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Bruce Catton

Bruce Catton
Bruce Catton, c. 1960s
Born Charles Bruce Catton
(1899-10-09)October 9, 1899
Petoskey, Michigan, USA
Died August 28, 1978(1978-08-28) (aged 78)
Frankfort, Michigan
Occupation Journalist, author
Nationality American
Period 1948–1978
Genre History
Subject American Civil War
Spouse Hazel H. Cherry
Children William Bruce Catton

Charles Bruce Catton (October 9, 1899 – August 28, 1978) was an American historian and journalist, best known for his books on the American Civil War.[1] Known as a narrative historian, Catton specialized in popular history, featuring colorful characters and historical vignettes, in addition to the basic facts, dates, and analyses. Although his books were well researched and supported by footnotes, they were not generally presented in a rigorous academic style. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for A Stillness at Appomattox,[2] his study of the final campaign of the war in Virginia.[3]


  • Early life 1
  • Journalism career 2
  • Writing career 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Death and legacy 5
    • Bruce Catton Prize 5.1
  • Works 6
  • Honors and awards 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Charles Bruce Catton was born in Benzonia, Michigan. His father was a Congregationalist minister, who accepted a teaching position in Benzonia Academy and later became the academy's headmaster. As a boy, Catton first heard the reminiscences of the aged veterans who had fought in the Civil War. In his memoir, Waiting for the Morning Train (1972), Catton explained how their stories made a lasting impression upon him:

[These stories gave] a color and a tone not merely to our village life, but to the concept of life with which we grew up ... I think I was always subconsciously driven by an attempt to restate that faith and to show where it was properly grounded, how it grew out of what a great many young men on both sides felt and believed and were brave enough to do.[4]

In 1916, Catton began attending Oberlin College, but he left without completing a degree because of World War I.

Journalism career

After serving briefly in the United States Navy during World War I,[3] Catton became a reporter and editor for The Cleveland News (as a freelance reporter), the Boston American (1920–1924), and The Plain Dealer (1925). From 1926 to 1941, he worked for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, a Scripps-Howard syndicate), for which he wrote editorials and book reviews, as well as serving as a Washington, D.C., correspondent.[3] Catton tried twice to complete his studies, but found himself repeatedly pulled away by his newspaper work. Oberlin College awarded him an honorary degree in 1956.[5]

Writing career

At the start of World War II, Catton was too old for military service. In 1941, he took a position as Director of Information for the War Production Board, and later he held similar posts in the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior. His experiences as a federal employee prepared him to write his first book, War Lords of Washington, in 1948. Although the book was not a commercial success, it inspired Catton to leave the federal government to become a full-time author.[6]

In 1954, Catton accepted the position as founding editor of the new American Heritage magazine.[5] Catton served initially as a writer, reviewer, and editor. In the first issue, he wrote:

We intend to deal with that great, unfinished and illogically inspiring story of the American people doing, being and becoming. Our American heritage is greater than any one of us. It can express itself in very homely truths; in the end it can lift up our eyes beyond the glow in the sunset skies.[5]
Army of the Potomac trilogy

In the early 1950s, Catton published three books known as the Army of the Potomac trilogy. In Mr. Lincoln's Army (1951), the first volume of his history of the Peninsula Campaign, the Northern Virginia Campaign, and the Battle of Antietam. In the second volume, Glory Road (1952), Catton covered the army's history under new commanding generals, from the Battle of Fredericksburg to the Battle of Gettysburg. In his final volume of the trilogy, A Stillness at Appomattox (1953), Catton covered the campaigns of Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia from 1864 to the end of the war in 1865. It was his first commercially successful work and it won both the Pulitzer Prize for History[2] and a National Book Award for Nonfiction.[7] The three volumes were reissued as a single volume reprint titled, Bruce Catton's Civil War (1988).

Centennial History of the Civil War

From 1961 to 1965, the Centennial of the Civil War was commemorated, and the publication of Bruce Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War trilogy highlighted this era. Unlike his previous trilogy, these books focused not only on military topics, but on social, economic, and political topics as well. In the first volume, The Coming Fury (1961), Catton explored the causes and events leading to the start of the war, culminating in its first major combat operation, the First Battle of Bull Run. In the second volume, Terrible Swift Sword (1963), he followed both sides as they mobilize for a massive war effort. The story continued through 1862, ending with the Battle of Fredericksburg. In the third volume, Never Call Retreat (1965), the war continued through Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and the bloody struggles of 1864 and 1865 before the final surrender.

Ulysses S. Grant trilogy

Following the publication of Captain Sam Grant (1950) by historian and biographer Lloyd Lewis, Catton wrote the second and third volumes of this trilogy, making extensive use of Lewis's historical research, provided by his widow, Kathryn Lewis, who personally selected Catton to continue her husband's work. In Grant Moves South (1960), Catton showed the growth of Grant as a military commander, from victories at the Battle of Fort Henry and the Battle of Fort Donelson, to the Battle of Shiloh and the Vicksburg Campaign. In Grant Takes Command (1969), Catton followed Grant from the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 through the 1864 Virginia campaigns against Robert E. Lee and the end of the war.

Other Civil War books

In addition to these three important trilogies, Catton wrote extensively about the Civil War throughout his writing career. In U. S. Grant and the American Military Tradition (1954), Catton writes what many consider one of the best short biographies of the general. In Banners at Shenandoah: A Story of Sheridan's Fighting Cavalry (1955), Catton wrote for young people about Union cavalry commander Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. This Hallowed Ground (1956) was an account of the war from the Union perspective. Upon its publication, it was widely considered the best single volume history of the Civil War, receiving a Fletcher Pratt Award from the Civil War Round Table of New York in 1957.

