A Stillness at Appomattox
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"A Stillness at Appomattox" Summary

By Bruce Catton

history | 438 pages | Published in NaN

When first published in 1953, Bruce Catton, our foremost Civil War historian was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for excellence in nonfiction.  This final volume of The Army of the Potomac trilogy relates the final year of the Civil War.


Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

A detailed account of the final year of the Civil War, focusing on the Union Army's struggles and triumphs.


"A Stillness at Appomattox" is a historical non-fiction book written by Bruce Catton, focusing on the final year of the American Civil War. Catton’s narrative provides a detailed account of the events leading up to the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox, offering a rich and immersive portrayal of the war's impact on the soldiers and the nation.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The book delves into the final year of the Civil War, chronicling the Union's relentless pursuit of the Confederate forces. Catton vividly captures the intense battles, the strategic maneuvers, and the human experiences that defined the war's closing chapter.


The story unfolds in various locations across the American South, including Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. The war-weary landscapes and battle-scarred terrains serve as poignant backdrops to the unfolding events.

Main Characters

Ulysses S. GrantThe Union's commanding general, known for his strategic brilliance and determination.
Robert E. LeeThe distinguished Confederate general, revered for his leadership and military acumen.
Abraham LincolnThe President of the United States, navigating the complexities of war and politics.
Joshua Lawrence ChamberlainA Union officer known for his bravery and leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Summary of Each Story Points over Chapters

Chapter 1: The War Intensifies

  • The Union forces launch a series of offensives to weaken the Confederate stronghold.
  • Grant and Lee engage in a strategic chess match, leading to bloody clashes and shifting battle lines.

Chapter 2: The Siege of Petersburg

  • The Union's prolonged siege of Petersburg brings the war to a grueling stalemate.
  • Both sides endure immense hardships as the conflict reaches a critical turning point.

Chapter 3: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign

  • Union General Philip Sheridan embarks on a relentless campaign to devastate the Confederacy's agricultural and logistical resources.
  • The Shenandoah Valley becomes a battleground of attrition and strategic maneuvering.

Chapter 4: The Battle of Five Forks

  • The Union forces secure a pivotal victory at Five Forks, rupturing the Confederate defenses around Petersburg.
  • Lee's army faces increasing pressure as the Union relentlessly presses the advantage.

Chapter 5: The Appomattox Campaign

  • Grant's forces pursue the retreating Confederates, leading to a series of skirmishes and engagements.
  • The Confederate army, battered and depleted, grapples with the inevitability of surrender.

Main Events

  1. The Siege of Petersburg: The protracted siege underscores the grueling nature of the war, testing the endurance of both sides.
  2. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign: Sheridan's ruthless campaign demonstrates the Union's determination to cripple the Confederacy's infrastructure.
  3. The Battle of Five Forks: A decisive Union victory that further weakens the Confederate defenses, setting the stage for the war's conclusion.
  4. The Appomattox Campaign: Grant's relentless pursuit of the Confederate forces leads to a series of confrontations, culminating in the iconic surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Themes and Insights


  1. The Brutality of War: Catton vividly portrays the harrowing realities of warfare, capturing the chaos and suffering experienced by soldiers on both sides.
  2. Leadership and Strategy: The book explores the strategic brilliance of figures like Grant and Lee, highlighting their pivotal roles in shaping the war's outcome.
  3. The Human Cost of Conflict: Through personal accounts and vivid descriptions, the narrative emphasizes the profound impact of the war on individuals and communities.


  • Catton offers a nuanced exploration of the moral, political, and military complexities that defined the Civil War's final stages.
  • The book provides a compelling analysis of the war's enduring legacy and its implications for the future of the United States.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Stillness at Appomattox" offers a compelling and immersive portrayal of the Civil War's tumultuous conclusion, shedding light on the pivotal events and the individuals who shaped this defining chapter in American history. Catton's meticulous research and evocative storytelling provide readers with a deeper understanding of the war's impact on the nation and its people.


In "A Stillness at Appomattox," Bruce Catton masterfully captures the intensity, sacrifice, and ultimate resolution of the American Civil War. Through vivid storytelling and detailed historical accounts, Catton delivers a poignant narrative that resonates with readers, offering a profound insight into one of the nation's most transformative periods.

A Stillness at Appomattox FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Stillness at Appomattox'?

    The genre of 'A Stillness at Appomattox' is historical non-fiction, focusing on the American Civil War.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Stillness at Appomattox'?

    The author of 'A Stillness at Appomattox' is Bruce Catton, a renowned American historian and writer.

  3. What is the book 'A Stillness at Appomattox' about?

    The book 'A Stillness at Appomattox' chronicles the final year of the American Civil War, with a particular focus on the Union Army of the Potomac and its role in the conflict.

  4. Is 'A Stillness at Appomattox' part of a series?

    Yes, 'A Stillness at Appomattox' is part of Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy, which also includes 'Mr. Lincoln's Army' and 'Glory Road'.

  5. Is 'A Stillness at Appomattox' suitable for readers interested in military history?

    Yes, 'A Stillness at Appomattox' is highly suitable for readers interested in military history, especially the American Civil War, as it provides detailed accounts of battles, strategies, and the experiences of soldiers.