee's taking over the Army of Northern Virginia and McClellan's inability to end the war soon enough to avoid it moving into revolutionary directions (5).  Then Catton talks about the more unlimited means of war, from trading with the enemy on the one hand to preparing to strike against slavery on the other (6).  The book then closes with a discussion of the attacks of Bragg and Lee that ended in stalemate and retreat at Perryville and Antietam (7). As a narrative historian, Catton does a great job here in pointing out the way that politics and military affairs so often intersected in the Civil War, showing how generals on both sides in all theaters of the war struggled with logistical and political realities while trying to win decisive victories.  Catton is well-equipped to note the paradox that the South's successful beginnings forced such a determined effort on the part of the North to win victory that the victory could not help but be immensely crushing to the political power and culture of the South.  A less lengthy and ferocious war would have had less decisive results, especially as ended up the case with regards to slavery.  And this book, by moving to the period just after Antietam with the publishing of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, points to the time when the Civil War moved into a much darker phase, which had been impossible to prevent because too much blood had been shed to settle for anything less than a more complete and more fundamental victory.  This book is written with a high degree of melancholy but also with a great deal of skill.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Reilly

    This is the second volume of Catton's classic Civil War trilogy. It was published in 1963. It is hard to imagine a similar book being published today. This is a military history of the war. Catton explains what armies fought where and what happened. It is a story about strategies by Generals and the accidents and mistakes that cause them to go awry. He discusses the political scene primarily to show its effect on the military developments. These days Civil War histories, even general works, tend This is the second volume of Catton's classic Civil War trilogy. It was published in 1963. It is hard to imagine a similar book being published today. This is a military history of the war. Catton explains what armies fought where and what happened. It is a story about strategies by Generals and the accidents and mistakes that cause them to go awry. He discusses the political scene primarily to show its effect on the military developments. These days Civil War histories, even general works, tend to focus on broader issues. The soldier's daily experience, the role and experience of woman, the ordeal of the slaves, the ideological battles, the effect of the war on civilians, and the economic forces nationally and internationally, all get attention. Catton does not give extended attention to any of these issues. He is telling the story of armies battling in a war. The Civil War cannot be summarized in one book, or three books. All of the different angles, takes and viewpoints can help our understanding of the war. It is possible to lose sight, however, of the fact that this was first, and most importantly, a war with armies in battles. All of the other events flow from the military events. Catton provides the clearest explanation of the military campaigns that I have ever read. This book focuses on the events of 1862. There were some really confusing military shenanigans that year. For example, the battles at the top of the Confederacy, in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri have always completely confused me. Catton provides a clear explanation of the overall strategies of each side and of the desperate improvisations both sides had to make. He explains why a retreat in West Virginia could cause an army to abandon a position in Tennessee. Catton also straightens out the stories of the great Battles. The Battle of Pea Ridge in Western Arkansas, the capture of Island #10 on the mid-Mississippi and the Second Bull Run campaign are three of the most confusing military events in the war. Armies seem to be going in the wrong directions, rivers run the wrong way, and positions spin around dizzyingly. Catton walks through them without getting bogged down in more detail than necessary. He left me feeling that I had a pretty good idea of what happened. Even in describing battles, Catton stays at a fairly high level. There are very few you-where-there type descriptions of combat. We see the battle from the viewpoint of the General. What was he trying to do? How did he deal with the unexpected? What does the battle tell us about the General? The footnotes evidence a huge amount of research behind his conclusions. He, like most observers, has no use for General McClellan. He argues that absent General Lee, the war would have likely ended in 1862. He shows that the North did not begin the war to end slavery but that by the fall of 1862 too much blood had been shed to accept anything less, which is why Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation after Antietam. Catton is a graceful writer. He can get a bit flowery at times but once he gets back to his job of telling the story of the war, he writes a solid, strong prose. To understand the Civil War, you have to understand what the armies did and what the result was. Catton is still the best guide to that big picture.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Henry Davis IV

