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April 1865: The Month That Saved America

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The New York Times bestselling chronicle of the Civil War's final days that will forever change the way we see the war's end and the nation's new beginning.

It was a month that could have unravelled the American nation. Instead, it saved it. In April 1865, Jay Winik masterfully breathes new life into the end of a war and the events we only thought we knew. This gripping, panoramic narrative takes readers on a breathless ride through these tumultuous thirty days, showing that the...

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April 1865: The Month That Saved America

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling chronicle of the Civil War's final days that will forever change the way we see the war's end and the nation's new beginning.

It was a month that could have unravelled the American nation. Instead, it saved it. In April 1865, Jay Winik masterfully breathes new life into the end of a war and the events we only thought we knew. This gripping, panoramic narrative takes readers on a breathless ride through these tumultuous thirty days, showing that the nation's future rested on a few crucial decisions and twists of fate. Here is Richmond's dramatic fall, Lee's harrowing retreat, and the intense debate in Confederate circles over unleashing guerrilla warfare. Here, too, is the rebel surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln's assassination five days later, and the ensuing fears of chaos and a coup, the shaky transfer of presidential power, and finally the start of national reconciliation. Outsized characters stalk through sweeping events in Winik's brilliant narrative, transforming a seeming epilogue to a great war into a central and saving moment in American history, firmly placing April 1865 in the same pantheon as 1492 and 1776.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In April 1865, the Civil War was drawing to a close. Richmond had fallen. Lee was in retreat. The Confederates were debating a last-ditch guerrilla warfare assault. The surrender at Appomattox would soon follow, and in five days President Lincoln would fall to an assassin's bullet. How would the war end? Would the country be able to pull itself together after the wrenching conflict? And how would the shaky presidential transition affect the mood of the nation? Historian Jay Winik takes the reader back to that tumultuous time in a book that master Civil War historian James McPherson says "fully measures up to the importance of its subject."
Terry Eastland
Winik's command of the war makes the book compelling: an engrossing narrative history, a valuable refresher on how the war ended.
Weekly Standard
San Francisco Chronicle
[A] comprehensive, essential volume ..[the] interviews are like keys to the many rooms of [Ginsberg's] expansive consciousness.
Baltimore Sun
Winik more than meets the tests of vigorous narrative and fresh analysis ... It is easy today to assume that the outcome of the Civil War was inevitable. But as Winik makes clear, no such certitude existed at the beginning of the fateful month of April 1865.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though the primary focus of this book is the last month of the Civil War, it opens in the 18th century with a view of Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Winik (whose previous book, On the Brink, was an account of the Reagan administration and the end of the Cold War) offers not just a study of four weeks of war, but a panoramic assessment of America and its contradictions. The opening Jeffersonian question is: does the good of the country take precedence over that of the individual states? The question of civil union or civil war is the central question of this new work. Winik goes on to describe how a series of events that occurred during a matter of weeks in April 1865 (the fall of Richmond; Lee's graceful surrender to Grant at Appomattox, and Grant's equally distinguished handling of his foe; Lincoln's assassination), none of them inevitable, would solve Jefferson's riddle: while a loose federation of states entered the war, what emerged from war and Reconstruction was a much stronger nation; the Union had decisively triumphed over the wishes of individual states. Winik's sense of the dramatic and his vivid writing bring a fitting flourish to his thesis that April 1865 marked a turning point in American history: "So, after April 1865, when the blood had clotted and dried, when the cadavers had been removed and the graves filled in, what America was asking for, at war's end, was in fact something quite unique: a special exemption from the cruel edicts of history." Winik's ability to see the big picture in the close-up (and vice versa), and to compose riveting narrative, is masterful. This book is a triumph. (Apr. 4) Forecast: Popular history at its best, this book should appeal widely to readers beyond the usual Civil War crowd. Strong endorsements from a group of noted historians, including James M. McPherson and Douglas Brinkley, along with a 10-city author tour, should also help both review coverage and sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
April 1865 saw the evacuation of the Confederate capital at Richmond, the surrender of the Confederacy's two major remaining field armies, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. These events (and more) are brought to life in Winik's (public affairs, Univ. of Maryland; On the Brink) provocative narrative of the end of the Civil War. All of the major characters, from Lincoln and Ulysses Grant to Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, are here, as are numerous other figures. Sometimes the prose is a little too breezy and breathless, and there are the occasional (minor) factual slips that will cause the veteran reader of Civil War narratives to wince. Nevertheless, it is Winik's willingness to embrace contingency, to ponder alternatives, and to raise thoughtful questions about what did (and did not) happen that raise this account above the typical and increasingly tiresome renditions of the conflict's climax. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Brooks D. Simpson, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Originally published in 2001, Winik's history of the last days of the Civil War emphasizes the implications of one month's events for America's development<-->then and now. He discusses Lee's retreat, Southern plans for guerrilla war, Appomattox, Lincoln's assassination, Northern fears of a coup, and the beginning of national reconciliation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060930882
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Jay Winik is the author of the New York Times bestseller April 1865. He is a senior scholar of history and public policy at the University of Maryland and a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



