this is the 262nd in my series of forgotten or seldom read books
The Coming Fury – Centennial History of the Civil War, Volume I, by Bruce Catton, Doubleday hardcover (1961) 565 pages – Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
In light of a new documentary by Ken Burns on Viet Nam coming this Fall, we were talking about his many other fine documentaries. We decided we wanted to watch The Civil War again, and got it from the library. It’s on 6 DVDs, and we watched it over a couple of weeks. We’d forgotten a lot of the content and details, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
I then decided I wanted to read more and was going to read Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, A Narritive in three volumes. However I remembered I had the Centennial History of the Civil War, by Bruce Catton, also in three volumes, on the shelf, unread for more than forty years. So this, the first volume, is what I decided to read.
The Coming Fury describes the event and forces leading up to secession, as well as the beginnings of the combat, and then leading to failure of political processes from Ft. Sumptor to Bull Run, and those battles. Though Ft. Sumpter wasn’t really a battle, just the marking point of the beginning of armed hostilities.
Yes, this is somewhat dated compared to the Foote trilogy, which has a more modern tone. But it’s also less oriented toward a every-sentence-everyone-said-counts approach. I found it quite readable and sufficiently detailed. Note that the first shot at Ft. Sumpter is described on page 313, so much has gone on before that April morning.
Catton was and is a superb historian, as he seemed so many decades ago. A fine piece of scholarship neatly presented. If you’d like to learn more about the Civil War, perhaps the defining time of our nation, this isn’t a bad place to start. After a break for some other reading, I’ll come back for the second volume, The Terrible Swift Sword.
Richard, I have read about the Civil War in novels, essays, and articles but not in a work of nonfiction. I’d have renewed my membership of the American Library (USIS) if it hadn’t shifted to a distant part of a Mumbai suburb. I read quite a bit of American nonfiction when I was a member.
So nice to have you back!
This, and the other two volumes may be easily found in your hunts in book sales, Prashant, as they’re old enough to be discarded by people who bought and read them long ago, but I imagine they would still be rare in your area.
Good to be back, Richard — thanks!
s’I’ve seen the Catton books at various Library Book Sales. I read the Foote books many years ago. For a different take on the Civil War, I’d recommend James Reasoner’s historical novels.
Thanks for the tip, George. I’m switching over to the first of the Foote volumes now, as it takes up pretty much with the Bull Run/Manassas battle, which Catton just gets to near the end of The Coming Fury. I like Foote’s writing style better, though I note he and Catton tell different stories about some incidents.
Sorry I didn’t get to the blogs today. We’re in Connecticut visiting my cousin. She was repeatedly at the casino – $5,000 was the big win – and has treated us to lunch and dinner.
I read the Catton’ trilogy years ago and remember liking it. After watching the great Ken Burns series, I got the first of the Shelby Foote trilogy and read about half of it. I have always meant to go back and read the rest.
I’ve been away from reading history for too long. I should get this
Charles, for you, I’d recommend the Foote instead, as it gives a more satisfactory account of the thinking and tactics the South used.