In America Goes to War (1958), Catton made the case that the American Civil War was one of the first total wars. In The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (1960), Catton wrote the accompanying narrative to a book that included over 800 paintings and period photographs. It received a special Pulitzer Prize citation in 1961. In The American Heritage Short History of the Civil War (1960), Catton offers a fast-moving narrative that covered both the military and political aspects of the war. In Two Roads to Sumter (1963), written with his son William, Catton recounted the 15 years leading up to the war, seen from the vantage points of the two leading politicians involved in the conflict: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. And in Gettysburg: The Final Fury (1974), Catton offered a slim volume on the Battle of Gettysburg, dominated by photographs and illustrations.

Other books

In addition to writing Civil War histories, Catton wrote other books, including The War Lords of Washington (1948), an account of Washington, D.C., during World War II, based on his experiences in the federal government, Four Days: The Historical Record Of The Death Of President Kennedy (1964), a 144-page collaboration of the American Heritage magazine and United Press International on the John F. Kennedy assassination, and Waiting for the Morning Train (1972), about the author's Michigan boyhood. Toward the end of his life, Catton published Michigan: A Bicentennial History (1976) and The Bold & Magnificent Dream: America's Founding Years, 1492–1815 (1978).

Personal life

On August 16, 1925, Catton married Hazel H. Cherry.[8] In 1926, they had a son, William Bruce, who taught history at Princeton University and at Middlebury College, Vermont, where he was the first Charles A. Dana Professor of History.[9]

Death and legacy

Bruce Catton died in a hospital near his summer home at Frankfort, Michigan, following a respiratory illness.[8][10] He was buried in Benzonia Township Cemetery in Benzie County, Michigan.[11]

In 1977, the year before his death, Catton received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Gerald R. Ford, who noted that the author and historian "made us hear the sounds of battle and cherish peace."

Of the many Civil War historians, Catton was arguably the most prolific and popular. Oliver Jensen, who succeeded him as editor of American Heritage magazine, wrote:

No one ever wrote American history with more easy grace, beauty and emotional power, or greater understanding of its meaning, than Bruce Catton. There is a near-magic power of imagination in Catton's work that seemed to project him physically into the battlefields, along the dusty roads and to the campfires of another age.[3]

The Bruce Catton Collection is housed in the Archives of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.[12]

Bruce Catton Prize

Since 1984, the Bruce Catton Prize was awarded for lifetime achievement in the writing of history. In cooperation with American Heritage Publishing Company, the Society of American Historians in 1984 initiated the biennial prize that honors an entire body of work. It is named for Bruce Catton, prizewinning historian and first editor of American Heritage magazine. The prize consisted of a certificate and $2,500.

The prize was awarded to John Hope Franklin (1994), Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1996), Richard N. Current (1998), Bernard Bailyn (2000), Gerda Lerner (2002), David Brion Davis (2004), and David Herbert Donald (2006).[13]


  • The War Lords of Washington. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & Co., 1948.
  • Mr. Lincoln's Army. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1951.
  • Glory Road. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1952.
  • A Stillness at Appomattox. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1953.
  • U.S. Grant and the American Military Tradition. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1954.
  • Banners at Shenandoah: A Story of Sheridan's Fighting Cavalry. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1955.
  • This Hallowed Ground. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1956.
  • America Goes to War. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1958.
  • The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. New York: American Heritage Publishing, 1960.
  • The American Heritage Short History of the Civil War. New York: American Heritage Publishing, 1960.
  • Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1960.
  • The Coming Fury. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1961.
  • Terrible Swift Sword. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1963.
  • Two Roads to Sumter. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963.
  • Four Days: The Historical Record Of The Death Of President Kennedy. New York: American Heritage Publishing, 1964.
  • Never Call Retreat. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1965.
  • Grant Takes Command. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.
  • Waiting for the Morning Train. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972.
  • Gettysburg: The Final Fury. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1974.
  • Michigan: A Bicentennial History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1976.
  • The Bold & Magnificent Dream: America's Founding Years, 1492–1815. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1978.
  • Biographical sketch and list of articles by Catton in American Heritage

Honors and awards


  1. ^ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (2015). "Bruce Catton - American Historian and Journalist". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved August 16, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "History". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d Dooley, Dennis. "Bruce Catton". Cleveland Arts Prize. Retrieved November 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ Catton, Bruce. Waiting for the Morning Train. 1972.
  5. ^ a b c Reynolds, Mark C. "Golden Anniversary". American Heritage. Retrieved January 5, 2013. 
  6. ^ Jensen, Oliver. "Working with Bruce Catton" in American Heritage, February/March 1979
  7. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1954". National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
    (With essay by Neil Baldwin from the Awards 50-year anniversary publications.)
  8. ^ a b "Bruce Catton, Civil War Historian, Dies at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  9. ^ "William B. Catton Prize". Middlebury College. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  10. ^ Miller, John J. "He Rewrote History". MyNorth. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Benzonia Township Cemetery". USGS Archives. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Citadel Archives, Catton, Bruce, 1899–1978". 
  13. ^ "Bruce Catton Prize". The Society of American Historians. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 

External links

  • Jensen, Oliver. "Working With Bruce Catton" in American Heritage, February/March 1979.
  • Blight, David W. "Bruce Catton: Notes about the famous historian and American Heritage editor", in American Heritage, Spring, 2012.
  • Miller, John J. "He Rewrote History" in Traverse, June 2009.
  • Reynolds, Mark C. "Golden Anniversary" in American Heritage, November/December 2004.
  • Cleveland Public Library
  • National Book Foundation
  • Cleveland Arts Prize
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