Bruce Catton

by John J. Miller on September 11, 2010 · 1 comment

in Explore the Vault

  • Sumo

The press materials for The First Assassin include a short document on how I came to write the book. It includes this graf:

My fascination with the Civil War began in childhood, when I spent hours studying the battlefield illustrations in Bruce Catton’s popular picture history. At some point, I started reading the words–and today my bookshelves creak beneath the weight of volumes by Catton, David Herbert Donald, Shelby Foote, Margaret Leech, James McPherson, and the other chroniclers of our great national epic.

All of these writers are excellent, but Catton remains my sentimental favorite. I wrote about him here.

  • Bruce Catton? Yeah, he was my “history” idol when I was in college and high school, about the Civil War.

    My grandmother had some of his books, so I got into reading them.

    Wow, he was a bit tiresome on the battles – that guy was into battles. But he was also into belt buckles.

    Then I grew up.

    Turns out, Catton, while almost uniformily praised as a scholar, with “deep insights” into the Civil War, actually spent more time and words about Confederate belt buckles, than he did about things that mattered, regarding what caused the Civil War.

    Catton, for example, as best as I know, never wrote one single word about Southern War Ultimatums of 1861. A rather basic thing– Richmond newspapers ran the War Ultimatums in headlines, their headline read “THE TRUE ISSUE’

    Do you know what the “TRUE ISSUE” was, per Southern newspapers at the time?

    No, you don’t know. And that’s the point, either did Catton.

    Do you know which Southern leader spoke loudly and proudly about killing to spread slavery in 1856, in a speech to his Texas men, just before the first invasion of KS? Do you know he boasted he would kill until he spread slavery all the way to the Pacific?

    This is the part you claim “of course I know. But, of course you don’t have a clue.

    Dont feel bad, Catton didn’t know either.

    Do you know whis Senator that Charles Sumner was talking about, for hours, by name, in the speech he was beaten almost to death for?

    No — you don’t know that guys name.

    Don’t feel bad, either did Bruce Catton. Or if he did know, it was so unimportant, he forgot to mention it.

    But he did get informatoin about Confederate belt buckles.

    The Senators name — the guy who was in Kansas bragging about killing “For the entire South” was Senator David Rice Atchison.

    Turns out, the same guy, Atchison, was the guy Sumner spoke of for hours, in great and specific detail, in his speech.

    Who led the Texas men on the first of three invasions into Kansas, claiming he fought for “the entire” South and told the men they would be well paid by “the present administaration”.

    That should be easy — David Rice Atchison.

    Which US Senator claimed, according to witnesses at the time, that he actually got Kansas Nebraska Act passed, right before he went to Kansas to start his bogus legislature, and went on to torture, kill, and try to terrorize the white males of Kansas, and by his own bragging, claimed he would kill them all, or run them out of Kansas?

    That would be David Rice Atchison again.

    Who wrote Jefferson Davis reports about the progress of his attempts to hang or make flee, all abolitionist in Kansas?

    Yeah, you got it now, DAVID RICE ATCHISON.

    You now know more — really, you do — that Bruce Catton about what led to the Civil War.

    Catton apparently had absolutely no awareness of that.

    Did not know Atchison boasted he got KS act passed.

    Did not know Atchison worked officially for Jeff Davis.

    Did not know Atchison was killing and terrorizing in KS.

    Did not know that there was virtually no organic — local — support for slavery in Kansas in 1854, and no apparent support to violently spread slavery, until Atchison showed up, and hired first Missouri men, later Texas men, to kill and terrorize.

    Why didn’t Catton know that?

    Im not being funny — Bruce did not have internet.

    I found so much information in Southern books, Southern speeches, Southern documents, — like Atchisons speeches, and Southern War Ultimatums — that no one told me about in high school and college.

    Bruce Catton sure never mentioned it.

    Bruce claimed “radical abolitionist” caused the Civil War.

    Since Bruce was not there, since Bruce got all his information from books, who do you suppose he read to, to blame it on radical abolionist?

    He read, apparently, a lot of Jefferson Davis.

    There is very little in Catton’s narrative of the cause of the Civil War, that was not very much like Jeff Davis own narrative, in his book “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government”.

    Other Southern books also blamed “radical abolitionist”, a common refrain at the time, but utterly full of bullshit. Other than John Brown – and his entire raid lasted 2 hours –the South were eager to play the victim before and after the Civil War, even though it was their violence, their threats, their war ultimatums, and more than anything, their rabid violence to spread slavery, that started the Civil War.

    If Catton had read Southern books, Southern speeches, Southern documents at the time, where they boast of this– he would not be so stupid.

    .Tellingly, Jeff Davis “forgot” to mention that he send Atchison to Kanss, and Atchison reported to Davis, during the entire time Atchison was in Kansas, killing and terrorizing.

    Funny that Bruce left that out too!

    Funny that Catton never even mentioned Atchison, much less

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