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Topic: Looking for Recommendations for Civil War Books

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Subject: Looking for Recommendations for Civil War Books
Date Posted: 5/1/2009 11:47 AM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2007
Posts: 2,652
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I love reading about the Civil War and was hoping that maybe some of you could recommend to me personal favorite books about this that you found engaging.  So far, I've found more biographical type books, but I'm looking for stories told in narrative form with characters enduring the battles.  The last books I read like this which were awesome, imo, were John Jakes' North and South collection.  Are there any nonfiction books that do this too? Any info would be great!



Date Posted: 5/1/2009 3:01 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
Posts: 3,237
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Here are a few I've read recently:

The March by E.L. Doctorow (fiction)

A Year in the South, 1865 by Stephen V. Ash (non-fiction)

April 1865: the Month that Saved America by Jay Winik (non-fiction)

Richmond Burning by Nelson Lankford (non-fiction)

And these are the first books of some good mystery series set in the Civil War era, if you're interested:

Faded Coat of Blue by Owen Parry

Dead March by Ann McMillan

Murder at Manassas by Michael Kilian


Date Posted: 5/1/2009 7:31 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2007
Posts: 2,652
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Wow!  Thank you, Janelle!  This is a great selection!! :)

ETA:  I just ordered The March.  It looks really good!  Thanks again! :)

Last Edited on: 5/1/09 7:39 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 5/1/2009 11:03 PM ET
Member Since: 6/29/2008
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Angie, I have The March on my TBR.  Let me know when you get it and we can compare notes.

Date Posted: 5/7/2009 12:06 AM ET
Member Since: 11/6/2008
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I like small unit histories, such as "From Selma to Appomattox: The History of the Jeff Davis Artillery".

Last Edited on: 5/7/09 12:06 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/8/2009 9:08 PM ET
Member Since: 1/25/2009
Posts: 181
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The Civil War for Dummies   by Dickson.

Honestly, it's really interesting.  Short stories loaded with facts, told in narrative form. My husband won't let me post ours.  Hope you can find it.


Date Posted: 5/15/2009 9:57 PM ET
Member Since: 7/15/2006
Posts: 553
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CO AYTCH by Sam R. Watkins

Hardtack and Coffee or the Unwritten Story of Army Life   by John D. Billings

Blood & Sacrifice: The Civil War Journal of a Confederate Soldier  by William Pitt Chambers

The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union  by Bell Irvin Wiley

The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy  by Bell Irvin Wiley

Rebel Private: Front and Rear : Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier  by William A. Fletcher

Date Posted: 5/20/2009 9:46 AM ET
Member Since: 7/15/2006
Posts: 553
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Angie, the books I listed above are a mixture of narrative memoirs and books about the life of the common CW soldier, but after re-reading your post I think you're asking for nonfiction novels, right?

If that's the case, then you should read the Pulitzer Prize winning "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara.  The movie Gettysburg was based on this novel.

Date Posted: 5/20/2009 11:14 AM ET
Member Since: 6/29/2008
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I'm glad to see you recommend The Killer Angels.  I have that on my TBR.   
Actually, if anyone is interested, I somehow ended up with 2 copies of it and I've posted the extra to my shelf.

Date Posted: 6/12/2009 12:33 PM ET
Member Since: 7/23/2005
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I'm pretty sure that this isn't what you had in mind, Angie, but I really liked these:

Twilight at Little Round Top, Glenn LaFantasie
A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg, the Aftermath of a Battle, Gregory A. Coco
Morning at Willoughby Run, Richard S. Shue
The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Sex in the Civil War, Thomas P. Lowry

Date Posted: 6/14/2009 6:24 PM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2008
Posts: 17
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I don't think anyone's mentioned it, but The Battle Cry of Freedom is a great general history of the war.  Also, you might want to check out Roll, Jordan, Roll.  It's the classic study of slavery.

Date Posted: 6/14/2009 7:25 PM ET
Member Since: 12/25/2005
Posts: 1,413
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Cold Mountain

Jacobs Ladder

Date Posted: 8/7/2009 8:48 PM ET
Member Since: 6/22/2006
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I recently bought "Six  Years of Hell" by Chester G. Hearn - haven't started it yet but looks promising. It's about Harpers' Ferry during the Civil War.


Date Posted: 12/5/2009 9:01 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I am reading Ambrose Bierce's Civil War - a collection of short stories, factual and fictional, about the Civil War. Bierce fought in the Civil War from 1861-65. Vivid and dark writing that really gives you a feeling for the place and time. Intense. Here's a bit from Wiki:

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842[1] – 1914?) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist. Today, he is best known for his short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and his satirical dictionary, The Devil's Dictionary.

The sardonic view of human nature that informed his work — along with his vehemence as a critic — earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce". Despite his reputation as a searing critic, however, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including poet George Sterling and fiction writer W. C. Morrow. Bierce employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. This style often includes a cold open, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, the theme of war, and impossible events

In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, the elderly writer disappeared without a trace.

Date Posted: 12/7/2009 7:16 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
Posts: 318
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I'd like to second the recommendation of Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  It's my favorite book, and I reread it every few years. 

The Owen Parry Abel Jones mysteries are also a favorite. 

Bruce Catton's Civil War histories are excellent and pull you into the action.

Subject: way too many books about the War of the Rebellion
Date Posted: 4/1/2011 11:47 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 5,427
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I've been reading about the War of the Rebellion (as Abraham Lincoln called it) for over 50 years.  Which do I recommend?  Perhaps you should start with the very first one I read which got me addicted to this era.  The book is The 20th Maine by John Pullen, a classic in its own right.  This was the regiment featured in Shaara's novel The Killer Angels, and the movie Gettysburg, as it held the left of the Union line at Gettysburg on Little Round Top.

A good army history is Nothing But Victory about the Union Army of the Tennessee.  Nothing dry about this one. It is riveting!

To fully understand the politics of the War, read Team of Rivals to understand why the North won, and A Government of Our Own to understand why the South never had a chance.

Read Grierson's Raid by Tom Lalicki, about the greatest cavalry raid of the war, as it had a direct and long lasting influence on a major campaign, instead of being just a nuisance like so many of the other cavalry raids.  This is a short  and easy one to read.  A more detailed account is Dee Brown's Grierson's Raid.  This raid was used as a basis for the 1959 John Wayne movie The Horse Soldiers. But while an enjoyable movie, it took excessive liberty with true events.

There there is the U.S. Grant triology: Captain Sam Grant by Lewis, and Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command by Catton. God... where do I stop!

But, if you only read one book on this war, read Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson. There is a very good reason why it received the Pulitizer Prize for History. It is DAMN GOOD!

Last Edited on: 5/5/18 8:39 PM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 9/8/2013 11:29 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 5,427
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When I became a Civil War reenactor and living historian (there is a difference between the two) over 20 years ago, I met a guy who claimed he had proof that 200,000 African Americans fought for the Confederacy.  His table at a reenactment had some books and lists of quotes that he had extracted 'proving' his beliefs. So I told him that 200,000 soldiers were four Confederate armies and asked where did they hide them? Also, was there some vast conspiracy that eliminated these armies from history? We got into an argument and I finally walked away. I saw him at other events and avoided him. He was later thrown out of a number of events I went to, often for his in-the-face confrontations with people, even children. He died of a heart attack last year, a bitter, lonely man. What a shame.

I stated all the above because there are many apologists for slavery who show up at reenactments. Often these are not reenactors, but white supremacists types who belong to several different organizations. They have swallowed the entire "Gone With the Wind" and "Birth of a Nation" genre and have arguments that African Americans loved their masters and were better off as slaves.

There are so many good books that tear these theories apart, but I have just finished one that may be the best. It is Black Confederate and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia by Ervin Jordan, Jr.  This book is especially well referenced and those references are cited throughout. Jordan was Assistant Professor and Associate Curator, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library when he wrote the book. As Virginia had more slaves than any other Southern state, the actions and beliefs of the slaves in that state probably serve as the typical stereotype for most slaves in the South. Loaded with statistics and personal stories, this book is very well written and informative. Note: The first few chapters are somewhat dry as this is where the author places all the statistics. After you get past these, the book is much more entertaining.

If you are looking for how slaves and freemen in the South felt toward themselves, whites, Southerners and Yankees, this is the book to read. It is an objective rendering of the entire subject with information on the good and bad of both sides. The next time you get into a discussion of how African Americans felt toward their masters, white Southerners, Yankees and the war, this book will provide you the ammunition to destroy your opposite number like German 88s did to Sherman tanks.

Last Edited on: 9/10/13 10:16 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 10/13/2013 12:06 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 5,427
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I just finished another, A South Divided by David Downing.  This book briefly covers the many Southerners who dissented against the Confederacy. Many of them help the Union in various, often impressively critical, ways. Others just didn't help the South.

The link above is to the book's page which also includes my review.

Last Edited on: 3/6/14 8:25 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 10/26/2013 11:08 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 5,427
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Here is another interesting book, The True Story of Andersonville Prison: A Defense of Major Henry Wirz, by James Madison Page and M.J. Haley. You might expect such a book to be written by an ex-Confederate believer in the Southern Mythology, but the author was actually a prisoner at Andersonville and later a lieutenant in the Sixth Michigan Cavalry. 

He personally interacted with Captain Henry Wirz and has a lot to say about how Wirz was falsely convicted and executed to coverup the actions of northern politicians, especially Secretary of War Stanton, that led to the death of so many Union soldiers in southern prison camps.

The book was written in 1908 and republished in 1999.  While not one of the great books on the Civil War, it is an interesting and well-written revisionist view of Captain Henry Wirz.

And, of course, we all know that our government would never lie to us in an attempt to coverup its mistakes---not in 1865, and certainly not today. smiley

Here is another good revisionist history, if you can find a copy -- War Within a War: The Confederacy Against Itself by Carleton Beals.


Last Edited on: 11/2/13 4:21 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 11/11/2013 11:58 PM ET
Member Since: 9/12/2008
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Last Edited on: 11/11/13 11:59 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/5/2014 3:38 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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Here is another good one: My Diary: North and South by William Howard Russell. The link is to the book's page and a short review I wrote. Russell, a Britisher, was a very well known military correspondent for the London Times

Date Posted: 3/6/2014 7:41 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 5,427
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I was re-reading the posts in this thread and have a few comments to make.

Mike Shaara's book The Killer Angels was a great book. The movie Gettysburg, which is one of my favorite Civil War movies, is based on this book. But you should never forget that Gettysburg is a Hollywood movie based on a novel. Not everything that happened in the movie or the novel occurred in history.  If you really what to know what happened on that July afternoon, read Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine: The 20th Maine in the Gettysburg Campaign.

For example, Joshua Chamberlain, the commanding officer of the 20th Maine, maintained until he died that he never gave the command to charge after giving the order to fix bayonets. Plus, he never gathered his officers together to tell them they were going to 'swing the regiment like a gate.'

The Horse Soldiers, another of my favorite Civil War movies I never get tired of watching, is packed full of half-truths and outright fabrications about Benjamin Grierson's 1863 raid into Mississippi. When I watch the movie, I just put aside reality for awhile. Sherman described this as the greatest cavalry raid of the Civil War and I wish they would make a more accurate movie based on this action.

The series of novels that begins with A Faded Coat of Blue is an interesting series. I have read them all.  However, it is not my favorite series.  The basic premise is fine, but the author likes to insert sexual themes into each plot line, and some of these sexual themes are perverted. Hey, sex sells.

Speaking of sex.... I am often asked at living histories, "What was the Civil War really all about?" I then usually ask, "How many of you have seen the TV series North and South?"

After some people have raised their hands, I state, "Then you know what the Civil War was really all about. It was about sex."

I always loved it when Patrick Swayze appeared after a battle in a perfectly clean uniform with not a hair out of place. I sometimes imagine that during the Battle of the Wilderness there were frequent cries of  "Cut! Make-up, brush the dirt off Grant's uniform and comb Lee's beard."

In fact, a living historian joke is that "Just because you have the entire set of the video North and South doesn't make you a living historian."

If you ever attend a Civil War reenactment, please remember that not all the reenactors are also living historians. Just because they are dressed in wool doesn't mean they know more about the Civil War than you. You would be surprised to learn some of the things they actually believe. We call these half-truths or lies that some reenactors tell around the campfires "reenactorisms."  One of my favorites is that 'jeans' cloth,' a material used for Confederate uniforms in the last two years of the war, was a mixture of cotton and denim.  Well, duh, denim is cotton. 'Jeans' cloth' is a combination of cotton and wool. Remember the Union blockade? After a time, the South ran short of wool. So they had to make uniforms that were a mixture of cotton and wool. Before the war, this was the same cheaper material used to make clothing for slaves and was called 'slave's cloth.' The Confederacy had to change the name, as it wasn't about to issue its soldiers 'slave's cloth' uniforms.

If you attend a reenactment, please enjoy yourself. If something a reenactor says, or something you ask, stays with you, look it up for more detail. Hey, you might even read a book about it!

I once attended a conference on "Command and Control at the Battle of Gettysburg."  All I remember after all these years is one speaker saying, "If you want to be an expert on the Civil War, read one book. If you read a second book, that author will not always agree with the first book. So you need to read a third book to find out who is right. After three thousand books you are just getting started."

Speaking of which, I also agree, as Patricia states above, that The Civil War For Dummies is an excellent book to read if you do not wish to spend the time reading Battle Cry of Freedom, which I regard as the Bible of the Civil War.

Thanks for listening....

Last Edited on: 3/6/14 8:22 PM ET - Total times edited: 9
Date Posted: 4/15/2014 4:17 PM ET
Member Since: 6/30/2008
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The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote. This is a complete history of the Civil war in 3 volumes. I was able to read it from the library in my town. This really is complete. Foote covers everything from a skirmish in a cow pasture up to the big battles at Shiloh and Gettysburg. The thing I enjoyed the most I think was the new (for me) detail of the fighting that took place on rivers and small streams.

The subtitle 'a narrative' is appropriate because the books read like a novel. no footnotes. Foote was a novelist before he wrote this history and he tells a great yarn in these books. The books are real page turners.

Date Posted: 4/20/2014 8:29 AM ET
Member Since: 6/30/2008
Posts: 4,173
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Bruce Catton has written some good books on the Civil war. His 2 volume book about Grant is very good. The first book is Grant moves South and the 2nd book is Grant Takes Command.

Last Edited on: 4/20/14 8:32 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/20/2014 11:15 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 5,427
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Bruce Catton has written some good books on the Civil war. His 2 volume book about Grant is very good. The first book is Grant moves South and the 2nd book is Grant Takes Command.

Actually, Catton's Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command are the second and third in the series. However, Volume 1, Captain Sam Grant, was written by Lloyd Lewis, who died before he could finish the remaining volumes.  Bruce Catton, using Lewis' notes, then took over the work of completing the trilogy.

While I cut my teeth on Catton's works, and really enjoyed reading them in my teens and 20s, they are somewhat outdated in spots due to new historical material. However, they still have a place in every Civil War enthusiast's library. His trilogy on the entire war, as well as the trilogy on the Army of the Potomac, are good starting points for those who intend to continue reading about the American Civil War.