MR. LINCOLN’S ARMY by Bruce Catton
Doubleday and Co. (1962), 363 pages – originally published 1951
Bruce Catton is one of my favorite Civil War authors – along with Shelby Foote – and thankfully I don’t have to make the choice between the two. Catton’s books are labeled “narrative” history - combining history, battle scenes, anecdotes, first-person descriptions, analysis and mini-bios of the historical figures involved – all tied together in great narratives with excellent writing and compelling “story telling”. Reading a book by Catton is similar to reading a novel in the best sense - never boring, always engaging and difficult to put down. And regardless if you are a Civil War ‘novice” or “expert” – Catton does not disappoint.
Mr. Lincoln’s Army is the first book of the author’s trilogy chronicling The Army of the Potomac, covering the first 14 months or so of its existence. General George McClellan is the focus, but by no means the “star” in this saga, for The Army of the Potomac has that role. The book opens with the Second Battle of Bull Run, (August 1862) – during which time McClellan was somewhat on the sidelines – and John Pope was on the losing end of a military “encounter” with Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
The story then jumps back in time, (June 1862), tracking McClellan’s meteoric rise to the head of the army and then his less than successful Peninsula Campaign. The conclusion of this first volume is the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in U.S. military history. The First Battle of Bull Run, also part of this Army’s early days is here, but not covered in detail.
The book’s theme, told from countless perspectives, is that during these early months of the war this Union Army of brave and courageous men was ill-used, time and time again, by its commanders, who were either unwilling or unable - or both – to lead them to the victory it deserved. Just the description/analysis of McClellan’s personality/mind-set, his effect on the Army of the Potomac and Catton’s narrative of the Battle of Antietam make this book well worth the read, but that’s only part of the story you will find here.
Mr. Lincoln’s Army was published 60 years ago, but the book is still available, though you may have to do a little looking around for it. Trust me it’s worth the effort to secure this book and the two that follow it for your bookshelf.
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