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(Charles) Bruce Catton
American journalist and notable historian of the American Civil War.
He won a Pulitzer Prize for history in 1954 for A Stillness at Appomattox,
his study of the final campaign of the war in Virginia.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 from Gerald R. Ford.
Gunnersmate, U.S. Navy, WWI.
His service with the War Production Board during World War II
led to his first major book, The War Lords of Washington (1948).
A former Cleveland newspaperman turned historian, Bruce Catton produced some of the most readable and compelling books about the American Civil War ever written. Combining "a scholar's appreciation of the Grand Design with a newsman's keenness for meaningful vignette," wrote Newsweek on the author's death in 1978, "Catton created an 'enlisted man's-eye view' of the war that treated humanely the errors on both sides."
As a boy growing up in Petoskey, Michigan, in the first decade of the 20th century, Catton had listened to the stories of old men who had actually fought in that bitter conflict. (His engaging 1972 autobiography, Waiting for the Morning Train: An American Boyhood, captures both the wonder and nostalgia of those years, when vivid memories of a simpler and—more heroic—time still lived lightly on the evening air in an unbroken continuity with the past.) The accounts of those desperate battles he was later to read as a student at Oberlin College near Cleveland were pallid in comparison with those gripping accounts. But it may have been his own stint in the Navy during World War I, as a gunner’s mate, along with his own talent for storytelling, that led him to seek out the more down-to-earth world of journalism.
In 1920 Catton got a job with the old Cleveland News, and worked briefly for the Boston American before landing a position with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where his first published work on the Civil War—a series on local veterans who had fought in it—appeared in 1923. From 1925 to 1939, he worked for the Cleveland office of the Scripps-Howard Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), turning out news stories, features, editorials, and book reviews for papers around the U.S. before moving to NEA's Washington office.
He was 50 when he began the first of his 13 books on the War Between the States, winning both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for the final volume of his great trilogy on the Army of the Potomac, A Stillness at Appomattox (1953), the story of the last cruel and desperate year of America's most painful episode. For this book and the first two parts of the series, Mr. Lincoln's Army (1951) and Glory Road (1952), Catton drew on a wide range of primary materials including the diaries, letters, and reports filed by soldiers, which enabled him to reconstruct events and their aftermath with telling detail and immediacy. The New York Times praised his "rare gift." The Chicago Tribune called it "military history...at its best."
Catton's love of history and the distinctive character of the American adventure led him to spend the next five years as the first editor of an ambitious new experiment in popular history, the hardbound American Heritage: A Magazine of History. He remained senior editor from 1959 until his death, while continuing to write books about his favorite subject.
"No one ever wrote American history with more easy grace, beauty and emotional power, or greater understanding of its meaning, than Bruce Catton," wrote Oliver Jensen, who succeeded him at the magazine. "There is a near-magic power of imagination in Catton's work [that] almost seemed to project him physically onto the battlefields, along the dusty roads and to the campfires of another age."
Other Comments:|(1899-1978), U.S. journalist, historian, and writer. Born Charles Bruce Catton on Oct. 9, 1899, in Petoskey, Mich., he served in the Navy during World War I before becoming a newspaper journalist. Catton worked in journalism until 1941, after which he worked for the federal government. Catton’s hobby, writing about the American Civil War, became his full-time occupation in 1952. The final entry of his three-volume history of the war, which comprised ’Mr. Lincoln’s Army’, ’Glory Road’, and ’A Stillness at Appomattox’, won a National Book award and a Pulitzer prize for history in 1954. He wrote a number of other works on the subject, including ’This Hallowed Ground’, ’Grant Moves South’, ’The Picture History of the Civil War’, and ’The Centennial History of the Civil War’. He also served as editor (1954-59) and senior editor (1959-78) of American Heritage magazine.
Catton received an award for "meritorious service in the field of Civil War history" in 1959, presented by Harry S. Truman. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 from Gerald R. Ford. Catton received 26 honorary degrees in his career from colleges and universities across the United States, including one in 1956 from Oberlin College.