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Subject: U.S. Civil War Reading List
This article was archived around: 29 May 2006 04:18:53 GMT
This reading list is a supplement to the U.S. Civil War FAQ and will be
posted on or about the 20th of each month.
The purpose of the U.S. Civil War Reading List is to provide the beginning
Civil War reader with a short guide to good introductory books on the war.
This list was originally compiled in the newsgroup alt.war.civil.usa in
the summer of 1993. It lists 81 books, several of them with multiple
volumes, as well as an 11 hour documentary film and a CD of Civil War era
songs. The list is divided into various topic areas, each listing between
three and eight books, which do not require a lot of prior knowledge about
the war and which provide a good introduction for further reading on the
subject. Version 2.0 was prepared in June 1995, and added about a dozen
books from reader suggestions while dropping a couple that had been
superseded by new entries, and dropping the Official Records.
This reading list is maintained by Stephen Schmidt
(firstname.lastname@example.org) to whom suggested additions and corrections
should be sent.
The list is divided into 13 topic areas as follows:
1. General Histories of the War
2. Causes of the War and History to 1861
3. Slavery and Southern Society
7. Reference Works
8. Unit Histories and Soldier's Reminiscences
10. Specific Battles and Campaigns (chronological)
11. Strategies, Tactics, and General Military Aspects
12. The Experience of Soldiers
13. Civil War Periodicals (popular press)
Section 1. General Histories of the War
James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom. 1988.
A comprehensive history of the United States from about 1845 until
Appomattox. About 40% of the book is on the prewar years, the rest on the
war. This book is up to date, reflects most (though not all) of the
historical research on the war, and is a single volume which is well
written, easy to read, and accessible to the non-historian. It also has an
excellent bibliographic note at the end which refers to most of the
scholarly literature on issues relating to the war. If you read only one
book on the war, this one should probably be it. Probably the work most
frequently cited in alt.war.civil.usa.
Bruce Catton, The Centennial History of the Civil War. New York, Doubleday
Books, 1963. Three volumes: published separately as "The Coming Fury,"
"Terrible Swift Sword," and "Never Call Retreat."
One of the best written histories of the war, by a man associated
primarily with the Union side of the war. This series, however, presents
equal coverage of both sides of the war. First volume covers prewar
material through First Bull Run, second volume Bull Run to Antietam, third
volume the rest of the war.
Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative. New York, 1958. 3 volumes.
Published separately as "Fort Sumter to Perryville," "Fredricksburg to
Meridian," and "Red River to Appomattox."
A history of the War, focusing on the history of the Confederacy more
than on Union operations. Until McPherson's book, the most popularly read
history of the War.
Robert Johnson and Clarence Buel, editors. Battles and Leaders of the
Civil War. 4 volumes. 1887. Reprinted 1959.
A series of articles on the various battles of the Civil War, written
by generals from both sides who had fought in the battles. A troublesome
book: like most firsthand sources, it tends to be inaccurate on the
details, especially of the opponent's actions, and also tends to reflect
the author's needs to justify himself more than what actually happened.
However, an excellent, and fairly comprehensive, collection of first-hand
descriptions of the battles by the men who fought them.
Alan Nevins, The Ordeal of the Union. 8 volumes. 1949-1971. Also published
as three shorter series: volumes 1-2 as "The Ordeal for the Union,"
volumes 3-4 as "The Emergence of Lincoln," volumes 5-8 as "The War for the
Covers much the same ground as McPherson but in much more detail.
Focuses at least as much on the political, strategic, and logistical side
of the fighting as on the battles and tactics. Covers the Union in more
detail than the Confederacy but both sides are described.
Ken Burns, The Civil War.
An 11 hour motion picture documenting the war. First shown on PBS and
highly acclaimed, now available from Time Life Video on 9 VHS tapes. There
is also a companion book, "The Civil War: An Illustrated History" which
you can get.
Section 2. Causes of the War and History to 1861
David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (Harpers & Row, 1976).
This book covers, primarily from a political perspective, the events
leading to the war from the Mexican Cession in 1848 through Fort Sumter.
Judged by the weight of footnotes, this is a very serious historical work,
but Potter reaches beyond mere facts and manages to relate a sense of the
personalities and motives behind the events. A very enjoyable read. In
the preface of "Battle Cry of Freedom," McPherson lists this book as one
of the handful of classics on the Civil War period. 638 p.
Bruce and William Catton, Two Roads To Sumter. 1963.