    This second book in Bruce Catton's groundbreaking "Centennial History of the Civil War" was published in 1962 but is just as relevant a work for Civil War studies now as it was during the conflict's centennial. Catton's ability to provide context to his superbly crafted narrative helps solidify the connections and concepts he is illuminating. For example, while providing a great overview of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg depending upon where you're from), Catton not only is sure to descri This second book in Bruce Catton's groundbreaking "Centennial History of the Civil War" was published in 1962 but is just as relevant a work for Civil War studies now as it was during the conflict's centennial. Catton's ability to provide context to his superbly crafted narrative helps solidify the connections and concepts he is illuminating. For example, while providing a great overview of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg depending upon where you're from), Catton not only is sure to describe where the bloodletting is taking place in physical terms (landmarks, directions, etc.), but where it fits in chronologically and strategically. While it is common knowledge Antietam's outcome resulted in ending General Lee's Maryland Campaign which set conditions for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, it is not always obvious the Battle of Perryville in the Confederacy's Kentucky Campaign was the "right hook" accompanying General Lee's "left hook" into Maryland. Had either the Maryland or Kentucky Campaigns met with more success, the Emancipation Proclamation would have surely been delayed and hope for foreign intervention on the Confederacy's behalf would have been kindled anew. Instead, the proclamation brought the war's true moral significance to the forefront and altered how foreign powers like Great Britain and event Americans of all stripes viewed the conflict. Catton's ability to weave all of this together in a succinct, clear, and most importantly captivating narrative truly sets him apart from other historians and justifies his appellation as one of America's greatest narrative historians. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the American Civil War, civil wars in general, 19th Century warfare, American military history, or American history.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book is almost 50 years old, but it does well. I'm sure that more modern scholarship has added a lot since this was published, but it's a good overview. One lesson for modern times, is that the dependence on often untrained volunteers added so much to the carnage, the confusion, and the length of the war. I imagine this is even more true today. Many times both Union and Confederate Armies had little time to develop the skills they needed to work together and succeed on the battlefield. Luck This book is almost 50 years old, but it does well. I'm sure that more modern scholarship has added a lot since this was published, but it's a good overview. One lesson for modern times, is that the dependence on often untrained volunteers added so much to the carnage, the confusion, and the length of the war. I imagine this is even more true today. Many times both Union and Confederate Armies had little time to develop the skills they needed to work together and succeed on the battlefield. Luckily, both sides suffered from the problem. It's also striking to note how revered some of the Confederate Generals are, but their records may be spotty at best. Lee was a skilled General, but his skill never did allow the South to win, he succeeded only in prolonging the war, insuring that slavery was ended, de jure, and increased the suffering, and destruction, brought on the rebel states. With so many wanting to preserve statues to these men, this is the legacy we should remember, not the tenacity of "Stonewall" Jackson, or Robert E Lee's tactical brilliance, but that they chose to fight to continue slavery, and set back the South even further.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bobsie67

    Bruce Catton's writing is so clear and beautiful to read. Here, he delves into the political developments that cause the US civil war to become harsher, to become "total war." Perhaps one of the most even-handed reviews of George McClellan, whose failures were a combination of time, place, egotism, political ineptness, self-delusion, self-inflected hysteria and delusion regarding the Confederate army, and the fact that the political tide was against him and those who believed like him, that is, Bruce Catton's writing is so clear and beautiful to read. Here, he delves into the political developments that cause the US civil war to become harsher, to become "total war." Perhaps one of the most even-handed reviews of George McClellan, whose failures were a combination of time, place, egotism, political ineptness, self-delusion, self-inflected hysteria and delusion regarding the Confederate army, and the fact that the political tide was against him and those who believed like him, that is, the conservative Democrats of the North. Our modern views of the civil war may at times take issue with Catton's ability to see all sides with equanimity; nevertheless, Catton's prose is easily among the best history writing. All historians have a slant--a point of view--and we as readers are obligated to understand the writer's perspective. Understanding perspective doesn't not mean to imply agreement. For more modern perspectives, read James McPherson and Gary Gallagher, as well as HW Brands. US Civil War literature is as vast as there are perspectives on the war.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Crofut

