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April 1865: The Month That Saved America

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  6,842 ratings  ·  298 reviews
One month in 1865 witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond, a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare, Lee's harrowing retreat, and then, Appomattox. It saw Lincoln's assassination just five days later and a near-successful plot to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published August 15th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2001)
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More books have been written on the Civil War than any other topic, and yet there is always more to learn. I'm not one to find glamor in war, but the Civil War really does seem set apart in many ways. Its effects are still very much with us today; the crucible of the Civil War defines us.

Author Jay Winik does a masterful job of not just tracing the events of April 1865, but also of providing the context for those events. He examines the role of slavery in American life and the fact that many pe
This book had its moments, but more than a few times I felt like puttiing it aside. I had some strong reservations, which I detail below.

Jay Winik's book is an account of the final month of the Civil War and the significance of those events in US history, particularly regarding ideas of national identity. Winik contends that the United Sates, at its founding, was something of an artificial creation. It was not a nation in the European sense, one that developed organically, based in a common eth
Mark Russell
A probing look at arguably the most pivotal month in American history. As we have learned many times since, wars are easy to start, but incredibly difficult to wrap up. Too many times the treaty that ends one war is the cause of the next.

As the Civil War drew to a close, the outcome of the conflict was certain, the fate of the nation was anything but. Our ability to come back together as one nation after such an acrimonious struggle hinged upon many variables. How would Lincoln regard the south
Michael VanZandt
Although I do think that Jay Winik does a nice job of providing context for this period, I object to nearly every other part of this undertaking. Mr. Winik clearly is not a trained historian, and so emerge the glaring faults of this book. In the past decade or so, historians have begun to engage in the restoration of the Civil War from its post-war nostalgia that wiped away the primary cause: slavery. Such nostalgia paved the way for "lost cause" mythology (i.e. Gone With the Wind and now-lesser ...more
I heard a lot of great things about this book, but I found it a bit disappointing. I thought the whole focus of the book would be about...well, April, 1865. But Winik was all over the place with his topics. It seemed as though he intially gathered information about just that month, discovered that it was not enough, and tacked on other tidbits about the war.

Also, I think he had a little too much fun with adverbs (at least I think they're adverbs. I could mean adjectives, but you be the judge). F
Patrick Sprunger
I suppose the greatest challenge for an author writing about the Civil War is that four out of five readers are already fairly versed on the subject. Of those, perhaps a great many even feel they are more knowledgeable about the subject than the author. A Civil War history, in many cases, is essentially a test for authors, to gauge to what extent their opinions conform with the predjudices of the readers.

By preferring Lee to Grant and Davis to Lincoln, as the author has done, he undoubtedly cour
If the American Civil War ended the way most civil wars end General Robert E. Lee and other high-ranking Confederate officers would have been hanged for treason, other lower level members of Confederate army sent to prison, and the residents of the Confederacy supporting states would have lost their rights indefinitely.

Jay Winik’s April 1865 is a fascination exploration into why the American Civil War did not end in this way: no one in the Confederate Army was executed or sent to prison, nor we
A fascinating book on the last month of the Civil War. There were dozens of nuggets from this book that I will take with me as nice stories to share with my students. My favorite chapter was easily the one that dealt with the surrender of Lee's army and the meeting of Lee and Grant. The author writes with grace and puts you into the house at Appomattox. The level of respect these two men had for each other after spending months trying to defeat the other is incredible. Great stuff.

My main critic
Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month that Saved America is a well-researched and well-written book about the last month of the American Civil War. This is a book that should not be missed by anyone who enjoys reading about history.

The author seems to be one of those rare writers who can convey both small details and overviews equally well. The small details create the important element of time and place to the story. It’s the weather, the typical social calendar of the upper crust of Richmond socie
Todd Stockslager
Winik's account of April 1864 could serve as a textbook example of how to write narrative history. He uses the events of the month as a framework within which to draw together the great historical threads that he posits were resolved that fateful month:

--The conception of America as one nation, the transition to "the United States" as a singular, not plural noun.

