Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From the Shelves of the Paco Library



Bruce Catton was one of our finest Civil War Historians, and his greatest work was the three-volume history of the Army of the Potomac, consisting of Mr. Lincoln’s War, Glory Road, and A Stillness at Appomattox. These books take us from the early days of the conflict, when the Army of the Potomac, under the popular, but vain and ultimately ineffective, George B. McClellan, found itself consistently baffled by its Confederate foes, to the end of the war, by which time the same army had become transformed into a grim killing machine under the command of the relentless and single-minded U.S. Grant. Superbly researched, and drawing not only upon dry military dispatches and formal reports, but upon the letters and diaries of the men who slogged their way through the great bloodletting of the American Civil War, the trilogy affords a comprehensive view of the battles, large and small, that went on not only in the field, but in the minds and hearts of the participants.

Here, from the first volume, we have a description of the shock experienced by the troops in the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam (the first major battle to take place in Union territory, and the bloodiest single-day battle in American history):

“Even men who had been in the thickest of the fighting were astounded when they went about the field and saw how terrible the killing had been. One officer counted more than two hundred dead southerners in a five-hundred-foot stretch of the Bloody Lane. An Ohio soldier wrote that the lane was ‘literally filled with the dead.’ Stupefied Pennsylvania rookies gossiped fatuously that the Confederate bodies they were burying had turned black because the Rebels ate gunpowder for breakfast. One Northern soldier, moved by a somewhat ghoulish curiosity, carefully examined a body which hung doubled over a fence in rear of the Bloody Lane and found that it had been hit by fifty-seven bullets. Under the ashes of burned haystacks, in front of Burnside’s corps, soldiers found the charred bodies of wounded men who had feebly crawled under the hay for shelter and had been too weak to crawl out when the stacks took fire.”

There are numerous excellent “snapshots” of the famous soldiers, such as this description of one of the North’s most celebrated cavalrymen:

“Cavalry found that a new day had dawned. The Pleasontons and Kilpatricks were gone, and at the top there was another Westerner – a tough little man named Phil Sheridan, bandy-legged and wiry, with a black bullet head and a hard eye, wearing by custom a mud-spotted uniform, flourishing in one fist a flat black hat, which, when he put it on, seemed to be at least two sizes too small for him. Like Grant, he rode a great black horse when he made his rounds and he rode it at a pounding gallop, and it was remarked that he ‘rolled and bounced upon the back of his steed much as an old salt does when walking up the aisle of a church after a four year’s cruise at sea.’”

The trilogy closes with the surrender at Appomattox Court House, and Catton’s description of that last day is so moving that a short quote can’t do it justice – so get hold of this remarkable historical work and read it - experience it – for yourself.

12 comments:

kc said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Paco - I'll be getting this one for the ol man soon. Found used sets at Amazon for less than 20 bucks & I can swing that next payday, I think.

Just one question - should I save it to give for his Flag Day birthday or as the 24th anniversary gift?

Paco said...

Tough choice, KC; either day would be appropriate. I'd vote for Flag Day, though (only because that is, quite irrelevantly, my birthday).

JeffS said...

KC, give it to him on Fry Day. We should all celebrate that auspicious event!

mojo said...

You might like Joshua Chamberlain's memoir "The Passing of The Armies", if you haven't read it.

Primary (as in eye-witness) source, and all that.

Paco said...

Sounds good; thanks, Mojo.

blogstrop said...

I'll get that, Paco. I made my family watch the entire movie Gettysburg for the sense that grand things happen through brutal events, and there are kinships on both sides of such things which imbue the destruction with additional sadness. But it is inescapable that there are times when diplomacy simply cannot hack the pace.

Col. Milquetoast said...

Hacienda de Paco has some nice furniture. Does Mrs Paco really let you put metal swords on her antiques?

Paco said...

Well, er, I don't mention it to her. Heh.

richard mcenroe said...

Try reading Jeff Shaara's "The Killer Angels." Incredible book and recommended reading at Army OCS.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to see if there's a market for "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Jefferson Davis" bumpersticker.

TW: krakatew: A brightly colored bird with major digestive problems...

Paco said...

Richard: Put me down for one of those Jeff Davis bumperstickers.

TW: "milidsh" - MRE?

kc said...

Richard, I'll take one of those bumper stickers. And I might be able to sell a couple to my adopted Brother, who is flying the Confederate flag on his new flagpole till his Country is returned to sanity...

JeffS said...

Richard, "Killer Angels" was required reading at Command & General Staff college way back when, or at least for the reserve version. That's where I got it from.

Paco, I just ordered this set; having finished "Honor Of The Clan", I am off to read about other civil wars....