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The Coming Fury [PDF / Epub] ★ The Coming Fury Author Bruce Catton – A thrilling, pageturning piece of writing that describes the forces conspiring to tear apart the United Stateswith the disintegrating political processes and rising tempers finally erupting at Bull Ru A thrilling, pageturning piece of writing that describes the forces conspiring to tear apart the United Stateswith the disintegrating political processes and rising tempers finally erupting at Bull Run a major work by a major writer, a superb recreation of the twelve crucial months that opened the Civil WarThe New York Times.

10 thoughts on “The Coming Fury

  1. Jay Schutt Jay Schutt says:

    I have owned this book and the two volumes that follow for probably over 40 years. What took me so long is probably the fact that I always found many other Civil War books to read in their place. Lord knows there are enough of them.
    The set of three was written to commemorate the centennial of the American Civil War in 1961 by the foremost historian of his time on the subject, Bruce Catton. Mr. Catton's first volume is an in-depth study of the catastrophic events of late 1859 to early 1861 that led up to the start of the Civil War. It gave a very insightful view of the situation over all areas of the country and I learned more from this book than I could from the multitude of other books that I have read on the subject.
    If you want to know precisely what happened during those fateful years, this trilogy would be the best place to start, I'm sure. Terrible Swift Sword and Never Call Retreat complete the history.
    Highly recommended. Now on to book two.

  2. Josh Liller Josh Liller says:

    I read this book on recomendation from a Civil War group here on GoodReads, after asking for a book about the time immediately before the war.

    This book covers 1860 and 1861, from the Democratic Party convention in Charleston that tries (and fails) to nominate a candidate for the presidency through Bull Run, the battle that solidified the idea that the war would be neither short nor easy.

    This book was written in the 1960s; this is actually the first part of the Centenial history of the war and Catton one of the most famous Civil War authors. Catton has a very good writing style, although he sometimes created some brief confusion for me when he mentioned things suddenly out of sequence. In several instances, I thought I had somehow missed a event being covered only to realize the book had indeed not gotten to there just yet but Catton was jumping ahead and spoiling events from later in the current chapter at the beginning of said chapter. The book doesn't need much in the way of maps, but what maps it does provide are poorly placed. That said, he covers all the events rather well.

    I was loosely familiar with the events covered in the book but the details were pretty interesting. Some fun facts: John Bell's Constitutional Union party (a neutral 4th party, after the Republicans & a split Democratic Party) was a very serious contender and he was actually nominated before either Democratic candidate, neither Stephen Douglas nor Abraham Lincoln were actually present at the convention at which they were nominated president, Jefferson Davis was very nearly the Confederacy's top general rather than its president, and the Civil War could have started at Fort Pickens or in Texas (with Robert E Lee on the Union side!) before Fort Sumter finally happened.

    Most interesting of all though was how HUGE slavery was. This book makes no mistake about the cause of the Civil War: slavery, slavery, slavery. Enough of the South was so rabidly pro-slavery that Stephen Douglas essentially destroyed his chances at the presidency for daring to advocate Popular Sovereignty, wherein a territory might be able to chose not to allow slaves. To paraphrase George Wallace a century later, they were fanatically devoted to slavery now, slavery everywhere, slavery forever. Southern leadership basically went into the Democratic convention of 1860 determined to get their way or else. And if they didn't get their way, they'd split and run their own guy. And if he didn't win, they'd throw a fit and just secede, dammit! The South behaved like a petulant child, demanding it be given everything it wanted - with no compromises acceptable - or it would just up and leave. And that's exactly what happened and exactly what the South did. The picture painted is deeply disturbing. Interestingly, when the Confederacy was actually formed it was the more moderate Southerns who got got most of the power and the radicals were pushed off out of the spotlight.

    That said, slavery was the issue for the South and the issue they left. The North is portrayed as not taking secession as a serious threat, feeling the South had become the Boy Who Cried Wolf and would never actually secede. And when they did it touched off a great deal of anger in the North and the common people were very ready to fight to prevent the Union from being broken, which the South had likewise not anticipated.

  3. Steve Steve says:

    A few years back I re-read Bruce Catton’s 1953 book Stillness at Appomattox. I had read it as a boy, but the new reading left me with sense that I was, given Catton’s masterly voice, something that had the force and power of an American Iliad. The battering battle between Lee and Grant was epic, grim, and timeless. Catton, always excellent with his battle prose, saw the curtain fall, and gave us, even though it’s prose, history, an enduring National war poetry of the darkest kind.

    Interestingly, for whatever reasons, I never got around to reading The Coming Fury, Catton’s history of the year preceding the Civil War. It is a monumental book, that on book jacket surface, with its attention to day to day and week to week minutiae between North and South, seems to lack the compelling endgame of Appomattox. Wrong. If anything, the books belong together as tragic bookends for those years of crisis.