--The long history of threatened secession from all geographical and political quarters of the country in its brief history, and the lo
An interesting concept for a book, and one that seemed to be a refreshing take on the end of the Civil War. Does a good job at illustrating the circumstances around the Civil War, and provides good mini-biographies of many of the major players.

However, the author has made some egregious factual errors (two general Longstreets?), which detract from the book as a whole. Some interpretations of events are also suspect.

Not a bad book, but one that could use some revision and improvements.
Gary Pearson
"April 1865" is a very interesting and important book. As suggested by the title, it covers the events of just one month in America's history, April 1865--the month the long, bloody Civil War finally ended. Most of us know that on April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. But Lee surrendered only one of the Confederacy's four field armies, the Army of Northern Virginia. What followed could have transpired differently. The conventional war could have ende ...more
Chuck Leonard
I Just found this book in an old briefcase ... just recording it now after having read it in 2006. I found it a very interesting and fascinating read about a period of the Civil War that has been at least reviewed in most Civil War books but never in this detail. While I read this many years ago my recollection is that Wink offers a thesis accompanied by some evidence that Grant and Lincoln were of the same mind when it came to how best to manage the peace once the war ended... (I believe that e ...more
Sheila Allee
This book should have won the Pulitzer Prize. It is well-written and full of information I did not know about the Civil War. For example, I was unaware that the South freed the slaves before the end of the war and that black men were conscripted to serve in the Confederate Army. I also was unaware that even after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, other Confederate regiments continued fighting and there were fears that the war would degenerate into an endless guerrilla battle.

Jay Winik do
Ted L.
An excellent book filled with factual information about the Civil War including detailed biographical sketches of the main characters, Lincoln of course but also Lee, Grant, Benjamin Davis and several other generals and political leaders of the time.

The main premise is the credible thesis that the decisions made by Lincoln and implemented by Grant, Sherman and others to make peace on charitable terms, most history buffs are aware of the surrender terms and provisions which allowed southern soldi
This is how history should be written!

Winik asserts that the month of April 1865 was the single most important month in the history of the United States due to the confluence of historical events and decisions that came with the end of the Civil War.

The decision include Lincoln's plan for a "soft" peace rather than a vengelful one. Lee's decision not to opt for guerrilla warfare but rather surrender and urge his men to become good citizens for their country (meaning the USA), Johnston's similar
John Parisi
History was the one subject I absolutely couldn't stand in college, buy Jay Winik makes the epic battle between north and south read like a novel, with outstanding insight into the character of Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and so many more.
Hands down the #1 Best Book I Ever Read

Non-Fiction - read approx. 10 years ago

This fascinating, unputdownable book in highly engrossing, suspenseful, heartbreaking, and educational. This book painted a picture of the desperation and horror of this war (or any war) like nothing I'd seen or read before. The utter destruction of towns, villages, cities -- how desperate the lives of the women and children not fighting -- shocking and heartbreaking.

Abraham Lincoln has always been history's most intri
This is an very interesting book and I highly recommend it. I did not realize so many life-changing events happened in this one month. By focusing on this 30-day period, the author is able to provide more detail about each event. His description of the events in Richmond the day of the fall puts you there. You can feel the fear and panic. You are put in the midst of the agony of Lee as he waits to meet with Grant. There is a discussion about the options that still existed for the Confederacy and ...more
Mark Lacy
Most people know that Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, and that Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox that same month. What most people don't know (but I learned from Winik's excellent book) is that the military and political leadership of both the Union and the Confederacy were involved in momentous decisions in April that helped bring the war to an end, and bring the country back together. These were decisions that, had they been made differently, could've resulted in catastrophe for o ...more
Having read several books about the Civil War, I didn't think I would find much new here. However, Winik constantly poses "what if" questions that forced me to think about things in a different light. For example, I'd never considered the possibility that the War might have continued on indefinitely as a guerrilla conflict. I also appreciated the mini-biographies which appeared in the book at the points where their subjects were in the forefront of the action. These were critical to an appreciat ...more
Civil War history fascinates me. I read the majority of this book before I ever knew I would one day visit Appomattox, and tour the home where Grant and Lee met to sign an agreement ending the war. Having read this account it made the place become all that more real for me. Much happens in a relatively short amount of time that April, the war ends, Lincoln is assassinated, John Wilkes Booth is hunted down, captured and killed, just to name a few. Winik gives great insight into this period in his ...more
Josh Liller
"April 1865" is not really a narrative history of the titular month, although it contains such elements. Instead it is a very broad look at the major events that month, the background and people that influenced them, and how they might have turned out differently - often far worse. Instead, the leaders involved mostly made good choices that helped bring our nation back together.

