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Bruce Catton

Shelby Foote gets a lot of good press from Ken Burns, and James MacPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom is justifiably well-regarded as a superlative work of history, but it was Bruce Catton and his powerful trilogy, The Army of the Potomac, that first whetted my interest in the Civil War as a teenager. In fact, the books played no small part in my decision to study American History.

Mr. Lincoln's War, the first volume in the trilogy, recounts the heady days of the war, when the Union Army was led by its golden boy, George McClellan. Catton takes us inside the ranks, making large-scale tactics eminently understandable and both Union and Confederate soldiers remarkably true-to-life (without, mind you, any Sam Waterston voiceovers). The book follows McClellan's rise and fall, through the Peninsular campaign and both battles of Bull Run.

The story continues in Glory Road, Catton's second volume, which ranges from McClellan's dismissal to the Gettysburg Address. Here, Catton ably distills the confusion and weariness seeping into the war effort, as the Army of the Potomac shuffles leadership through Generals Ambrose Burnside, Joe Hooker, and George Meade. Moreover, in his retellings of Chancellorsville, Fredericksberg, and ultimately Gettysburg, Catton once again makes vivid the fury, horror, and tragedy of civil warfare.

A Stillness at Appomattox completes Catton's trilogy, relating the 1864 elections, a plebescite on the war effort, and the gradual movement toward modern war, as Grant and Lee play deadly cat-and-mouse through trenches at Cold Harbor, Spotsylvania, and Bloody Angle. As with his first two volumes, Catton realistically details the spirit of the war, the times, the nation caught in its grip, the families rent asunder by its talons, and the men who fought America's bloodiest war to its conclusion. It's military history in grand form.

His truth is marching on...

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