A history of the last days of the Civil War.
Many Civil War histories have attempted to explore the key roles military and civilian leaders played in preventing the combat from deteriorating into a protracted, low-intensity guerrilla conflict, but the war has been such an important part of our national consciousness for so long that it is hard to think of it in terms of particular actions undertaken by individual human beings. Winik (On the Brink, 1996) here tries to recapture the uncertain drama of the Civil War’s waning days. He begins by reflecting on the tenuous nature of the bond between the early American states, offering evidence that many of the founding fathers did not believe that the republic could survive if it grew to encompass too large a geographic area. From this premise he quickly moves forward in time, tracing the development of the divisive issues of states’ rights and slavery, which eventually threw the Union’s likelihood of survival into question. Winik offers detailed portraits of Grant and Lee and vivid descriptions of the battles by which the Union forces finally cornered the Confederate general. He also presents an engaging account of Lincoln’s assassination, reminding readers that John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators were, in fact, attempting to pull off a coup d’etat—and that attempts were made against the lives of Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward the same evening. This narrative approach offers a better insight into the events than standard academic historiography, especially for the armchair historian or the military buff who is more interested in people and events rather than interpretations.
Serves both as an engaging Civil War history and an object lesson in unanimity, goodwill, and civic duty. (photos and maps)