Readers' Guide: April 1895 by Jay Winick

April 1865

By: Jay Winik

Category: History
Guide Created By: Ella Gibbons & Harold Arnold
Discussion Leader(s): Ella Gibbons & Harold Arnold
Read our archived discussion of this book

Guide Description

Packed with all the mesmerizing events that happened in the last month of the Civil War, Jay Winick's style of writing is one you won't find in many Civil War histories. You don't want to miss this book if you are a history buff.

Background Information

One Month in 1865 witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond, a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare, Lee's harrowing retreat, and then, Appomattox.  It saw Lincoln's assassination just five days later and a near successful plot  to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in the South, and finally the start of national reconciliation.

In the end, April 1865 emerged as not just the tale of the war's denouement, but the story of the making of our nation.

Jay Winik offers a brilliant new look at the Civil War's final days that will forever change the way we see the war's end and the nation's new beginning. Uniquely set within the larger sweep of history, and filled with rich profiles of outsized figures, fresh iconoclastic scholarship, and a gripping narrative, this is a masterful account of the thirty most pivotal days in the life of the United States. ----from the backcover of the paperback edition.

"With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword....." Robert E. Lee in a letter to his sister, April 20, 1861



  • In your opinion, was the Introduction and Prelude necessary to this book? Were you surprised that the book started this way; if so, how would you have begun to write this book? Do you think the author writes well?

  • Do you believe, as the author dramatically states in the Introduction, that the events of one month in 1865 could have been the unraveling of the fabric that is the United States? The author states, on page 18, that if states could nullify acts of Congress (which VA and KY secretly resolved), that nullification could have been fatal to the existence of the United States, also. Is the author too melodramatic in these statements?

  • Jefferson wrote the words “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…..” If we could rewite history, how could he, and other politically active leaders of his generation, been able to enforce this Declaration at that time? Is there anything, in your opinion, that could have prevented secession?
  • If you were a slave in the South and were promised freedom if you fought as a soldier in the Confederacy, would you?

  • Can you compare the ridicule that Lincoln endured from the press and society to any president in recent history? Further, can you explain the adoration and mourning at his death?

  • Was the 16 page (p 73 - 89) biographical/character sketch of Robert E. Lee necessary for the development of the story?

  • After Lee's retreat that began April 1865 after the defeat at Five Forks and ended a week later with virtual entrapment by superior Union Forces, what options were open to Lee?

  • What Guerilla operations were already in progress in April 1865 and what were the prospects for a further extension of such operations?

  • What aspects do you see in Lee's character that led him to the "Surrender Option" and the rejection of further guerilla operations?

  • Given the state of Lincoln's health and spirit as outlined in the first part of Chapter Five, do you believe he would have survived to serve the remaining almost 4 years of his term?

  • In the time between Lee's surrender and Lincoln's death, what plans for the restoration of Federal authority in the South and reestablishment of local state goverment were made, if any, and was the vice president involved in this planning process? Was Congress? What were Lincoln's ideas regarding including Congress and the vice president in this planning process?

  • Why did Booth's plan include not only the president but the vice president and the secretary of state?

  • How did Lincoln's death change the reconstruction process?

  • How did the character and personality of Confederate General Bedford Forrest differ from the typical Confederate officer? Did his handling of the Fort Pillow action reach the magnitude warranting his trial for war crimes and did Winick devote too much space on this character?

  • What do you see in Chapter 8 that would justify the use of the word "Reconciliation” as its title?

  • In your opinion what were the most profound changes coming out of the Civil War shaping the character of our present Nation?

  • Are there lessons to be learned from this tragic Civil War?

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