    Catton starts things off with the 1860 Democratic presidential convention in Charleston, South Carolina. The convention was initially spiked by the states’ rights “Fire-Eaters” (whose rhetoric and over-the-cliff thinking bears an eerie resemblance to today’s Tea Partiers and Freedom Caucus). Led by Congressman William Yancey, of South Carolina, the fire-eaters were determined to deny the less-than-pure states’ righter, Stephen Douglas the nomination. There was no real way to stop Douglas, unless you fractured the party, which is what happened – and it happened by deliberate design. The day-to-day account is both riveting and sad. Delegate R.T. Merrick of Illinois, in a late speech, accurately sensing the damage about to be done, probably spoke for many when he said:

    “I find sir, star after star madly shooting from the great Democratic galaxy. Why is it, and what is to come of it? Does it presage that, hereafter, that star after star will shoot from the galaxy of the Republic, and the American Union become a fragment, and a parcel of sectional republics?”

    Merrick is not mentioned again, but his speech, his little moment in history, is a fine example of Catton’s discerning eye and his overall grasp of his topic. Such moments abound in The Coming Fury, as both sides begin their tragic gravitation toward conflict. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the inexorable momentum toward war that Barbara Tuchman captures in Guns of August . It’s as if, despite the desires of so many, History nevertheless moves to that dark place.

    As I noted before, this book recounts the year that led to war. Catton does get down into the weeds, but it’s never boring. You find out why and how West Virginia became West Virginia (and how it pave the way for McClellan). You will see a fairly (if aged) General Scott trying to mobilize the slowly awakening North . And then there’s the complicated grasp for control in Missouri, and Lincoln’s political juggling act to keep the Border States in the Northern column. (He was generally successful, excepting the one state that guaranteed total war: Virginia.) The genuine anguish of many Confederate leaders (Lee, Davis, both Johnson generals, others) over the leaving of the Union, for what was essentially the upholding of an institution (slavery) that was already dying due to the Industrial Revolution. In the end they were lemmings, one and all.

  4. Donna Davis Donna Davis says:


    I was in the first grade when this was published, and so naturally I missed it at the time. My attention was drawn to it as one of the few secondary sources to be referenced more than once in McPherson's historical writing. I tracked it down at my favorite used book store last summer and brought home the whole trilogy.

    The first big, beefy hardcover book is almost entirely devoted to the events that led up to the American Civil War. Those of us living in the US are so accustomed to a 2-party system that it is hard to wrap one's head around the fact that there were multiple parties campaigning in various regions around the USA during this exceptional period, when the cotton aristocracy that had previously ruled the US without contest from anyone else ran smack up against the Industrial Revolution and the drums of history marching forward to a place it really didn't want to go.

    One thing I had not realized before reading this work was that not only did the majority of Caucasian southerners not own slaves, but the majority of most states did not even favor continuing the plantation economy. Douglas campaigned for the presidency and was widely reviled among the cotton kings because he would not guarantee that slavery could continue in the territories even IF a vote were taken among its white property holders and the majority said no. Lincoln quietly worked on the sidelines telling politicians not to let themselves be trapped into calling for popular sovereignty, but in the end, it did not matter, because the ruling class of the cotton states would not bend even that far. (Interestingly, Lincoln became the Republican candidate because he had gone on record so little that it was believed he might bridge the gap between South and North; also, he was Kentucky-born. By the time the election took place, the country was so polarized that his name did not even appear on the ballot in the cotton states.)

    Generally speaking, as a Marxist I don't take a lot of interest in bourgeois politics. These days, Candidate A and Candidate B are generally going to do the same things, or one is the 'good cop', and the other the bad. But this was an exceptional time period. In six months, the House of Representatives was unable to elect a Speaker. Congressmen became so agitated and inflamed that there were politicians punching each other in the face and brawling while they were supposed to be in session.

    It became more clear to me, after reading this work, why Sherman was so determined that South Carolina would pay, and pay big, when he and his men marched northward through it after razing Atlanta. In the beginning, no state was talking about secession except South Carolina. South Carolina's legislature and governor urged other cotton states--and border states--repeatedly to convene their legislatures to consider secession. And in this unique time period, who was governor of a state took on a whole new urgency, as two governors of border states simply refused to convene the legislature, and thus kept their states within the Union. All the governors of Delaware and Maryland had to do was say no. If there had been the kind of push by their ruling classes that were present in the deep South, they might have had to do differently, but in this case, when the border states made such a huge difference, this choice was tremendously important.

    If you doubt this, and Catton points to it, just get a map of the USA as divided by states and look at where Washington, DC is. Had Maryland gone over with Virginia, the Capitol would have been surrounded and Lincoln held hostage. As it was, locating the Confederate capitol as close by as they did was a gutsy move. I had never realized (also) that the Battle of Bull Run (first and second, also called Manassas) was a mere 30 miles from where Lincoln sat. This book was so well written and everything laid out so clearly that I wished I had read it sooner.