The Dilemma



The bells rang that day in Washington. Wherever there were brick bell towers and whitewashed churches, wherever rows of bells hung in ascending niches, wherever the common people could crowd belfries to take turns pulling the ropes, the bells sang. Bells were part of the American tradition. Cast in iron, bronze, copper, and sometimes silver, they rang with a hundred messages: summoning Americans to Sunday services, marking the harvest and holidays, signaling the prosperity of planting, tolling the sadness of death, chiming the happiness of marriage, clanging warnings of fire or flood, or booming out the celebration of victory. Today, they rang with the hint of promise. It was March 4, 1865. Inauguration Day in the Union.

Abraham Lincoln had been at the Capitol since midmorning, forgoing a traditional celebratory carriage ride up Pennsylvania Avenue to sign a stack of bills passed in the waning hours of the lame-duck Congress. He was determined to make his own mark on them before the vice presidential swearing in, scheduled for noon. Cloistered in the Senate wing, tracing and retracing the letters of his name, Lincoln remained the very picture of exhaustion. His face was heavily lined, his cheeks were sunken, and he had lost thirty pounds in recent months. Though only fifty-six, he could easily pass for a very old man. He was sick, dispirited, and even his hands were routinely cold and clammy. And today, the weather itself seemed to be colluding with his foul and melancholy mood. That morning, heavy clouds moved over Washington, as they had the day before and the day before that, whipping thecapital with blasts of rain and wind. Even when the rain let up, the ground didn't. The streets were a sea of mud at least ten inches deep. Still, the people came.

On the following Monday, the inauguration rush would include a grand ball for 4,000: they would waltz and polka to the beat of a military band; feast on an elegant medley of beef, veal, poultry, game, smoked meats, terrapin oysters, and salads; finish with an astounding wartime array of ices, tarts, cakes, fruits, and nuts; and then retire for the evening with steaming coffee and good rich chocolate. But that was for official Washington, for Lincoln's loyalists and Republican Party functionaries. This Saturday was a day for all the Union. And like a great herd, the people were seemingly everywhere.

Their wagons ground to a halt underneath thickets of trees in the distance, and the thud and swish of their feet could be heard along Pierre L'Enfant's wide, radiating avenues. All along Pennsylvania Avenue, they converged, where the crowd stood at least six and eight deep on the crude sidewalks, around Fifteenth Street past the Treasury, where the stars and stripes hung from second-story windows, past Kirkland House and Tenth Street and the National Hotel, where a clutch of handkerchiefs fluttered and gawkers hung out their balconies, and up the steep slope to the Capitol, past the greening swatch of emerald lawns. At street intersections, military patrols formed a watchful guard. So did the Capitol police. Reporters and photographers crowded the stoops, ready to record the event for posterity. Flags waved; people cheered; and the band played. But mostly, the vast throng jostled for position by the east facade of the Capitol, newly capped by its gleaming dome and the towering bronze statue of Freedom, to be near, even to catch a glimpse of the president himself.

Finally, the presidential party moved from the Senate chamber out onto the platform. A roar of applause rose from the crowd as Lincoln made his way to his seat. It dipped and then mounted again as the sergeant-at-arms beckoned, and Lincoln stood, towering over the other men, and made his way to the podium.