    Catton's work is a gripping account of the Civil War transforming itself from the cause of preserving the Union to one of redefining what that Union stood for. Lincoln subtly navigates the ship of state, an unwieldy ship if there ever was one, through the rocky shoals of civil war. Radical Republicans and abolitionists, the border state slave owners and moderate Democrats effectively controlling the premier army of the North, the active foil of the Confederacy with Britain always playing an unce Catton's work is a gripping account of the Civil War transforming itself from the cause of preserving the Union to one of redefining what that Union stood for. Lincoln subtly navigates the ship of state, an unwieldy ship if there ever was one, through the rocky shoals of civil war. Radical Republicans and abolitionists, the border state slave owners and moderate Democrats effectively controlling the premier army of the North, the active foil of the Confederacy with Britain always playing an uncertain role off in the distance...and of course chance ever determining the course of nations all weigh on the President as he both tries to win the war and define why that war must be fought and won in the first place. It doesn't surprise me that a generation of Civil War buffs were raised after the likes of Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton started writing expansive and engaging accounts of the conflict. This is history as it is supposed to be. Highly recommended!

  16. 5 out of 5

    coolwind

    The war, to everyone’s surprise, started to drag and seemed no end. Look backward, General MacClellan has done a very bad job. He is more a selfish politician than a good soldier. It is sad that it took Lincoln so long to dismiss him. History can’t restart. On the slavery topic, Lincoln is walking on a very thin line to manage it toward his plan. It is a very good maneuver. I read that some other people (criticize for the sake of criticizing the Bad US) said Lincoln initially also didn’t want to The war, to everyone’s surprise, started to drag and seemed no end. Look backward, General MacClellan has done a very bad job. He is more a selfish politician than a good soldier. It is sad that it took Lincoln so long to dismiss him. History can’t restart. On the slavery topic, Lincoln is walking on a very thin line to manage it toward his plan. It is a very good maneuver. I read that some other people (criticize for the sake of criticizing the Bad US) said Lincoln initially also didn’t want to free the slavers. But if he did that too early, not only the problem can’t be solved under his government, but also the union can’t win the south. His choice of the general is a disappointment at the beginning of the war. But his handling of the slavery issue is superb.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Albert Meier

    Catton continues his masterful work on the Civil War. Covering the fall of 1861 and most of 1862, he chronicles how the war changed into the limitless struggle that eventually embraced the abolition of slavery its goal. It was the era of McClellan, massive armies that could not find initiative, political soldiers and Lee coming with inches of total victory or total defeat. With a volume this large already, some editorial decisions had to be made. I would have liked to hear something about the war Catton continues his masterful work on the Civil War. Covering the fall of 1861 and most of 1862, he chronicles how the war changed into the limitless struggle that eventually embraced the abolition of slavery its goal. It was the era of McClellan, massive armies that could not find initiative, political soldiers and Lee coming with inches of total victory or total defeat. With a volume this large already, some editorial decisions had to be made. I would have liked to hear something about the war in the far West (New Mexico) and the Copperheads. Perhaps these will be covered in the final volume.

