John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath was published on this day in 1939. In alternate chapters of documentary and fiction it told the story of Oklahoma farmers forced off the land by dust storms, drought and depression and their sad exodus to California. By early May the novel was selling 10,000 copies a week. Steinbeck was 37.
On April 14, 1861 Robert E. Lee formally resigned his commission in the Union Army. It was the same day that Union forces surrendered Fort Sumter after the brief engagement which began the Civil War. The 54 year-old Lee had been offered the command of the entire Union Army by President Lincoln, and had refused. Lee had graduated second in his class from West Point in 1829. He had hoped to attend Harvard, but his family couldn't afford it. He once said "The greatest mistake of my life was receiving a military education." Lee appears on pages 65, 76, 205 and 232 in A Book of Ages.