The Road to Appomattox

The Road to Appomattox

by Robert Hendrickson

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Early in 1864, after three long years of bloody and horrifying civil war, Ulysses S. Grant took command of all Union forces engaged against the Confederacy. Grim and ruthless in his determination, Grant set out to grind the enemy into submission with superior numbers, equipment, and firepower. It would take a year for Grant's strategy to succeed - the final and most…  See more details below


Early in 1864, after three long years of bloody and horrifying civil war, Ulysses S. Grant took command of all Union forces engaged against the Confederacy. Grim and ruthless in his determination, Grant set out to grind the enemy into submission with superior numbers, equipment, and firepower. It would take a year for Grant's strategy to succeed - the final and most murderous year of an already savage struggle. In The Road to Appomattox, Robert Hendrickson re-creates that final year. Through the reminiscences of participants, as well as contemporary diaries, letters, and newspaper accounts, Hendrickson brings those bitter days to life with graphic depictions of some of the most desperate actions of the war: an eerie account of the Second Battle of the Wilderness, fought among the skeletal remains of those fallen in the first battle; heart-wrenching descriptions of the slaughter of thousands of Union troops in fruitless human-wave assaults at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor; and the crushing defeat of Lee's bedraggled army in its last desperate attempt to break free of Union pursuit just outside of Appomattox. Hendrickson fashions striking portraits of many important travelers on the road to Appomattox, including the pugnacious little general Phil Sheridan; J. E. B. Stewart, the quintessential Rebel cavalry officer; and the dashing but hapless Ambrose Burnside, whose daring Petersburg mine scheme might have won the war in dramatic fashion but ended in unspeakable disaster. Separating fact from rumor, the author reveals the truth behind Grant's legendary bouts with alcohol and explains how Lee, the consummate Southern gentleman and an opponent of slavery, could fight so fiercely for a cause in which he did not believe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This book offers more than its title suggests. Henderson (Sumter: The First Day of the Civil War) presents Appomattox as the final act in a complex series of military and political events that began in early 1864. When Grant assumed command of the Union armies, his goal was a coordinated campaign to destroy the Confederacy by breaking its armed forces--particularly Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Hendrickson's account will appeal to general readers through his use of well-known first-person accounts to convey the human dimension of the fighting: the ferocious hand-to-hand combat in the Wilderness, the doomed charge at Cold Harbor, the fiasco at the Battle of the Crater. Specialists, although unlikely to find significant new evidence in these pages, will appreciate Hendrickson's argument that Grant's pursuit of Lee and his army was the only way to defeat an opponent determined to keep the field at any price, even after Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley campaign and Sherman's "March to the Sea." By the spring of 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia was too hungry and too understrength to fight outside the entrenchments around Richmond and Petersburg. Having maneuvered into the open, it was a run to earth in a campaign whose speed and sophistication Hendrickson correctly praises for closing off the possibility of an extended guerrilla war that might have intensified the bitterness between the opponents. Instead, as Henderson demonstrates, the mutual respect demonstrated by victors and vanquished at Appomattox proved a significant element in the postwar healing process. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Hoping to capture the spirit and flavor of the four bloody years leading up to Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, popular historian Hendrickson (Sumter: The First Day of the Civil War, Scarborough House, 1990) traces the lives of the story's principal military and civilian leaders, often stressing character study over a consideration of wartime causes and effects and broad historical context. To be sure, the field commanders receive credit where it's due, but there is an inordinate emphasis on the foibles of well-known colorful personalities, and Hendrickson's popular history of battle fiascos frequently assumes an almost Keystone Kop quality. Grant, the failed civilian and unpromising peacetime soldier, bestrides the history as the savior of the Union cause, but what of Lee's responsibility in this tragic drama? "It had been argued that his decision [to join the Confederate cause] was the worst he made in his life and that, intentionally or not, he was to be responsible, ironically, for more bloodshed than Grant the Butcher." While not a landmark contribution to Civil War historiography, this book is definitely a page-turner that will appeal to the general reader and the Civil War enthusiast. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
Kirkus Reviews
A Civil War narrative about the final days in northern Virginia leading to the great surrender. Historian Hendrickson (The Firing on Fort Sumter and the Start of the Civil War, 1987, etc.) begins the story on March 9, 1864, when Lincoln appointed Grant, "the General who fights,þ as Supreme Federal Commander. Hendrickson gives a vivid account of what followed: Grant's relentless hammering of the vaunted Army of Northern Virginia; the horrors and vast bloodshed occurring during the battles of Spotsylvania, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor that wore down Lee's outnumbered gallants in these fierce struggles of attrition; the long siege of Petersburg and the destruction and capture of Richmond. As Lee tried to escape south and west, he was attacked constantly by Grant's fiery generals, Sheridan, Custer, and Ord, until the great Rebel commander was checkmated on all sides with his surviving half-starved army, in danger of annihilation. Hendrickson also gives a graphic account of Sherman's March to the Sea and of the burning of Atlanta, which left a trail of devastation, looting, and pillage that broke the Southern ability to make war. Sherman justified the cruelty and barbarism of his warfare with his philosophy that he would thus end the war sooner and save lives, while warning that people would so loathe war that they would never again want to start one. The drastic tactics of both Grant and Sherman did finally end a long and bloody war. A lucid summary of this fateful period featuring profiles of the leading players together with colorful anecdotes.

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Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.33(w) x 9.46(h) x 0.94(d)

Meet the Author

ROBERT HENDRICKSON is the author of more than forty books, including Sumter: The First Day of the Civil War. He has received Ford Foundation and McDowell Colony Fellowships, and his stories, poems, and articles have appeared widely in newspapers and literary quarterlies. He lives in Peconic, New York.

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