  18. 4 out of 5

    PMB

    Book 2 begins with the unrest in Missouri and ends with Antietam and McCellan's dismissal. The battle descriptions are very short, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of other books out there if you want the minutia of the 7 Days or Shiloh. Read Shelby Foote or Stephen Sears. The second to last section (Revolutionary Struggle) of chapter 2 (A Vast Future Also) closes with what may well be the finest writing on the war I've ever read. I continue to marvel at Catton's prose. Book 2 begins with the unrest in Missouri and ends with Antietam and McCellan's dismissal. The battle descriptions are very short, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of other books out there if you want the minutia of the 7 Days or Shiloh. Read Shelby Foote or Stephen Sears. The second to last section (Revolutionary Struggle) of chapter 2 (A Vast Future Also) closes with what may well be the finest writing on the war I've ever read. I continue to marvel at Catton's prose.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dave Hoff

    Very well written of the early part of the Civil War. Starting with neutral states of Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, small battles settled with Missouri and Kentucky staying with the union and Tennessee divided. Had the North had better generals in the 1961-62 period, the War could have ended, how it would settle out, a question. But the Generals got better and the last book of the Trilogy , will tell the end of the tale.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cameron Tietz

    Brilliant. Catton brings you into the mind of the generals and the administration's of both Lincoln and Davis alike. Feeling as though you are involved in the foggy uncertainty of how the war could morph into an all encompassing thing, bringing about a future no one could be certain of. Brilliant. Catton brings you into the mind of the generals and the administration's of both Lincoln and Davis alike. Feeling as though you are involved in the foggy uncertainty of how the war could morph into an all encompassing thing, bringing about a future no one could be certain of.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jim OBrien

    I think this is one of the best Bruce Catton books dealing with the Civil War. Compare this to the Bhagavad Gita and the question of why we fight our brothers??

  22. 4 out of 5

    christopher spencer

    The second book is superb,an excellent read.It brings not just the battles but also the people to life.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Al

    The author who provides the very best history of the tumultuous years of the American Civil War.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Brilliant and highly recommended for those who want the details in their American Civil War account. May be read singly or as the second in Catton's trilogy. Catton's trilogy was written as a Centennial History for the 100th year of Union victory and the preserved integrity of the United States of America. His writing reflects the time period, as a strong historian with a nevertheless very Caucasian focus to his work. "People" means white folk when he does the talking, and to be fair, in 1965, u Brilliant and highly recommended for those who want the details in their American Civil War account. May be read singly or as the second in Catton's trilogy. Catton's trilogy was written as a Centennial History for the 100th year of Union victory and the preserved integrity of the United States of America. His writing reflects the time period, as a strong historian with a nevertheless very Caucasian focus to his work. "People" means white folk when he does the talking, and to be fair, in 1965, unless a writer was a person of color, this was the unfortunate tendency. Nevertheless I give this work five stars, because I have done quite a bit of reading about this bottomless topic, and he taught me a great deal. Before you set off to read it, though, whether by itself or as the second volume of a trilogy, look at the subject and the page count. Don't read it if you are still separating Stanton from Seward or McClernand from McPherson. Be ready. That said, I never really understood before that the Cumberland Gap is also the Wilderness Road (so, Daniel Boone meets the Civil War, sort of). I hadn't completely understood that US forces were poised on the border of Kentucky, which had (ridiculously it seems now) attempted to remain neutral between the warring factions, way too much land right there in the middle, but they gave it a go, and said that the first army to cross into Kentucky was the enemy, so Lincoln said to wait till the Confederacy crossed, and the rest is history. And before reading this trilogy, I didn't realize that there was ever a thought over fighting for West Virginia, which was silly of me. In a time where almost every square foot of the border (and eventually beyond) was a source of contention, why would I have believed that West Virginia could leave Virginia, with all of its resources, and no effort have been made by the Confederacy to keep it? And because McClellan took the (physical) high ground before the opposing forces could get there, he got to be the grand pooh-bah of the Union army, after humiliating poor old Scott whose Anaconda Plan was actually very good. In fact, McClellan really wanted all the power all of the time, and the nasty-tempered letters he sent back to the missuz (oh how many of us think our correspondence will be kept private?) show that he not only wanted to control the army, but he wanted to be either dictator or president long before the re-election of Lincoln was in question. His slowness and reluctance to do battle with his slave-holding pals down south looks more treasonous the more I read about it. Catton builds a compelling case. But Lincoln had to be very careful in replacing him, as Catton documents it, because the attitude had entrenched itself down into the other officers and to a smaller (but weaker) extent, the rank and file. Ultimately, when Lincoln unseated McClellan, it was the rank and file that pulled the army through to the other side when McClellan weighed the matter to see whether his army would march against its own president to install him in personal, powerful splendor. I tremble to think what might have happened had McClellan been more fortunate, and Lincoln less savvy. I most of all enjoyed a quote by Lincoln that says it all, and which I don't recall seeing elsewhere. When a representative of Louisiana Unionists sought his reassurance regarding slavery in 1862, Lincoln responded, "It may as well be understood once and for all, that I shall not surrender this game leaving any available card unplayed." Well played, President Lincoln, and well written, Mr. Catton. Onward to the last volume in the series!

