The Corner

Catton, cont.

From a USMC captain:

Mr Miller-

A lot of good books on this list, but I was particularly impressed by your selection of Bruce Catton. His Army of the Potomac trilogy enraptured me as a younger man and played no small role in setting me on the path to military service. Catton’s even-handed treatment of McClellan especially holds up well against more recent, fashionable dismissal of McClellan as Lincoln’s early, inept foil. We combat service support officers know establishing and honing an effective logistics train is no small accomplishment. In McClellan’s case his efforts contributed more than is generally credited to the Union’s victory. Catton strikes the best balance I’ve come across in this regard.

Otherwise your selection seems to me to highlight one glaring omission from the NRO symposium’s list. Yang to Catton’s yin is Shelby Foote’s Civil War trilogy. A bit too sympathetic, perhaps, to the Lost Cause for modern sensibilities, Foote’s is nonetheless a fine overall treatment of our great national tragedy. That aside, a fine symposium. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Shelby Foote was a fine writer, and I don’t mean to take anything away from him when I say that I prefer Catton. A central reason why Foote became so well known in the 1990s is because he was one of the on-screen experts in the Ken Burns PBS series on the Civil War. Catton died in 1978, so he of course didn’t have the same opportunity. But I bet if he had lived a bit longer and remained healthy, Burns would have included him and he would have shined.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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