Compares the lives of Lincoln and Davis starting with their births
close together in time and space. It then uses their two diverging lives
as a microcosm of the national drift to war.
Richard N. Current, Lincoln and the First Shot. 1963.
A vivid narrative and scholarly analysis of the decision to resupply,
and not to surrender, Fort Sumter. Regards Lincoln's second inaugural as
containing a succinct and true characterization of the crisis - that both
sides preferred war to compromise - and that Lincoln felt that to
compromise on Fort Sumter without the Southern states promising to
dissolve their secession conventions was futile appeasement.
William Freehling, Road to Disunion: The Secessionists at Bay 1787-1854.
A good, though idiosyncratic, one volume treatment of the South's
development of the secessionist mindset.
Phillip Shaw Paludan, A People's Contest: The Union and Civil War.
David M. Potter, Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis. 1942.
A professional historian's treatise. Not light reading, but a quite
compelling account of the blunders and circumstances that led to the
outbreak of war.
Section 3. Slavery and Southern Society
Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross. 1974.
A comprehensive and HIGHLY controversial study of slavery in the Old
South. Though the authors are not apologists for slavery, they do conclude
that slavery was not as bad as it had been made out to be and had a number
of positive redeeming features. A long literature has followed this book
which has largely, though not entirely, repudiated it. It is probably
unwise to read this book unless you also intend to start in on the
following discussion, some of which is also summarized below.
Paul David, et al, Reckoning with Slavery.
A straightforward, point by point rebuttal of "Time on the Cross" (see
below) by a number of respected historians and economists. If you read
"Time on the Cross," you should really read this one also so as to get
both sides of the issue at once.
Eugene Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made. 1974.
Published the same year as Fogel and Engerman's 'Time on the Cross'
(see above), Genovese offers a Marxist perspective of US slavery. The
book describes the social aspects of control, both of slave by master and
of master by slave, and analyzes in depth the real relationship between
master and slave. Genovese also wrote "The Political Economy of Slavery"
(1965) which suggests that slavery was becoming economically unviable.
Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877 (New York: Hill & Wang, 1993)
xv, 237pp, 6 tables, 10pp notes, 34pp Bibliographic essay, index.
Peter Kolchin, in this slim volume, surveys the 250 year history of
slavery in the United States. It is a well written and well made book
highly recommended as an up-to-date review of slavery as well as of the
historiography of slavery. Kolchin discusses the origins of slavery, the
development of an African-America culture among the slaves, the effect of
the American Revolution on the institution, antebellum slavery, and the
end of slavery through the Civil War and Reconstruction. A bibliographic
essay, equal in length to one of the chapters, completes the book and
provides numerous references for further reading.
Rollin G. Osterweis, Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South
(LSU Press, 1949)
Studies the factors that influenced antebellum Southern thought and
Ulrich B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South (Little, Brown 1929).
A sympathetic study of plantation economy and culture.
Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution. 1956.
Another broad treatment of Southern slavery, but somewhat more
accepted and more traditional than Fogel and Engerman's.
Gavin Wright, Old South New South. 1988.
A comparison of the Southern economy before and after the war, with
emphasis on the effects of slavery and its abolition.
Section 4. Reconstruction
Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution. 1990.
A comprehensive history of the Reconstruction period, and the effects
of the abolition of slavery on the Southern economy and Southern society.
Emphasizes the central role that blacks played in Reconstruction.
Section 5. Biographies
Stephen Oates, To Purge This Land With Blood. 1970.
Biography of John Brown.
William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour. 1990.
Evenhanded account of Davis that examines primary sources critically.
Well written. Humanizes Davis. Illustrates his strengths and weaknesses.
Definitive work on Davis and why and how he ran the Confederacy.
Jack Hurst. Nathan Bedford Forrest: Alfred A. Knopf 1993.
A very balanced look at a soldier who was brilliant and ruthless.
Focuses on both his days before the war as a wealthy slave trader and
after the war as a railroad investor and founder of the KKK.
Richard M. McMurry, John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence.
A short (less than 200 pp), accessible work about an important
commander who advanced too fast for his (and his country's) own good.
Good material about the pre-war Army.
GFR Henderson, Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War. 2 volumes.
Biography of Stonewall Jackson, who never wrote his own memoirs,
because dead people don't.
Douglas S. Freeman, Robert E. Lee: A Biography. 4 volumes. 1935.
The most thorough biography of Lee, who never wrote his own memoirs.