  25. 5 out of 5

    William P.

    I have several of Mr. Catton's books. I am sure these are in every Civil War library. I have several of Mr. Catton's books. I am sure these are in every Civil War library.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    wilson's creek in southwestern missouri between lyon (union) and price/mccullough (confederacy), confederate victory and defeat/death of outnumbered lyon but enabling union to maintain control of missouri throughout war Fremont maneuvering in Missouri in attempt to get down Mississippi river, martial law and overstepping by threatening to free slaves Maneuvering in Kentucky, Polk vs grant Lee's failures in west Virginia, union holding Eastern Tennessee strategies, unionists outnumbered Grant early lo wilson's creek in southwestern missouri between lyon (union) and price/mccullough (confederacy), confederate victory and defeat/death of outnumbered lyon but enabling union to maintain control of missouri throughout war Fremont maneuvering in Missouri in attempt to get down Mississippi river, martial law and overstepping by threatening to free slaves Maneuvering in Kentucky, Polk vs grant Lee's failures in west Virginia, union holding Eastern Tennessee strategies, unionists outnumbered Grant early loss in Belmont Scott and McClellan rivalry, McClellan being named commander of army Union naval expedition to take port royal sound Thomas victory in mill springs Kentucky taking eastern end of Johnston line, opening up eastern Tennessee Trent affair Grant big victories in fort henry and moreso fort donelson Union victory at Shiloh, island ten, isolating Mississippi Union naval victory in New Orleans steaming up river past forts and taking city, later tough occupation by ben butler Peninsular campaign, McClellan slowness, siege of Yorktown, battle at Williamsburg, vast over estimate of confederate strength, drive toward Richmond Jackson brilliant Shenandoah valley campaign, helping to draw troops of mcdowell off of mcclellan's plans Seven pines battle, then Lee flanking McClellan and seven days battle, driving McClellan off peninsula lincoln naming halleck commander of all union armies Contraband trading extending the war north losing momentum in west by not taking vicksburg, buell dallying and bragg going on offensive pope army north of richmond being formed, lee converging, rivalry between pope and mcclellan england feeling impact of civil war with lack of cotton, unemployment movements by bragg and kirby smith in tenn and kentucky, keeping buell off balance and union from attacking second battle of bull run with lee leaving richmond unguarded, with mcclellan not acting, pope being attacked by jackson/lee and being defeated pope removal as general, mcclellan back in charge and lee invading maryland with inferior number of forces, leading to great loss of life at antietam