As Lincoln rose and moved forward, a blazing sun broke through the gray haze and flooded the entire gathering with brilliant light. Above and below, the collective pulse quickened. ("Did you notice that sunburst?" the president later said. "It made my heart jump.") But whatever ominous portent that moment may have held, it was overshadowed by the more powerful drama of Lincoln's speech. Succinct, only 703 words, eloquent, and memorable, it was reminiscent of the Gettysburg Address, and at this crucial stage of the war, every bit as important. Summoning his waning energies, Lincoln began to read.

As he rode into Richmond, Virginia, on that very same March morning, Robert E. Lee was met with none of the same fanfare. Slipping north from the trench lines ringing Petersburg, he must have felt that, on this particular day, Union troops would be loath to undertake any action. But he had a far more specific reason for journeying to the Confederate capital. Today, he harbored a single, daring plan to reignite the waning fortunes of the Confederacy, to somehow push the eleven states toward eventual independence. And he had come to confer with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the insomniac head of the Southern government, who liked to wage war from his dining room, with maps unfurled and instruments scattered across the table.

Lee's ultimate calculation was as bold as it was simple: abandon Richmond and take his forces south to meet up with General Joe Johnston in North Carolina. Leave U. S. Grant, snugly ensconced in his City Point camp, holding the bag, minus the string. From there, they could continue the war indefinitely.

In the early, predawn hours, Lee had already vetted his options with General John B. Gordon, a shrewd, able warrior and one of his most trusted lieutenants. That meeting had proved to be an eye-opener. A Confederate courier, sent by Lee, had roused Gordon sometime around midnight, and it took the thirty-three-year-old two hours of hard riding in a bitter chill to reach the commanding general at his Edge Hill headquarters, outside Petersburg.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps IX
Introduction XI
Prelude: "A Nation Delayed" 3
Part 1 March 1865
1. The Dilemma 29
Part 2 April 1, 1865
2. The Fall 73
3. The Chase--and the Decision 123
4. The Meeting 173
Part 3 April 15, 1865
5. The Unraveling 203
6. Will It All Come Undone? 259
7. Surrender 301
Part 4 Late Spring, 1865
8. Reconciliation 351
Epilogue: To Make a Nation 365
Notes 389
Acknowledgments 449
Index 453
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 75 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(45)

4 Star

(19)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 75 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 27, 2010

    Good book for the history buff.

    The first third of the book involves the build-up to "the month", with emphasis on Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee as intelligent, noble, but conflicted Southerners. You learn why the Confederacy formed and why it persisted when the military odds against it became insumountable. This part of the book is a bit sterile and distant, as there are few interpersonal relationships. When the book actually enters April, 1865, the tact of the book changes, with good descriptions of President Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, U.S. Grant, President Johnson, Edwin Stanton, and Charles Sumner. The threats and opportunities for disaster to the Union are well-played, and the intrigue is palpable. This book is heavily referenced, almost 1/6 of the total length of the book. Definitely a book for the history buff rather than general reader, but don't confuse this as dry academics. If you're looking to improve on your high school U.S. history, this is a good "chapter", but also add to it "chapters" on December, 1776; August, 1813; April, 1845; and November, 1963.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Superb

    Superb ...This book is not just a great read, but a revelation of the country's most precarious era...April 1865 was definitively "the month the saved America."...Hats off to Mr. Winik.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 12, 2009

    Enlightening

    I read this book around the time of my first extensive trip to Tennessee's Civil War battlefields. Thought this would be a timely read. Turned out to be even more than I hoped. It taught me new insights into the events and personalities of our country's greatest and costliest (in human lives) struggle.

    Thanks for a great read!
    -Tim in Virginia Beach

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2006

    History comes alive

    One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. I'm a student of history, but not much of a Civil War buff. I thought I knew most of the important information, but this book brought the entire period and people to life for me. This book should become required reading for students of American History.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2011

    Pass on this one!

    Massive disappointment. Mr. Winik seems more interested in playing the role of contrarian than actual documentarian of the topic. He continuously impugns Lincoln as a political opportunist while extolling the virtues of Lee and Johnston as Southern gentlemen. One gets the feeling that if Mr. Winik was born 150 years earlier he would have been a PR flack for the Confederate States of America.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    I loved this book!

