Bruce Catton Tribute
David Blight's enjoyable and penetrating article on Bruce Catton stirred some personal memories. I began writing for American Heritage in 1962. I had published my first book, Now We Are Enemies, the Story of Bunker Hill, in 1960, with some success. In one of my visits to the magazine, I was told that Mr. Catton would like to see me.
I was startled and pleased. Catton was a larger than life figure for me. I had read his books with admiration, and occasional awe. I had brought his approach to my book on Bunker Hill, rooting the narrative in the personal stories on both sides of the battle line.
I was soon seated in Catton's office, reassured by his warm handshake and welcoming smile. “I read your book,” he said. “I thought you'd like to hear how good I thought it was.”
“You can take quite a lot of the credit for it,” I said. “You're the man who made me appreciate the importance of a strong narrative.”
“Are you going to do the whole war?” he asked. “It cries out for a good narrative treatment.”
“I'm thinking about it,” I said. “I’m sort of an accidental historian. I started out as a novelist. I never expected this book to make such a splash.”
“An accidental historian. That’s not bad. I’m in the same category. I’ve always thought of myself as a newspaperman. In some ways I still do. My news has just gotten a good bit older.”
We chatted for another hour about the leading figures of the Revolution, George Washington in particular. Mr. Catton found him a fascinating enigma. Was he the real thing? A great general? Or a figurehead that other, shrewder men created?
I left buoyed by the feeling that maybe I could be a serious historian.
New York, NY
(ED: Thomas Fleming is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of more than 40 books.)
After reading “Civil War Chronicles” and the Bruce Catton Tribute, I am once again mystified by the practice of ennobling the leaders and armies of the rebellion. We seem to either not know or forget that they fought to destroy our Republic and to create a new nation in which slavery would be enshrined and enforced in perpetuity. We write and speak as if Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were great Americans, models for the racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse citizenry of our nation.
I am guessing that part of the reasoning behind this is the totally false belief that slavery was not all that important an issue. We read histories, written by white folks such as Bruce Catton, that say little or nothing about the role of black Americans in both the founding and preserving of the Republic.
Having a Black History month and honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are all very well. But those events don’t adequately honor the debt we owe to our black sisters and brothers. What we white folks need desperately are histories that tell the whole story and celebrate our whole heritage.
David Hicks MacPherson
The Sage of Black Rock
In your Winter/Spring issue David Brinkley does a disservice to those who served this country in the Viet Nam War. He wrote that “...African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and poor whites...” were sent to war, while the rich and connected avoided service.
First, only 25 percent of those serving in Viet Nam were drafted, and 88 percent were recorded as Caucasian. African-Americans proudly served and made up 12 percent of the force. Three-quarters of the soldiers were from working class families, and four out of five had high school or higher education. As veterans, they have a lower rate of incarceration than the general public, and according to the VA, drug abuse among veterans is no higher than in the general public.
One other point: General Giap, commander of North Vietnamese Forces, disagrees with Walter Cronkite on the Tet Offensive. Giap reported that the Tet action resulted in the destruction of the ability of the Viet Cong to operate in South Viet Nam.
Joseph W. Dalton, Jr.
Saratoga Springs, NY
I decided to renew my subscription after reading your blockbuster Winter/Spring issue. Never before have I encountered so many truly significant, analytical articles. I congratulate you and the staff for your valiant efforts to preserve American Heritage magazine and continue its good works.