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    First, Catton's three volume history of the Civil War is for my money the best for the general reader, hands down. Look to "The Battle Cry of Freedom" for a masterful single volume treatment; or Shelby Foote's series if you want to know the particulars about Ulysses Grant's riverboat drinking benders or the specific military maneuvers that won or lost any battle in the war. But if you are a reader interested in knowing who the big players were in the Civil War, what they did and why they did it, First, Catton's three volume history of the Civil War is for my money the best for the general reader, hands down. Look to "The Battle Cry of Freedom" for a masterful single volume treatment; or Shelby Foote's series if you want to know the particulars about Ulysses Grant's riverboat drinking benders or the specific military maneuvers that won or lost any battle in the war. But if you are a reader interested in knowing who the big players were in the Civil War, what they did and why they did it, look no further than Catton's series. I feel bad giving this four stars instead of five because the reason isn't Catton's fault: the narrative dawdles and "nothing big seems to happen" for a long time not because of the author but because that's what happened during that phase of the war (much to Abraham Lincoln's constant irritation). If the book wears on you at some points because you think you've been reading about the slow moving campaign to capture a particular river bend in Tennessee for 30 pages, it's probably because it took the slow moving Union generals six months to take it. Amazingly well done book, but a bit of slog at times to read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steve Woods

    I really enjoy "good historical writing". This is a really top series of three volumes on the Civil War. It provides the broad sweep of a very complex and intricate conflict. This is the second volume finished and now beginning the third and final book. Catton has been a masterful story teller as all first rate historians are. As I proceed through the series I find my understanding of the forces at work behind this cataclysmic event in American history clarifies with each passing page. The perso I really enjoy "good historical writing". This is a really top series of three volumes on the Civil War. It provides the broad sweep of a very complex and intricate conflict. This is the second volume finished and now beginning the third and final book. Catton has been a masterful story teller as all first rate historians are. As I proceed through the series I find my understanding of the forces at work behind this cataclysmic event in American history clarifies with each passing page. The personalities of the major players rises from the page in stark relief, and with the exception of so few, most Confederate military men, most are condemned as prideful butchers of astonishing ineptitude. The books provide the framework within which to place the more detailed accounts of these battles, the most horrific ever experienced prior to WW1 as the age of industrial warfare dawns. Bravo! It is such a great pleasure to read well researched history and learn with no pain! Catton earned every cent he made off this effort, a great piece of work.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Iain

    One of the best accounts of the ACW and its repercussions that I have read. Engaging and eloquently written; thought provoking while having a good level of detail. I was particularly struck by how well the author covered naval and amphibious actions. The author presents a more even accounting than others. For example, his coverage on the campaign to take New Orleans is as detailed as the campaign culminating in Antietam. This is a rarity in my experience as authors typically favor the land campa One of the best accounts of the ACW and its repercussions that I have read. Engaging and eloquently written; thought provoking while having a good level of detail. I was particularly struck by how well the author covered naval and amphibious actions. The author presents a more even accounting than others. For example, his coverage on the campaign to take New Orleans is as detailed as the campaign culminating in Antietam. This is a rarity in my experience as authors typically favor the land campaigns, and the campaigns in Virginia disproportionally. Arguably, disproportionally to their importance. Of special note are the absolutely fantastic maps: detailed, clear, and very attractive as well. All this from a book penned 55 years ago. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the ACW at a strategic and operational level.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Grindy Stone

    The recent dust-up over the propriety of waving the Confederate battle flag brought forth lots of opinions - some well-reasoned, others not - on whether the Civil War was waged by the Union to either preserve the Union or abolish slavery. 50 years before this Internet/AM radio debate, Bruce Catton showed that the answer to that question is not an either/or proposition, but that the War Between the States began as an effort to keep the US together and ended with the goal of crushing the rebellion The recent dust-up over the propriety of waving the Confederate battle flag brought forth lots of opinions - some well-reasoned, others not - on whether the Civil War was waged by the Union to either preserve the Union or abolish slavery. 50 years before this Internet/AM radio debate, Bruce Catton showed that the answer to that question is not an either/or proposition, but that the War Between the States began as an effort to keep the US together and ended with the goal of crushing the rebellion as well as slavery. Also, Democrats ten years ago moaned about executive orders, and they're waved around now by Republicans as this horrible evil, but no one ever brings up the Emancipation Proclamation as an example of the executive branch run amok.

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