It presents an extremely positive view of Lee, which has come into
question in recent years; it is nonetheless the best work available on
Thomas L. Connelly, The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in
American Society. 1977.
Often cited, frequently criticized, and rarely read, this book
provides a convincing psychological portrait of Lee which is sadly lacking
from Freeman or any of the other hero-worshiping texts. If you want to
get a feeling for the man, read this book.
Stephen Oates, With Malice Towards None. 1977.
Biography of Abraham Lincoln.
William Piston, Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant. 1988.
Reviews Longstreet's military record, the attacks against him by the
Virginia clique, and Longstreet's replies. The best and most accurate
review of Longstreet's controversial career, it largely though not
completely supports the pro-Longstreet camp. An interesting book, not only
in its coverage of Longstreet, but as a reflection on how history is made,
and how it can become inaccurate when personal vendettas and political
pressure come into play.
Ezra Warner, Generals in Blue. 1964.
Quick biographies of all the men ranked brigadier general or higher in
the Union army. Good for a quick background or for looking up particular
Ezra Warner, Generals in Gray. 1964.
Same as above for the Confederates.
Section 6. Memoirs.
[Note: The following books were written by prominent participants in the
war. Their perceptions are necessarily subjective; many of them wrote to
present their side of controversies involving themselves that arose after
the war. They did not have the benefit of access to the historical records
that later writers did, and sometimes made factual errors, particularly
regarding the strengths or actions of the other side. Some also slanted
their facts in favor of their own version of events. These books should be
read skeptically for these reasons, and it is wise where possible to read
a later, neutral treatment of the same subjects to get an idea of where a
participant may have made mistakes or misspoken.]
John Gordon, Reminiscences of the Civil War. 1903.
Autobiography of Gordon, who after the Big Three of Longstreet,
Jackson, and Stuart, is probably the most distinguished of Lee's generals.
Another book that has to be read carefully, it is largely accurate but has
a number of scenes that were completely made up by Gordon to vindicate
himself after the other eyewitnesses to events had died.
Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of US Grant. 2 volumes. 1885.
Basically an autobiography, though concentrating on his ACW career.
James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox. 1896.
Longstreet's autobiography. Take this book with a large grain of salt:
Longstreet had been unjustly attacked by many former Confederate generals
(notably Jubal Early) and this book is his reply.
Horace Porter, Campaigning with Grant. 1896.
Recollections of one of Grants aides de camp on the history of the
war. One of the most widely cited primary sources in subsequent
literature, this book has had a large impact on Grant's historical
reputation, probably larger than Grant's memoirs have had.
Phil Sheridan, Personal Memoirs of Philip Sheridan. 1888.
William T. Sherman, Memoirs of W.T. Sherman. 2 volumes. 1887.
Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction.
The memoirs of Richard Taylor. General Taylor, the son of Mexican War
general and President Zachary Taylor, served throughout the war in all
three of the major theatres; first with Lee in the East, then with Kirby
Smith in the Trans-Mississippi, and last as commander of the Department of
Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. He begins his story with the
secession of South Carolina and ends with four chapters on the surrender
of the Confederate armies and Reconstruction. His book provides two main
contributions: first he offers a relatively critical look at the
Confederate war strategy and priorities, and second, he provides a good
example of the response of ex-Confederates to the North's Reconstruction
policies and their effects on the South.
Section 7. Reference Works
The books on this section of the list are here as valuable references, and
are not something that you would actually sit down and read. However, if
you want to look something up first-hand, these are the books in which to
Mark Boatner, The Civil War Dictionary. (reprint, 1988).
A dictionary of Civil War names, places, battles, and terms, with one
paragraph descriptions of each. Designed as a quick and easy reference to
let you get a quick grasp of a subject starting from only a name or place.
Dornbusch, Military Bibliography of the Civil War. 4 vols, 1987.
A listing of books published on Union and Confederate regiments, and
personal narratives. 1987 is the latest update. An ideal way to track down
the wartime experiences of a relative whose unit is known.
Frederic Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. 3 volumes.
A summary of the portion of the Official Records which deals with the
Union armies: contains much of the interesting information and numerical
data without the dross and kipple of the complete Records. Useful if you
want to find something that is in OR but don't have the time to hunt
William Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War. 1985.
Regiment by regiment, lists all the losses suffered in the various
battles of the war. Also contains synopsis histories of each corps in the
Union Army, and a fair amount of other very interesting information.
