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The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox, by Bruce Catton
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The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox, by Bruce Catton

Written by the doyen of Civil War historians, this is the final work in a series of ground-breaking narratives on the emergence of the Union Army from virtually nothing in the crucible of unexpected war. With a deft hand, he traces the evolution of the Union Army, afflicted as few armies have been, by an officer corps that made corpses appear lively by comparison—indeed producing corpses by the thousand by their astounding incompetence. In campaign after campaign, battle after battle, Catton demonstrates how carefully laid plans—none too intelligently laid in any event—were botched or allowed to fail from simple failure to move, or to adequately supply, or by a perpetual incoordination of the various branches.

Perhaps the best (or worst) example was that of the Crater at Petersburg, where an unparalleled opportunity to rapidly end the war appeared out of Lee’s failure to fully respond to Grant’s outflanking maneuver to Lee’s south. After weeks of careful preparation, the mines in the Confederate trenches were blown—only to see the advantage lost due to officer rivalry, poor timing, and lack of support for the initial shock troops, who were massacred as a consequence.

Catton relates a sad, tired tale of endless slaughter caused by the absence of any proven strategy for victory except the mindless sacrificing of ever more thousands of lives to entrenched Confederate guns. The Civil War having begun with fanciful notions of Napoleonic bayonet charges, by Appomattox the trenches of World War I are already looming in the distance.

Must Lee have surrendered, or could he have retreated to the hills and given battle yet again? Catton leaves the impression that this was possible, and that in the end the Army of Northern Virginia remained undefeated, like a boxer who, though bloodied and battered, still stands, and that the intimidated Union Army leadership, and perhaps Grant himself, were relieved that Lee finally chose to end the matter and wished to make it as easy as possible for him to do so. Essential to any student of the Civil War: Catton never loses his grip. —SiriusReviews.com.

Sirius Reviews

The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox, by Bruce Catton, 4.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
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