Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Review: Pursuit ot Appomattox

Korn, Jerry. Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA; Time-Life Inc., 1987.

Prior to college, it seemed to me that the crowning achievement of world history was the cotton gin. Every year we'd start history talking about the Native Americans, move on to a wide variety of mostly indistinguishable Conquistadors, hit the colonial period and the American revolution, and the year would end in the period just prior to the Civil War with the invention of the cotton gin. Why bother recording anything else, because the next year, rather than picking up with the Civil War, we'd start a new textbook and talk about the Native Americans again.

I can only imagine something similar happened to me when I was taking Civil War history in college. We must have hit Grant's transfer east and the end game just as the semester was winding up, so we rushed through the last year of the war in a class or so.

I don't remember ANY of this. Had I stopped to think about it, I would have realized that somehow Lee had to have gotten out of Richmond and Petersburg in order to surrender at Appomattox. Maybe the author just writes it well, but surely I would have remembered the dramatic chase with Sheridan blocking Lee at every turn, the supplies Lee desperately needed always being just out of reach, and an all-black unit closing the trap after a three-day, 96-mile march.

The two best parts of the book were Lincoln's boat getting stuck on a sandbar in part of Richmond that hadn't been occupied yet, and Longstreet's upbraiding Custer for his flagrant breach of military etiquette. I'm ashamed to admit it, but the most fitting description of General Custer is a strong vulgarity. My printable vocabulary has failed me.

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