Catton Wins a Pulitzer Prize for

Bruce Catton won the Pulitzer Prize for his historical work A Stillness at Appomattox, which portrayed the thoughts and feelings of common soldiers who fought in the American Civil War. The book, which also won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1954, launched Catton on the path to becoming one of the most prolific and popular writers on the history of the Civil War.


Summary of Event

Winning the Pulitzer Prize is among the greatest accomplishments an author can hope to achieve. The 1954 Pulitzer Prize in history was awarded to Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox (1953), helping to begin a Civil War “craze” in America and bringing its author recognition as one of the best writers of the military history genre. The Pulitzer Prize, named for Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-born newspaper publisher and Civil War veteran, was created upon his death through a gift to Columbia University (which administers the awarding of the prize). Pulitzer wanted to recognize the best writing in the country each year; Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox continued this tradition when it won the award in the spring of 1954, as well as the prestigious National Book Award National Book Award for Nonfiction. Stillness at Appomattox, A (Catton)
Pulitzer Prizes;history
[kw]Catton Wins a Pulitzer Prize for A Stillness at Appomattox (Spring, 1954)
[kw]Pulitzer Prize for A Stillness at Appomattox, Catton Wins a (Spring, 1954)
[kw]Prize for A Stillness at Appomattox, Catton Wins a Pulitzer (Spring, 1954)
[kw]Stillness at Appomattox, Catton Wins a Pulitzer Prize for A (Spring, 1954)
Stillness at Appomattox, A (Catton)
Pulitzer Prizes;history
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[g]United States;Spring, 1954: Catton Wins a Pulitzer Prize for A Stillness at Appomattox[04380]
[c]American Civil War;Spring, 1954: Catton Wins a Pulitzer Prize for A Stillness at Appomattox[04380]
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[c]Military history;Spring, 1954: Catton Wins a Pulitzer Prize for A Stillness at Appomattox[04380]
Catton, Bruce
Pulitzer, Joseph
Grant, Ulysses S.

Catton was born in Petoskey but grew up in Benzonia, Michigan. He spent much of his youth listening to Civil War veterans talk about their war experiences, instilling in him a deep, lifelong interest in the Civil War. He gained a deeper understanding of the conflict from those who fought in it. He learned at first hand what motivated these men to endure the hardships of war and what they believed they were fighting for.

It was during World War II that Catton began to write his first full-length book, War Lords of Washington (1948). After the war he decided to become a full-time author and turned to his first love, the Civil War, as the topic for his next writing effort. In 1951, he released the first book in what would become his Army of the Potomac series, an in-depth look at the Union army in the eastern theater of the war. The Civil War had been a landmark event in American history, and its effects continue far beyond the years—in fact, the century—of hostilities. Catton’s emotional writing style in the series would help evoke the feelings of the Civil War generation to modern readers in a way that is rare for many, of not most, authors in the genre.

The first book of the trilogy, Mr. Lincoln’s Army
Mr. Lincoln’s Army (Catton)[Mr Lincolns Army] (1951), deals with the eagerness of the Army of the Potomac during the first flush of the war. One year later he released the second book of the series, Glory Road
Glory Road (Catton) (1952), which explores the long middle years of setbacks. A Stillness at Appomattox, the final book of the trilogy, was released in 1953.

Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox is a deeply emotional book. It examines the final year of the Civil War and the final campaign of the Army of the Potomac after Ulysses S. Grant had been elevated to command of all Union forces. Because Grant was the best-known Union commander, a book focusing on his time with the Army of the Potomac appealed more to the general public. It made sense that Catton’s 1954 Pulitzer Prize in history would bring the Civil War into mainstream American society and make Catton famous for his works on the war. His writing bridged the gap from the last living Civil War veterans to the mid-twentieth century and preserved their feelings and emotions. His retelling of the war through the eyes of common soldiers provided an insightful new perspective on the conflict. Catton’s youth spent listening to Civil War veterans gave him the ability to write in this prize-winning fashion.

Working from letters and diaries of soldiers, Catton paints a picture of the war from the “bottom up.” He gives readers a way to understand why the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac fought as long and hard as they did through some of the most grueling conditions ever faced by American soldiers. He conveys to his readers what Union soldiers were thinking and feeling as the war entered its last year. His writing shows what the men thought about the war’s progression, about their leaders, and about their foes. A Stillness at Appomattox was the most popular of the trilogy, most likely because it focused on the leaders Americans are most familiar with: Union generals Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman. However, while many works focused on the actions of leaders such as Grant, Catton made the men in the ranks the main focus of his writing. Catton was able to impart to his readers how the nation was able to pull through its most troubled time and convey the spirit of the people involved in this struggle.

The Pulitzer Prize helped to launch Catton’s career. He was a cofounder and editor of American Heritage magazine and authored many books, but he will always be best known for A Stillness at Appomattox, the book that helped to set off a wave of Civil War nostalgia that swept the country. Combined with the centennial of the conflict that arrived soon after the book’s release, the work made the Civil War a part of American popular culture.

Catton also went on to become one of the foremost experts on the Civil War and one of the greatest authors on the subject. His ability to tell the story of common soldiers brought the Civil War to a level that was understandable by all; it brought the war to life. Catton died August 28, 1978, in Frankfort, Michigan.



Significance

Catton’s Pulitzer-winning A Stillness at Appomattox was followed by other Civil War-related works, including the Centennial History of the Civil War and the Ulysses S. Grant trilogy. His writing style gave readers a new view of history, a view of what the common folk, the foot soldiers in the trenches and on the battlefields, thought about the battles of the Civil War and the war itself. Catton’s prize-winning book made the study of the Civil War more palatable and understandable to the general reading public and thus greatly expanded the appeal of the war’s history.

The time period in which Catton wrote his book also is significant. With the coming centennial of the Civil War and the racial tensions in the United States at the time of the centennial, Catton’s book helped to show what was in the minds of men who had fought for union and freedom one hundred years before. In 1977, Catton was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Gerald R. Ford, and he received more than two dozen honorary degrees throughout his career as a historian and writer. Stillness at Appomattox, A (Catton)
Pulitzer Prizes;history



Further Reading

  • Catton, Bruce. The Civil War. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Packs a great deal of information into a short text covering the entire war.
  • _______. Glory Road. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1952. Book 2 of the Army of the Potomac trilogy dealing with the trials and tribulations that the army faced during the middle of the war.
  • _______. Mr. Lincoln’s Army. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1951. Book 1 of the Army of the Potomac trilogy dealing with the early part of the war and first actions of the army.
  • _______. A Stillness at Appomattox. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1953. Pulitzer Prize-winning book that allows readers to see through the eyes of the soldiers.
  • _______. Waiting for the Morning Train. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972. Catton’s autobiographical account of his youth, which provides special insight into how his feel for the Civil War developed.
  • Hohenberg, John. The Pulitzer Diaries: Inside America’s Greatest Prize. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1997. An inside look at the inner workings of how winners of the Pulitzer Prize are determined. The author served on the award’s committee.


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