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Monday, August 9, 2010

April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik

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 decisions 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 decision in North Carolina, the assassination of Lincoln, the uncertain rules of Presidential succession, the North's collective decision not to lash out blindly at a prostrate South in revenge for Lincoln's murder and a host of other issues.

My take: Winik is one of that new breed of historian that knows that good writing as at least as important as good research (You can't teach anything if you write poorly). Winik's synopsis of the issues of slavery and the Wilderness campaign are so good that if I ever get the chance to teach US history again I am going to copy them and hand them out to my students.

Jay Winik
This book renewed my awe of Robert E. Lee as a man. Flawed, like all of us, he made the exact right decisions at the end. Perhaps the most interesting was in the summer of 1865 - the war was over and Lee was back in Richmond awaiting his fate. It is communion Sunday and a black man decided to assert his rights as a free man and he goes up to the altar FIRST to get communion (traditionally, blacks were last). The whole church stops. The minister is flustered at the change of social niceties. Lee gets up - goes up to the front and stands next to the man for Communion. Now, the service must go on- because you can't refuse Robert E. Lee. Together, the two men integrated the church - with no prior planning. Lee just knew that this was the way it had to be now, so get over it.

Great book. I heartily recommend it.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here:  April 1865: The Month That Saved America

Reviewed on August 22, 2004.

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