When I was an Air Force officer in the early and mid-1980s, one of my favorite magazines was American Heritage. Some of America’s greatest historians have contributed to the magazine over the years.
One of those illustrious contributors – and also the founding editor – was Bruce Catton, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for his classic book A Stillness at Appomattox. (Side note: with the 150th anniversary of the Appomattox campaign and the end of the Civil War coming up in April, 2015, I hope Mr. Catton’s landmark work receives the attention of a new generation not previously familiar with his writing). He also authored a series of books fifty years ago between 1961 and 1965 to mark the centennial commemoration of the Civil War, and had previously authored a number of other works throughout the 1950s. He continued writing about the Civil War, as well as occasionally other topics, into the 1970s before his death in August, 1978.
For the June/July issue of American Heritage that was published just before Mr. Catton died, he contributed an article entitled “The Day the Civil War Ended” with the subtitle “Gettysburg, Fifty Years After.” In his article Bruce Catton described the buildup to the Great Reunion as well as some of the anecdotes from the gathering. But much of the focus of his article was based upon the recollections of a gentleman named Philip Myers who had been an 18-year old photographer’s assistant during the Great Reunion and who, sometime in the 1970s, was interviewed about that occasion.
The most heartfelt portion of Mr. Catton’s short article, in my opinion, is the latter part in which he relates Mr. Myers’ recollections of the reenactment of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1913, an event (the reenactment) I will visit in both this blog and in Gettysburg, 1913: A Novel of the Great Reunion. The final lines of Mr. Catton’s article, beginning with the final sentence of what he quoted from Mr. Myers’ recollections:
“Now they fell upon each other—not in mortal combat, but re-united in brotherly love and affection.”
The Civil War was over.
To Mr. Catton, at least for the purposes of what may have been the last piece of writing of his life, it wasn’t just the Great Reunion itself that signaled the “end” of the Civil War but more precisely, the reenactment by Confederate and Union veterans alike of that terrible clash from fifty years earlier “not [with] rifles and bayonets, but canes and crutches.”
You can read Mr. Catton’s article in its entirety on the American Heritage website at: