IF LEE did not surrender to Grant the way Bruce Catton described it in "This Hallowed Ground," he should have. Like two other great historians of the Civil War, Douglas Freeman and Allen Nevins, Mr. Catton was first a journalist; and he lived by the journalist's imperative - which is the fiction writer's, too - to make the reader see. Because Mr. Catton made more people see "his" war than ever before, he was tainted with the name of "popularizer," which merely meant that he saw history as art as well as facts. Yet, as other first-rate historians such as David Donald of Harvard attest, Mr. Catton was a first-rate historian - the first to use regimental histories as a source. And he was a workhorse. Less than half a life of writing books (he began at age 49) produced 17 major works, the last being a state history of Michigan, where he was born in a small town that, temperamentally, he never left.

His small-town background must have helped shape his approach toward his subject. Mr. Catton grew up hearing the tales of Union vets, and he understood the war more as a clash of people than as a clash of forces and ideas. Once, in reply to a question from his friend and researcher, E. B. Long, he said: "I don't know; maybe I was there" - accounting for his descriptive sense. But there was also the perpetual presence of the war in his mind. He believed, too, in the perpetual presence of the war in our minds, that "whatever the American people might hereafter do would in one way or another take form and color from this experience."

Part of Mr. Catton's legacy is the idea - which many historians have since adopted - that one can best grasp the momentous actions of men by learning the significant details of their lives - what they wore, how they sounded. Part, too, is the publication "American Heritage," to which Mr. Catton contributed so much, and with which he placed the study of history in the public domain. His largest legacy is the memory of his generosity as a man and scholar, which touched all who knew him or his work.