Cover image for April 1865 : the month that saved America
April 1865 : the month that saved America
Winik, Jay, 1957-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers [2001]

Physical Description:
xviii, 461 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E477.61 .W56 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E477.61 .W56 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E477.61 .W56 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E477.61 .W56 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E477.61 .W56 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E477.61 .W56 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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April 1865 was a month that could have unraveled the nation. Instead, it saved it. Here Jay Winik offers a brilliant new look at the Civil War's final days that will forever change the way we see the war's end and the nation's new beginning. Uniquely set within the larger sweep of history, filled with rich profiles of outsize figures, fresh iconoclastic scholarship, and a gripping narrative, this is a masterful account of the thirty most pivotal days in the life of the United States.

It was not inevitable that the Civil War would end as it did, or that it would end at all well. Indeed, it almost didn't. Time and again, critical moments could have plunged the nation back into war or fashioned a far harsher, more violent, and volatile peace. Now, in a superbly told story, Winik captures the epic images and extraordinary history as never before. This one month witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond; a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare; Lee's harrowing retreat; and then Appomattox. It saw Lincoln's assassination just five days later, and a near-successful plot to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in the South, and finally, the start of national reconciliation. In the end, April 1865 emerges as not just the tale of the war's denouement, but the story of the making of our nation.

Provocative, bold, exquisitely rendered, and stunningly original, April 1865 is the first major reassessment of the Civil War's close and is destined to become one of the great stories of American history.

Author Notes

Jay Winik, one of the nation's leading historians, is renowned for his gifted and creative approaches to history. He is the author of The New York Times and #1 bestseller April 1865 (2001), which received wide international acclaim and became an award-wining documentary on the History Channel, watched by 50 million viewers. The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800 (HarperCollins, 2007), was a New York Times bestseller and a Best Book of the Year for both USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor, as well as a main selection of the Book of the Month club and the History Book club. In the UK it was also selected for the prestigious Financial Times list of best books of the year. Winik was in 2013 the Historical Advisor to the National Geographic Channels, and among a number of projects, worked on an epic six-part history of the 1980s with the renowned, award-winning Nutopia film company, which premiered to critical acclaim in over 100 countries. Frequently asked to write or speak about Presidential Leadership and Abraham Lincoln, Winik recorded a series of 14 lectures on the Civil War for the Barnes and Noble Great Lectures series, and he is one of the lead authors of Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst of the White House (Wall Street Journal Books, 2004); What Ifs? Of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (Putnam, 2003); BookNotes on American Character (PublicAffairs, 2004); I Wish I¿d Been There: Distinguished Historians Travel Back In Time, (Doubleday, 2006); and Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians on our 16th president (Public Affairs/C-SPAN, 2008). Born in Connecticut, Winik is a graduate of Yale College, and holds an M.Sc. with distinction from the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. from Yale University. Represented by Michael Carlisle in New York City, and the Washington Speakers Bureau, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is an elected Fellow of the Society of American Historians, and served or serves on the Governing Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a presidential appointment, as well as the boards for American Heritage magazine and the journal, World Affairs; he is also a trustee or advisory board member of a number of non-profit boards, including National History Day, the Civil War Preservation Trust; Ford¿s Theatre; The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission; The Lincoln Legacy Project, the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation; the Lincoln Forum; and earlier the Potomac School, and the Advisory Council of the James Madison Book Award. He is a nominator for the largest prize in the humanities, the $1.5 million John W Kluge award. He has also provided advice to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and was a juror for the prestigious George Washington book prize in 2008, and a recommender for the Heinz awards. His latest book, 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History (Simon & Schuster 2015) made it to the NY Times Bestseller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Though the primary focus of this book is the last month of the Civil War, it opens in the 18th century with a view of Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Winik (whose previous book, On the Brink, was an account of the Reagan administration and the end of the Cold War) offers not just a study of four weeks of war, but a panoramic assessment of America and its contradictions. The opening Jeffersonian question is: does the good of the country take precedence over that of the individual states? The question of civil union or civil war is the central question of this new work. Winik goes on to describe how a series of events that occurred during a matter of weeks in April 1865 (the fall of Richmond; Lee's graceful surrender to Grant at Appomattox, and Grant's equally distinguished handling of his foe; Lincoln's assassination), none of them inevitable, would solve Jefferson's riddle: while a loose federation of states entered the war, what emerged from war and Reconstruction was a much stronger nation; the Union had decisively triumphed over the wishes of individual states. Winik's sense of the dramatic and his vivid writing bring a fitting flourish to his thesis that April 1865 marked a turning point in American history: "So, after April 1865, when the blood had clotted and dried, when the cadavers had been removed and the graves filled in, what America was asking for, at war's end, was in fact something quite unique: a special exemption from the cruel edicts of history." Winik's ability to see the big picture in the close-up (and vice versa), and to compose riveting narrative, is masterful. This book is a triumph. (Apr. 4) Forecast: Popular history at its best, this book should appeal widely to readers beyond the usual Civil War crowd. Strong endorsements from a group of noted historians, including James M. McPherson and Douglas Brinkley, along with a 10-city author tour, should also help both review coverage and sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

