Finished a great book tonight called "April 1865: The Month that Saved America" by Jay Winik.
An engaging read, the author describes many of the month's events - from the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and many other events in the remarkable month.
While vividly describing the month, the author notes the many things that could have happened (such as continued battles - if Lee had been able to meet up with Joe Johnston's troops to the south, if others in Lincoln's administration had been killed, or if the Confederacy had waged prolonged guerilla warfare from the mountains).
Winik also describes how the outcome of the Civil War shaped the view of our nation. Previously, as Montesquieu had advanced, many believed that a representative democracy could only be successfully implemented in a small area.
There were problems too, as Winik explained, in the founding of the new country:
"Virtually unique to all of human history, Americans had a Consitution and a country before they had a nation. And until the Civil War, America remained just that, an artificial state, or, to be more exact, a series of states, and even several incohate nations, bound together, not by a thousand years of kinship and shared memory, but by loosely negotiated agreements and compacts, neither wholly federal nor national." (p. 373)
But the results of a bloody, difficult Civil War established a greater sense of a union - of one nation - in Winik's words, "a powerful, compelling, enthralling idea, a symbol of a sturdy country, an embodiment of an enduring people..." (p. 387).
Interesting things to think about nearly 150 years later.