    The choice to provision Fort Sumter was a huge ordeal. I felt sorry for Anderson, who lost his mind waiting for the Federal government to send him men, supplies, even orders. Ultimately, Lincoln chose to furnish basic provisions in order to show that every US fort was still a US fort, and nothing would be given away, but also with a cool eye cast to the world stage. Those who harrumphed down South, referring to him as an ape and decrying his lack of pomp and polish, did not understand that the American mentality was changing rapidly, that now brains would count for something, at least for awhile. Lincoln wanted Europe to see that this war began because of bread, and that is how the first blood was shed.

    A fascinating read for those with serious interest in the American Civil War, readable but also very detailed. I wish I had read it sooner

  5. Alan Tomkins-Raney Alan Tomkins-Raney says:

    The first of three volumes in Bruce Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War, this book is a masterpiece of narrative history. Catton provides meticulous detail and perspective of the events leading up to the Civil War while keeping the reader riveted by the fascinating and exciting story unfolding with a force all its own. The causes of the Civil War are clearly elucidated and thoroughly explained. The South had been threatening secession for decades, effectively blackmailing the rest of the country with a conditional and grudging acceptance of Union only if they continually got their way. And what the South primarily demanded was expansion of slavery and new constitutional protections of slavery to protect the peculiar institution in perpetuity from any congressional interference or regulation. The notion that slavery was a secondary concern, and the myth of the Lost Cause, that the South seceded to protect states' rights and southern heritage is absolute bullshit. There are countless examples of Southern politicians in the years before the Civil War explicitly stating in speech after speech that the aim and God given right of the South was to maintain a society, culture, and economy based on white supremacy and enslavement of blacks. They were not shy about this and persistently shouted it from the rooftops. I am grateful that we have diligent historians like Bruce Catton who have documented this too often forgotten fact with citation after citation. Too many Americans are woefully ignorant of the hard facts of American history. In my opinion, Catton's Civil War histories should be required reading in our schools. And I might make the point that we all could benefit from revisiting this subject matter, and that far from being a chore, it is an engaging, fascinating, and edifying experience to do so by reading this amazing book. It opens with the political conventions of 1860 and ends with the Civil War's first major battle, First Bull Run, aka First Manassas. The political hostilities of a generation were now face to face with weapons instead of words. First Bull Run did away with the romantic notion of war and woke both North and South up to the ugly reality that an unconceived hellish reality was settling over America for the long haul. I'm going to start the next volume in this trilogy straight away.

  6. P.J. Sullivan P.J. Sullivan says:

    This one is about the complex legal issues that led to the Civil War and to the most momentous decision in U. S. history: how should President Lincoln respond to the secessions and the seizures of federal property in the South? It raises many interesting questions, not the least of which is, did he make the right decision? Was the bloodbath worth it? If Lincoln had known the consequences, would he have made the same decision? If he had let the South go, would it have brought peace? How long would slavery have continued?

    Was secession a Constitutional right, as the Confederates claimed? If not, why did Lincoln recognize West Virginia’s right to secede from Virginia? Was this a hypocritical double standard? Private property was protected by the Constitution; did that include private property in slaves? Lincoln thought it did. Was he justified in suspending habeas corpus in Maryland? What is a nation? Is it a compact among sovereign states? Or is it a sovereignty over constituent states? When federals violated the Fugitive Slave Law, did that constitute recognition that the South was an independent country?

    It was a complicated war by the legal standards of the time. This book is about more than battles and military strategy—the fighting does not even start until page 452.

  7. Chris Chris says:

    This volume details the build-up of tensions during 1860 and early 1861 that finally exploded into the Civil War in April. It also covers the early months of the war through the Battle of Bull Run in July of '61.

    The opening scene tells the story of the contentious atmosphere of the Democratic National Convention in Charleston in April of 1860 that ended up without a nominee. Subsequently, the party split into separate factions, each holding a separate convention that nominated its own candidate. The one issue at the heart of all this tension was slavery. After Lincoln won the presidency in November, southern states began seceding from the Union. The story is very well presented and gives a thorough account of all of the political maneuverings and how the ultimate breakdown actually occurred. It also gives a thorough account of the early military engagements, beginning with Ft Sumter and ending with the Battle of Bull Run. If you are interested in learning about the lead-up to the Civil War, I would recommend this volume.

  8. Tony Cavicchi Tony Cavicchi says:

    America blundered into the Civil War. This massive bloodshed that disrupted the country had its roots in the earliest compromises of the Republic (when the Constitution's writers allowed slavery to placate South Carolina and Georgia, to keep them in the new country), but at the same time, 1860 represented the most salient failure of American political institutions in our history. Politician after politician made the decision that principle was better than compromise, the extremists on both sides were empowered as political rhetoric dehumanized debate.