This is an outstanding volume, less perhaps for new scholarly insights into the month that witnessed Appomattox, the Lincoln assassination, and the collapse of the Confederacy than for the complexities it explores and for simply being a very good story superbly told. Robert E. Lee had hoped to move his command to link up with Joseph Johnston's in North Carolina, but hemmed in, his out-manned forces dropping from starvation, he rejected the last alternative of guerilla war and surrendered with dignity and honor, and was accorded the same by a magnanimous Ulysses Grant. Johnston and Tecumseh Sherman displayed similar class and in the end defied a direct order by Jefferson Davis to wage guerilla war. In the days that followed, western Confederate commanders Richard Taylor, Kirby Smith, Stand Watie, and the incomparable Nathan Bedford Forrest followed suit. On both sides, the generals displayed more sense than the politicos, but the end result was a remarkably civil finale to a dreadful civil war. Despite occasional hyperbole, Winik combines the qualities of perceptive historical analysis and splendid storytelling to offer a volume highly recommended for general readers, students, and scholars alike. R. A. Fischer emeritus, University of Minnesota--Duluth

Booklist Review

In April 1865 the Civil War appeared to be ending with a whimper rather than a bang. The Army of the Tennessee had been destroyed as an effective force, Sherman was ravaging the Carolinas, and Lee's soldiers were surviving on handfuls of parched corn. In fact, the war did end without a final paroxysm of violence, but there was nothing inevitable about that conclusion. After a career in government, Winik is currently a senior scholar at the University of Maryland's School of Public Affairs. He has written a provocative account of the closing weeks of America's greatest national trial. Winik sheds light on the apparently serious Confederate plans to wage a prolonged guerrilla war. He suggests that the assassination of Lincoln could have triggered a coup in the North, and his insights into the on-again, off-again "peace" negotiations are incisive. Scholars and Civil War buffs may disagree with some of his assertions, but this fast moving, well-written chronicle will highlight obscure aspects of the war and stimulate further controversy. --Jay Freeman

Library Journal Review

April 1865 saw the evacuation of the Confederate capital at Richmond, the surrender of the Confederacy's two major remaining field armies, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. These events (and more) are brought to life in Winik's (public affairs, Univ. of Maryland; On the Brink) provocative narrative of the end of the Civil War. All of the major characters, from Lincoln and Ulysses Grant to Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, are here, as are numerous other figures. Sometimes the prose is a little too breezy and breathless, and there are the occasional (minor) factual slips that will cause the veteran reader of Civil War narratives to wince. Nevertheless, it is Winik's willingness to embrace contingency, to ponder alternatives, and to raise thoughtful questions about what did (and did not) happen that raise this account above the typical and increasingly tiresome renditions of the conflict's climax. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Brooks D. Simpson, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