Winik can turn a really good phrase and some of this book features outstanding writing. The book's perspective of looki
Oct 07, 2014 Joe rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
It's not possible to say enough good things about this book. It is very readable. The subject matter is compelling. The insights open up a whole new perspective on the importance of the men that fought and won and fought and surrendered in April 1865.

For my whole life I had assumed that when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox it was the end of the Civil War. It was the event that ended the Civil War, but there was still a lot of fighting and issues that had to be resolved before the South w
Aug 03, 2011 Bill added it
Chronologically taking apart the month of April, 1865 is not a linear task. Each significant event in the month - the final skirmishes and battles between two weary armies just before the surrender of Lee's army to Grant at Appomattox, the assassination of Lincoln just days later, the succession of a new President, and the capture of Lincoln's assassin - demands generous portions of back story. Each backgrounder encompasses many smaller stories.

Author Jay Winik is more than up to the task of sh
John Maniscalco
This was an excellent book. While it claims to be a book about the end of the civil war it is so much more than that. It shows how time and time again, the fragile peace that was about to come as a result of the conquest of the Confederacy, could have at almost at point unraveled but for the honorable and exemplary actions of men from the north and south. In short, this book will make you proud to be an American.

What is perhaps most interesting about this book is that it makes clear that not onl
Perhaps it is ironic that I finished reading this book on this anniversary! The uncanny parallels of the turmoil in the country at this time to April 1865 border on eerie.

Jay Winik, the author, sums up the books style and presentation well in his Notes at the end of the book by calling it, and I paraphrase, 'An interpretive and analytic narrative of the events of April 1865'.

This history of the critical time around the various surrenders of elements of the Confederacy, the assassination of Linc
Time after time as I listened to Winik read his overwrought prose I waited for an additional fact or argument to balance or complicate the things he said. But he is writing popular history and so overstatement and lack of subtlety are his bread and butter. I know the time period his is writing about, from the colonial period to Reconstruction, fairly well, and frankly I do not recognize it much in his writing. He has picked a few examples, bent them to his themes, and left the reader with his pa ...more
Quinn Rollins
I'm a history teacher, but I have a curricular confession to make: I don't like the Civil War. Partially because of geography--in the Western U.S., I don't think we have the best understanding of what the Civil War was all about. Additionally, because the Civil War is taught at the end of the same course that teaches everything up to 1877, many teachers skim through it around Memorial Day. As a consequence, I feel like I made it through my secondary and college education without ever having an a ...more
I'm a total closet history buff, and loved this book a little more than expected. From the Land of Lincoln, and specifically, the city that is world-known for being "Linoln's town" I imagined this book was be an insightful read. What I didn't expect when I picked it up, though, was all of the information on the changes occurring in the Civil War. Of US history, the Civil War is probably the one I am least familiar with, and I was worried that this book would be chock full of battle jargon and un ...more
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Jay Winik needs an editor 5 54 Feb 12, 2014 06:34AM  
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“Freeing negroes seems to be the latest Confederate government craze … [but] if we are to lose our negroes we would as soon see Sherman free them as the Confederate government,” insisted one Southern woman. “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves,” 0 likes
“Every one I talk to is in favor of putting negroes in the army and that immediately … I think slavery is now gone and what little there is left of it should be rendered as serviceable as possible.” For her part, Mary Chesnut lamented, “If we had only freed the negroes at first and put them in the army—that would have trumped [the Union’s] trick.” 0 likes
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