Kathryn's Reviews > April 1865: The Month That Saved America

April 1865 by Jay Winik
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's review
May 14, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2012
Read from May 14 to June 07, 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 they made provision for future States to come into the Federation, they did not make any provision for how a State, or States, might choose to leave that Federation. (Between 1789 and 1861, there were several threatened Secessions by states, most notably the Northeastern states during the War of 1812, but they did not come to pass.)

As the month of April 1865 opened, Lee and Grant faced each other at Petersburg across the trenches, Richmond (the Capital of the Confederacy) still stood proudly, and General Sherman opposed the forces of General Johnston in North Carolina. Also, President Lincoln, fresh from his inauguration for a second term, was wrangling with his cabinet about the best way to bring peace and reconciliation to the nation once the war was over; many in his cabinet were in favor of vengeance upon the Rebels. History shows that civil wars rarely end well; it is not uncommon for the winning side to have the losing side taken out and shot. And in April 1865, saving some great miracle, the Southern armies had not two choices (surrender or die), but three: surrender, die, or take to the hills and woods to conduct guerrilla warfare, which would have prolonged the war (and the hopes of the South) indefinitely.

Besides being a more or less chronological record of the month of April 1865, this book also contains maps, black and white illustrations, and biographies of the men involved in the events of the close of the war. There is also a very extensive Notes section, which to my regret I had to abandon reading about halfway through the book, not least because there is no indication in the body of the book as to when there is a note in the back. The notes are very good, and contain much interesting additional information; but it became nearly impossible for me to keep up with them while reading the book.

This is a great history book, and one that should be of interest to all who are interested in not only the end of the American Civil War, but to those who are curious as to just how the American Civil War ended as it did.

I close this review with a quotation from the top of page 50 in my edition: “In the vortex of this debate, once the battle lines were sharply drawn, moderate ground everywhere became hostage to the passions of the two sides. Reason itself had become suspect; mutual tolerance was seen as treachery. Vitriol overcame accommodation. And [the issue] would not just fade away.” The author is speaking here of the debate on slavery, but it seems to me that these same words could apply to political discourse in our own age.

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