April 1865 The Month That Saved America Chapter One The Dilemma The bells rang that day in Washington. Wherever there were brick bell towers and whitewashed churches, wherever rows of bells hung in ascending niches, wherever the common people could crowd belfries to take turns pulling the ropes, the bells sang. Bells were part of the American tradition. Cast in iron, bronze, copper, and sometimes silver, they rang with a hundred messages: summoning Americans to Sunday services, marking the harvest and holidays, signaling the prosperity of planting, tolling the sadness of death, chiming the happiness of marriage, clanging warnings of fire or flood, or booming out the celebration of victory. Today, they rang with the hint of promise. It was March 4, 1865. Inauguration Day in the Union. Abraham Lincoln had been at the Capitol since midmorning, forgoing a traditional celebratory carriage ride up Pennsylvania Avenue to sign a stack of bills passed in the waning hours of the lame-duck Congress. He was determined to make his own mark on them before the vice presidential swearing in, scheduled for noon. Cloistered in the Senate wing, tracing and retracing the letters of his name, Lincoln remained the very picture of exhaustion. His face was heavily lined, his cheeks were sunken, and he had lost thirty pounds in recent months. Though only fifty-six, he could easily pass for a very old man. He was sick, dispirited, and even his hands were routinely cold and clammy. And today, the weather itself seemed to be colluding with his foul and melancholy mood. That morning, heavy clouds moved over Washington, as they had the day before and the day before that, whipping the capital with blasts of rain and wind. Even when the rain let up, the ground didn't. The streets were a sea of mud at least ten inches deep. Still, the people came. On the following Monday, the inauguration rush would include a grand ball for 4,000: they would waltz and polka to the beat of a military band; feast on an elegant medley of beef, veal, poultry, game, smoked meats, terrapin oysters, and salads; finish with an astounding wartime array of ices, tarts, cakes, fruits, and nuts; and then retire for the evening with steaming coffee and good rich chocolate. But that was for official Washington, for Lincoln's loyalists and Republican Party functionaries. This Saturday was a day for all the Union. And like a great herd, the people were seemingly everywhere. Their wagons ground to a halt underneath thickets of trees in the distance, and the thud and swish of their feet could be heard along Pierre L'Enfant's wide, radiating avenues. All along Pennsylvania Avenue, they converged, where the crowd stood at least six and eight deep on the crude sidewalks, around Fifteenth Street past the Treasury, where the stars and stripes hung from second-story windows, past Kirkland House and Tenth Street and the National Hotel, where a clutch of handkerchiefs fluttered and gawkers hung out their balconies, and up the steep slope to the Capitol, past the greening swatch of emerald lawns. At street intersections, military patrols formed a watchful guard. So did the Capitol police. Reporters and photographers crowded the stoops, ready to record the event for posterity. Flags waved; people cheered; and the band played. But mostly, the vast throng jostled for position by the east facade of the Capitol, newly capped by its gleaming dome and the towering bronze statue of Freedom, to be near, even to catch a glimpse of the president himself. Finally, the presidential party moved from the Senate chamber out onto the platform. A roar of applause rose from the crowd as Lincoln made his way to his seat. It dipped and then mounted again as the sergeant-at-arms beckoned, and Lincoln stood, towering over the other men, and made his way to the podium. As Lincoln rose and moved forward, a blazing sun broke through the gray haze and flooded the entire gathering with brilliant light. Above and below, the collective pulse quickened. ("Did you notice that sunburst?" the president later said. "It made my heart jump.") But whatever ominous portent that moment may have held, it was overshadowed by the more powerful drama of Lincoln's speech. Succinct, only 703 words, eloquent, and memorable, it was reminiscent of the Gettysburg Address, and at this crucial stage of the war, every bit as important. Summoning his waning energies, Lincoln began to read. As he rode into Richmond, Virginia, on that very same March morning, Robert E. Lee was met with none of the same fanfare. Slipping north from the trench lines ringing Petersburg, he must have felt that, on this particular day, Union troops would be loath to undertake any action. But he had a far more specific reason for journeying to the Confederate capital. Today, he harbored a single, daring plan to reignite the waning fortunes of the Confederacy, to somehow push the eleven states toward eventual independence. And he had come to confer with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the insomniac head of the Southern government, who liked to wage war from his dining room, with maps unfurled and instruments scattered across the table. Lee's ultimate calculation was as bold as it was simple: abandon Richmond and take his forces south to meet up with General Joe Johnston in North Carolina. Leave U. S. Grant, snugly ensconced in his City Point camp, holding the bag, minus the string. From there, they could continue the war indefinitely. In the early, predawn hours, Lee had already vetted his options with General John B. Gordon, a shrewd, able warrior and one of his most trusted lieutenants. That meeting had proved to be an eye-opener. A Confederate courier, sent by Lee, had roused Gordon sometime around midnight, and it took the thirty-three-year-old two hours of hard riding in a bitter chill to reach the commanding general at his Edge Hill headquarters, outside Petersburg. April 1865 The Month That Saved America . Copyright © by Jay Winik. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Mapsp. IX
Introductionp. XI
Prelude: "A Nation Delayed"p. 3
Part 1 March 1865
1. The Dilemmap. 29
Part 2 April 1, 1865
2. The Fallp. 73
3. The Chase--and the Decisionp. 123
4. The Meetingp. 173
Part 3 April 15, 1865
5. The Unravelingp. 203
6. Will It All Come Undone?p. 259
7. Surrenderp. 301
Part 4 Late Spring, 1865
8. Reconciliationp. 351
Epilogue: To Make a Nationp. 365
Notesp. 389
Acknowledgmentsp. 449
Indexp. 453