Bruce Catton

Mention the name of Bruce Catton to any Civil War buff and you will find that he has read at least one of Catton’s books. Bruce’s many books on the American Civil War so vividly bring to life that period in our Nation’s history that the readers can imagine they hear the sound of tramping feet, the call of the bugler, and the roar of the cannons.
While everyone may recognize his name, few realize that Bruce Catton did not start writing about the war until he was 51 years old. His first manuscript,
Mr. Lincoln’s Army, was turned down by three publishers. Finally it was picked up by Doubleday and the rest is not only history, but very good history. What prompted Catton to start writing about the Civil War so late in life? Let’s trace his life story.
He was born in Petosky, Michigan, in a family of educators and ministers of the Gospel. As a teenager he enjoyed listening to the old war veterans tell of their military battles and he made it his life-long hobby to collect as many of these stories as possible. Joining the navy during World War I, he was unable to complete his studies at Oberlin College. (He was awarded an honorary degree in 1956.) After the navy he became a newspaperman and worked until WWII for the Cleveland
News, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Boston American. Being too old to serve, he put his writing skills to work as information director for the War Production Board and Henry Wallace’s Department of Commerce. All of his war-time experiences were distilled into a little-read book called The War Lords of Washington. Bruce Catton left the government in 1952 to begin writing A Stillness at Appomattox, which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1954.
In 1954 the
American Heritage Magazine, (now celebrating 50 years of circulation), came into existence. The founders needed an editor and traveled to Washington D.C. to make an offer to Mr. Catton. He accepted and continued as Senior Editor for the next 20 years. While with the magazine he continued to write and lecture on his favorite subject; the Civil War. He was also interested in baseball and one of his famous quotes is: “Say this for big league baseball – it is beyond any question the greatest conversation piece ever invented in America”. Thanks to the books Bruce Catton wrote, the second greatest conversation piece in America is the Civil War.