    Bruce Catton's book illuminates the tumultuous campaign of 1860, the Southern Fire-Eaters who embraced the slave system against the new industrial economy, and the Northern politicians who failed to contingency plan for a South that intended to carry out its threats.

    Catton describes in riveting detail the Charleston Convention that broke up the mighty Democratic Party rather than endorse the great statesman-compromiser Stephen Douglas. Catton narrates the improbable nomination of Lincoln by the Republicans and the fake news spread throughout the South about him. Catton follows the four campaigns that represented the factional crack-up of American politics. The Northern Democrats behind Stephen Douglas, the Southern Democrats behind Vice President John C. Breckenridge (who assumed an Electoral College deadlock would send the election to the House of Representatives and enable Douglas to win after all), Constitutional Union Party for John Bell with support from Texan Sam Houston, and Republican Abe Lincoln.

    After Lincoln's improbable election precipitated by his early win of Pennsylvania in October, a constitutional crisis ensued. South Carolina impetuously seceded from the Union. The crisis grew out of hand--President-elect Lincoln refused to tie his hands by committing to any policy in advance--and President James Buchanan refused to take any action that would limit the future options of Lincoln, his successor. The November 1860 to March 1861 period ushered in more instability than America had ever seen before as a republican union--and both men are implicated in allowing it to happen. As Fire-Eaters in the Southern States took their states out of the Union, even moderate political leaders who had opposed secession their whole careers lacked the moral imagination to confront the fanatics and factional cabals in their states. Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens were avowed slaveholders, true--but each opposed their states' secession from the Union. However, when they're states chose to go out, they went with them for the sake of political careers and ended up as President and Vice President of the new Confederacy. Meanwhile, the immediate focus of conflict became whether Federal property in the seceding states passed to them or remained Federal. The U.S. Army's acting department head for Texas, Robert E. Lee, advocated for armed resistance by the U.S. Army against any seceding Texans who attempted to repo federal buildings and military supplies. Overruled by the Buchanan administration, Lee returned to Virginia and Sam Houston acquiesced to his impeachment for opposing Texas secession. With some resolve from the Buchanan administration, or some signal from President-Elect Lincoln on how he intended to handle Federal property--the course of the war would have drastically changed, been shorter, and resulted in another compromise that would advance the end of slavery. San Antonio would have been the first shots of the Civil War, not Fort Sumter, and with Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee still in the Union, the defeated narrative of the South would have been different as well. But without that quick executive backbone from a president the union careened toward disaster.

    Three separate attempts to call an unprecedented Convention of States to enact wholesale constitutional change were stymied by parochial political interests who failed to identify the nation as on the brink of war. Southern Fire-Eaters could not admit any compromise that foretold the end of slavery, and Northern politicians failed to communicate to the Southerns their resolve to use military force to prevent them from seceding in order to perpetuate slavery. So the Civil War began.

  9. Kathy Stone Kathy Stone says:

    This is a great introduction to the issues that led to secession in 1861. Bruce Catton starts with the Democratic Convention in 1860 in Charleston, SC and end the the First Battle of Bull Run. It is interesting to note that the division of the Democratic party occurred from the beginning of the campaign season. The Republicans had not convened and the Democrats were not able to come to a consensus about who their own presidential nominee would be. The Southerners held their own convention and nominated Breckinridge and the rest of the party met later in Baltimore and chose Stephen Douglas. As a result of this split Abraham Lincoln, the first republican president became the leader of a very divided country. South Carolina left the union first and then the rest of the cotton states followed. These states did leave the union over slavery. So anyone who tries to say that the Civil War was over States Rights is wrong. The States Rights issue comes in a few months later when the border states start choosing sides. It is interesting that the issue that the border states took up was the call to arms of troops. Drafting men into the army has been a controversial issue in American Politics for a very long time. The governors of the border states did not like being given a quota of men to turn over to the federal regulars. As so many army officers left the service to fight for rebellious states their was a need for fresh recruits.

    Catton is very fair to Lincoln and Seward in this book. Lincoln had filled his cabinet with political rivals and many people did not understand why he did that. Maybe he recognized the needs of the United States during a time of great conflict and turmoil. I enjoyed this book.

  10. Tom Tom says:

    Dare one say that this treasured history of events leading to the Civil War now seems...well...dated? Catton taught most of us of an age about the great American catastrophe of the 19th Century and was a fine teacher, indeed. Still, compared with the work of Shelby Foote which has a more modern tone, Catton's work does seem a bit cliched and oddly worded. That tiny whine noted, Catton remains as superb a historian as he seemed so many decades ago. A fine piece of scholarship neatly presented.

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