The Civil War remains one of the most discussed events in our Nation’s history. It is also one of the first events we learn as children in elementary school. From there we only learn the basics; such as the war was fought between the North and South parts of the United
States and that the North won. Oh and let’s not forget
that because the North won thus came the end of slavery. Then, as we go along in school, we learn even more details such as the key players in the war, major events, and important locations. All right, don’t fall asleep just yet. See the reason I bring this up is because even though we’re taught by wonderful teachers we don’t get the real experience; unless you want to join a reenactment groups and dress up in those horrible outfits. If you don’t want to go that extreme and would like to keep it nice and simple you can read a book! Is that simple enough? My book of choice would have to be “This Hallowed Ground: The Story of the Union Side of the Civil War” (1956) by Bruce Catton (1899-1978).
Mr. Catton clearly stated that although the war did not begin over slavery, it became the driving factor. As Catton continues, he writes vividly about industrialization in North America and about the other factors that ultimately lead to the unification of the nation. During the novel Catton clearly plays favorites with his cast of “leading men”- General Ulysses S. Grant and President Abraham Lincoln are praised; General George Brinton McClellan is not. In this novel, Catton is an expert at tracing the threads of various campaigns; for instance, the Army of the Potomac’s stalemated situation in Virginia is contrasted with Grant’s quick thinking out west with the Army of the Tennessee. He also sees the battle of Antietam Creek rather than the battle of Gettysburg as the moment when the Confederate’s surge took a turn back down south.
Some could argue that Catton’s novel focuses on, and is too sympathetic to, the North, and that he portrays the Confederacy as a strong and determined rival making the same effort to preserve its own traditions with their rural ways. When in fact he never really allows the reader to forget that this way of life was found upon slavery. All this leads you to think that, even if the reader hears from critics that he is an unbiased writer, something has touched him personally to feel this way. What that “thing” is I’m not sure but anyone that feels that they need to, somehow work into the lines how they truly feel is hiding something.
For this review, I did a little research on Bruce Catton and other writers like him and found that even though others’ work may show a greater degree of scholarship, Catton’s work more than compensates in its passion and strength. His taste for drama and humorous short amusing tales overrides his ability to evaluate logically the Civil War, but possibly his realistic/romantic view of history is more in proceeding with the age it’s describing.
To touch on the subject of the tone of this novel, I must say that it’s not a balanced book, in the sense that it’s focused on the Northern side. However, he do not go back on his word seeing as though it say in the title “…The Story of the Union Side if the Civil War. You’re expecting the book to be this, so Mr. Catton is giving you no more no less than promised. One thing I would like to point out though is that you will find an even greater appreciation for President Abraham Lincoln burden. He seemingly was singly aware among the Northern decision makers of the clear-cut consequences of the action taken to preserve the inexperienced union.
While reading this novel I must confess that I did feel rather doubtful of myself. However, once you’ve stuck with this book there’s really no turning back. I surely don’t recommend this book to the faint-hearted, but if a person who love non-fictional history and would like a change in taste, I recommend this book. Bruce Catton has done a spectacular good job in capturing the whole essence of this time. You really do feel like you could have lived in that time.
Just one word of advice, take this book seriously and read it careful. Please don’t rush through the book (and believe me you will me tempted) you’ll miss the depth it has and you will definitely regret it when you finish the last page.