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April 1865: The Month That Saved America

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  8,602 Ratings  ·  346 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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Sep 22, 2008 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Jun 24, 2008 Siobhan rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Michael VanZandt
Jan 02, 2009 Michael VanZandt rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
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
Jul 29, 2013 Jerome rated it liked it
A dramatic, vivid, and mostly well-written narrative history of one of America’s most dramatic months. Winik's style is dramatic and his argument is fairly fresh, but the narrative is often interrupted by unbearable and irritating tangents, and a lot of it just seems like filler.

The first event Winik describes is the fall of Richmond, and his rendition of the event is particularly dramatic. Lee’s retreat and Grant’s pursuit is also interesting, and Winik points out how seemingly out of character
Mark Russell
Jan 20, 2009 Mark Russell rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Apr 17, 2012 Steven rated it it was ok
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
Erik Graff
Oct 09, 2016 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Written with an eye to current events by an author with governmental experience, April 1865's theme deals with how the United States managed to avoid perpetual civil strife upon the defeat of the Confederacy in May of that year. Focused as it is on the last weeks of the war, this book gives details not found in more broadly focused books on the subject, details about the surrenders of the various armies, about the death of Lincoln, about the last-minute addition of freed blacks into the armies o ...more
Feb 23, 2009 Jim rated it really liked it
Beautiful example of a work that treats Lee's surrender at Appomattox as an example of American exceptionalism. He argues that the United States was able to do what few other countries have been able to do after Civil War...reconcile and unite.

I actually take exception to this argument, but I cannot say this book is not is.

Read this and Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War by Elizabeth Varon back to back for well argued perspectives on both side of
Mar 03, 2012 Mickey rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
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
Dec 03, 2012 Louis rated it really liked it
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
Jun 29, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it
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
Sep 03, 2010 Hadrian rated it liked it
Shelves: history, usa, war, nonfiction
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.
John Parisi
Jun 20, 2008 John Parisi rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 07, 2017 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Civil War and American History buffs
If I were reviewing this book as a documentary on the Civil War and all that led up to it, I might have well added another star. As it stands, while some of the tangential information included can be said to add to Mr. Winik's main point of how April 1865 was so important to our nation's history, too often it seems that he goes too far afield, and then gets into a lot of detail once he's there. Still, if the readers can stick with it, they'll find nuggets of information that are quite interestin ...more
Quinn Rollins
Oct 15, 2011 Quinn Rollins rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Fred Tate
Jan 12, 2017 Fred Tate rated it really liked it
In the book What If?: The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been Jay Winik wrote an essay imagining what would have happened if John Wilkes Booth's plot had succeeded in its secondary goal of assassinating Vice President Andrew Johnson, plunging the government into chaos. He ended by asserting that what actually happened was even stranger:

"In the end, defying the odds of history, all the pieces would tumble into place: after running the government for nearly a day, th
May 14, 2012 Kathryn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
The month of April 1865 is arguably the most important month in the American Civil War; the author holds that it is more, and arguably the most important month in our nation’s history, as being the month that truly saw The United States (plural) as becoming The United States (singular). I very much enjoyed this book, and I am glad to have this book in my personal library.

The framers of the United States Constitution did not see a single nation; they saw a Federation of United States; and while t
Kelli K
Dec 27, 2016 Kelli K rated it it was amazing
Different take on a consistent topic that is oh so important to the USA. Well-written.
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
Feb 05, 2009 John Maniscalco rated it it was amazing
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
Kevin Tate
Dec 29, 2016 Kevin Tate rated it it was amazing
Interesting insight from the many important politicians and military general's and the decisions that they made or didn't make that, could have changed our history and our nation as we see it today.
Dec 18, 2016 Denise rated it liked it
I had misplaced it and stumbled upon it today. I was nearly to the end anyway. Overall not a bad read. Parts dragged for me. I'm sure he could have told a more engaging story in fewer pages.
Mark Lacy
Mar 03, 2014 Mark Lacy rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 05, 2007 David rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Civil War buffs and all interested in American History
From Publishers Weekly
Though the primary focus of this book is the last month of the Civil War, it opens in the 18th century with a view of Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Winik (whose previous book, On the Brink, was an account of the Reagan administration and the end of the Cold War) offers not just a study of four weeks of war, but a panoramic assessment of America and its contradictions. The opening Jeffersonian question is: does the good of the country take precedence over that of
Jun 05, 2011 Joseph rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Winik has written a very accessible account of the end of the Civil War, but I'm not sure that he lives up to his premise. Frankly, for a book that claims to be about one particular month, he seems to spend a lot of time talking about other topics. Clearly, context is necessary, but he seems to have written a book much broader in scope than you might expect from the title.

For example, one of his main arguments seems to be that the near-unanimous decision by the Southern generals to surrender, ra
Aug 23, 2008 CD rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Dec 02, 2011 Joe rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 11, 2014 Dale rated it it was amazing
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
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Jay Winik needs an editor 5 57 Feb 12, 2014 06:34AM  
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“Most civil wars, in fact, end quite badly, and history is rife with lessons that how wars end is every bit as crucial as why they start and how they are waged.” 2 likes
“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
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