    I loved reading and learning from this book. I think it was a very fair approach giving you the point of view from both the north and south. I am so glad I read it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2009

    Best book I've ever read on the Civil War

    Phenomenal! Reads like a mystery novel, a genuine page turner. While focused on the particular time of April 1865, it really spans the whole of the conflict and it's build up as well. Incredible analysis of critical events and individuals while keeping in touch with the grand flow of forces both social and military. It touched me on a human level and made me gasp, tear up and rejoice. I didn't want it to end. Now I want, no, NEED to learn more about this pivotal time in our country's history.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Not what I expected.

    I thought the book was going to be about April 1865. Unfortunately, a lot of it was the history leading up to April 1865. I understand that if you did not know the prior history it would have been impossible to appreciate. However, I would hope that anyone buying this book would already have the historical perspective. I am glad I read it and would read another book by Jay Wink. I guess I just expected 200 pages that got deeply into the 30 day time period.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2008

    Outstanding

    I agree with Jennifer. It should be read by all history students. So, I placed an order for all 60 of my 8th grade students to read the book this coming April for the US History class that I teach. The book is definitely a must read. Enjoyable and enlightening.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2003

    Very Disappointing - Nothing New Here

    I can't understand how this book became a best seller and why it gets such glowing reviews. Maybe most people don't know a whole lot about the Civil War. Otherwise they'd realize that Winik breaks no new ground here but simply rehashes what is already known. If he were a good writer, maybe I wouldn't mind, but he's awful. (And where was the copy editor for this thing? Grammatical and usage errors abound.) He makes errors of fact as well. What a disappointment. The only enjoyment I had from this book was putting Post-its on pages that contained errors.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 12, 2012

    Excellent historical perspective!

    I love history and found this book absolutely refreshing. From the very first sentence I knew this wasn't going to be a dry, boring essay on the Civil War. It brought Lee & Grant to life and kept me captivated throughout. When I finished reading I looked at both generals and Lincoln in a whole new light.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Jay Winik - Mr. Informative!!!

    Just finished reading it, and, JUST like "The Great Upheaval", there is knowledge for the reader on each and every page!! O, that authors like him and David McCullough had come along 30-40 years ago. Keep 'em coming, Mr. Winik!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 2, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    April 1865 is a solid historical review

    As a civil war buff I really enjoyed the writer's review of the waning days of the civil war. He also placed some nice mini-biographies in the book of some of the major players discussed in the book.
    I really didn't learn anything new in the book that I haven't read in a dozen other books, but what makes a book like this worth reading is how the author does a nice job keeping the story flowing so you almost feel you are reading a novel. I almost thought I was reading a David McCullough book and that Mr. Winik is a compliment.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    1856 Historical novel

    This is an excellent account of the Civil War. This is thorough and so in depth. The research done is incredible. All students should be given this book to learn what the war was all about and the devastation it caused. The end result is our current country, but the cost was tremendous. Abraham Lincoln was a remarkable President in this time of our history. It's no wonder he is so revered!

    I recommend this book to anyone that likes history or just wants a good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2001

    Where's the beef?

    I anticipated a thorough tracking of the events in the month of April 1865. Unfortunately, the author spent more time doing bios on the participants than digging into a month fraught with intrigue. The book was an easy read but at times took on the character of a novel rather than history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2013

    A very well written review of one important month. Winik reveal

    A very well written review of one important month. Winik reveals just how precarious this nation was.

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  • Posted July 22, 2013

    A fascinating read

    Well researched, Winik gave us a day by day, and in some cases hour by hour walk through of a critical time in our history. I had not realized some of the ticking time bombs the original Founding Fathers left in their work, but Jay lays it on the line. It could have gone so different.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2013

    Excellent story teller. Mr. Wink makes the people and events co

    Excellent story teller. Mr. Wink makes the people and events come alive. The sub title is apt as the thrust of the story is how lucky the USA is to still be one nation. I will highly recommend the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2013

    Warriors den

    Warriors den

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2012

    A good choice for those interested in the civil war.

    This title is well written as to how things were during the waning days of the civil war and the days that came after. I found there to be details about the military commanders and political leaders of North and South which I had not known before. If you have an interest in the war between the states and how it all finally ended as well as the concerns that President Lincoln and General Grant had before the Confederate surrender, then this title may be for you. This is a recommended read if your interest lies this way.

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