Bruce Catton has long been one of my favorite historians and authors on books about the Civil War. This Hallowed Ground was the first book on the Civil War that I read that wasn’t a picture book. I believe I was in the ninth grade and I remember vividly how a classmate, Bobby Fiches, made fun of me for reading that book. Most ninth graders weren’t reading at all unless they had to.
This particular volume told the story of the Civil War from the Union or Federal perspective and pretty much concentrated on the Eastern theater.
It was this book that first introduced me the likes of George B. McClellan and all his insecurities, hesitancies and outright failures—how could you have the enemies battle plan fall into your lap like it did at Antietam and still manage to basically lose the battle? Other characters crossed the canvas that Catton so deftly painted… Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman and lesser knowns such as George Thomas, William Rosecrans, Ambrose Burnside and others.
Catton, like Shelby Foote, is a wordsmith and knows how to convey not just facts, but feelings and motivations. For years, he was about the only author I read when it came to the Civil War. His three volume Centennial History of the Civil War, The Coming Fury, This Terrible Swift Sword and Never Call Retreat are classics and give one a good concise overview of the war. I say concise because these are not the length of Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative. Nevertheless, they are thorough.
Loyd Lewis, a renown historian, began his three volume biography on U.S. Grant with the book Captain Sam Grant. Mr. Lewis died before he could complete his work and his widow respected Bruce Catton enough that she asked him to finish the project. Catton did so with Grant Moves South & Grant Takes Command.
This Hallowed Ground has been reviewed as the best one-volume history of the Civil War and I concur.