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An end to valor;: The last days of the Civil War by Philip Van Doren Stern

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Hardcover-No dust jacket, First Printing, Signed by author

History, says Philip van doren stern, really does not contain any "if's." It works inexorably from cause to effect, and the American Civil War grew out of what men in this country had been thinking, doing, and saying for generations beforehand. From the verdict of the finished event there can be no appeal; Appomattox was fated, once the sections went to arms to settle their long-standing dispute, and they went to arms because, over the years, they had got the dispute to a state where it could bring nothing but fighting. Mr. Stern sets this and much else forth in a new book which deserves and will undoubtedly get a good deal of attention. On the surface, An End to Valor is not much more than an account of the death struggles of the Southern Confederacy, but in its deeper implications, it is a thoughtful and provocative commentary on the sad business of the widely celebrated War Between the States. In a sense, Mr. Stern here follows what is now a familiar pattern. You take some striking event out of the past—the sinking of a great ocean liner, the assassination of a famous man, the death of a nation, or whatever you please—and you describe it on a straight inning-by-inning basis, much as sports writers used to get the details of the afternoon game at Fenway Park into the five-star final. It is a stunt, and if the writer has any skill at all—and Mr. Stern has a great deal of skill—it is bound to be effective. For the impact comes because the reader knows, before he begins to read, how the game comes out. When the second baseman fumbles a grounder in the fifth inning and the runner goes on to score when the right fielder retrieves the ball and heaves it into the dugout, the reader knows that this is the run that wins the game; the bare account of the play 452 is loaded, because all of the overtones which make the drama are built-in, already existing in the mind of the man who follows the printed words. So Mr. Stern picks up his story on a rainy morning in March, 1865, and shows Mr. Lincoln taking the presidential oath for the second time. The tension sets in with the opening paragraph, because you know as you start reading that immense things are just ahead. Lee is going to try to break out of Grant's cruel grip at Petersburg, Sheridan is going to smash things up at Five Forks, the Army of the Potomac is going to swarm over the Confederate lines, the Army of Northern Virginia is going to begin its last melancholy march to death and legend; Grant and Lee are going to sit together in a parlor and sign certain papers, Lincoln is going to meet his improbable apotheosis in the box of a dingy Washington theatre, and the star-slashed flags of a doomed nation are going to go down beyond the horizon forever, leaving behind a tale that will bemuse Americans as long as they have any thought for their own past. . . . This, or the equivalent of it, weights every paragraph, and the book is bound to be appealing. But Mr. Stern makes much more than a stunt out of it. In addition to being as thorough a student of the Civil War as this country affords, he is also a perceptive man and a most gifted writer, and although he seems to do no more than describe the final six weeks or so of the war he actually provides a moving commentary on the war itself, the blind forces that lay back of it, and the mystic things that at last grew out of it. An End to Valor, in short, is a genuinely firstrate piece of work. Granted, says Mr. Stern, that the Confederacy had immense reserves of courage...