By the first of April, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln knew that at long last victory over the Confederacy was at hand. He was relieved and elated, but also deeply worried. How would the south react to the defeat? How would the victorious north treat the southerners? How would the former slaves manage their freedom? And how could a new Union be forged?
In April, 1865, Jay Winik answers those questions, reviewing what could have been had different decisions been made by countless key individuals. Winik presents a dramatic picture of the fall of Richmond, and the tour made by Lincoln among the still smoldering ruins; of t the choices left to a heartbroken Lee, and of the prequel to the historic surrender at Appomattox; of Lincoln’s assassination and its aftermath, when no one was quite certain how to deal with the passing over of power to a new president, or even who that president should be.
There are some faults in this book to be sure. Winik treats Lee with hero-worship and ignores the contributions of Grant and Sherman. He spends too much time on mini-bios of Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forest, and other confederate hold-outs. But for a thought provoking picture of the second establishment of The United States of America, April, 1865 is well worth reading.
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Things might have been rather different, too. "What emerges from the panorama of April 1865 is that the whole of our national history could have been altered but for a few decisions, a quirk of fate, a sudden shift in luck." When Lee abandoned Richmond, for instance, his soldiers rendezvoused at a nearby town called Amelia Court House. There, the general expected to find boxcars full of food for his hungry troops. But "a mere administrative mix-up" left his army empty-handed and may have limited Lee's options in the days to come. Or what if Lee had decided not to surrender at all, but to turn his resourceful army into an outfit of guerrilla fighters who would harass federal officials? ...