Section 8. Unit Histories and Soldier's Reminiscences
Bruce Catton. Civil War, 3 volumes.
Published separately as Mr. Lincoln's Army, Glory Road, and A
Stillness at Appomattox. The history of the Army of the Potomac from First
Bull Run to the final surrender.
Thomas Connelly, Army of the Heartland.
History of the Confederate Army of Tennessee from 1861 to late 1862.
Thomas Connally, Autumn of Glory.
History of the Army of Tennessee from 1862 to 1865.
Rice Bull, The Civil War Diary of Rice Bull.
The personal reminiscences of one of Sherman's bummers who marched
Joshua L. Chamberlain, The Passing of the Armies.
Contains two equal parts: a history of the Appomattox campaign and of
the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac in Washington, by a man who
was a major general commanding a division in the V corps, who received the
official Confederate surrender at Appomattox.
William C Davis, The Orphan Brigade.
A unit history of the Kentucky brigade of the Confederate Army of
Tennessee. Particularly poignant in describing the emotions of men whose
states, and often families, were fighting on the other side of the firing
Alan Nolan, The Iron Brigade. 1975.
A unit history of the brigade composed of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th
Wisconsin and the 19th Indiana, later the 24th Michigan, probably the best
brigade in the Army of the Potomac.
Elisha Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union. 1985.
The diary and letters of Colonel EH Rhodes, Second Rhode Island
Volunteers. Rhodes enlisted as a private and worked his up through the
ranks, reaching Colonel of the regiment in 1865. His firsthand impressions
of the war in the East.
Sam Watkins, Company "Aytch". 1885 or so.
Reminiscences of Sam Watkins, private in Company H of the First
Tennessee Volunteer Infantry. Very down to earth story of what it was like
to be a Confederate private. Does not discuss military history or issues
at all - purely one soldier's impression of the war.
Section 9. Fiction
Ambrose Bierce, In the Midst Of Life.
A collection of short stories: the first half of the book is stories
of soldiers in the War. His themes are (1) the nature of courage; (2)
the ghastliness of war; (3) fighting between family members. Sort of "All
Quiet on the Western Front" for the ACW.
Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage. 1891.
The most literary novel to emerge from the Civil War. It is a loose
description of the battle of Chancellorsville, although it doesn't say so.
It's about three Union enlisted men, and their motivations for fighting
Michael Shaara, Killer Angels. 1974.
A novelized version of the Gettysburg campaign, told from the
viewpoints of Lee, Longstreet, and Joshua L. Chamberlain, colonel of the
20th Maine. A must-read for those who want to know what it was like to be
Irene Hunt, Across Five Aprils.
A novelized account of a family living in Southern Illinois which has
sons fighting on both sides of the war. Written for children about ages
ten to twelve, but a good read for adults as well.
Section 10. Specific Battles and Campaigns
Jay Monaghan, Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865 (University of
Nebraska Press, 1955).
Covers all aspects of the Trans-Mississippi west, including the
pre-war period, guerrillas, battles, and generals.
Robert Hendrickson, Sumter: The First Day of the Civil War. 1990.
Describes activities associated with events in Charleston Harbor
roughly from before the election of 1860 until Lincoln's call for troops.
Includes several appendices, one with the text of the "South Carolina
Declaration of Causes". Has a strong Northern bias.
William J. Shea and Earl J. Hess, Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the
West (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1992) ISBN 0-8078-2042-3
The definitive book on the Battle of Pea Ridge. It is very well
written telling in a clear, straightforward way what happened where and
when. There are many helpful maps of the battle at various stages (among
them are 5 of the action at Leetown and 7 of the action at Elkhorn
Tavern). The authors clearly have a thorough familiarity with the terrain
of the battlefield and the vicinity of Pea Ridge. There are extensive
notes and a thorough bibliography. Orders of Battle for both sides are
included. Two additional chapters provide a military commentary on the
battle and discuss the battle's legacy.
Stephen Sears, To the Gates of Richmond. 1992.
An exceptionally good treatment of the Peninsula campaign and the
Seven Day's Battles.
John J. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run: The Campagin and Battle of Second
Hennessy was formerly the historian for the National Park Service at
Manassas. A well-written account of Second Bull Run (August 10, 1862-
September 3, 1862). Fills the gap between Sears' books. A good
description of the failure of command of the federal Army of Virginia
headed by John Pope, and some interesting evaluations of how effective the
Confederates actually were.
Stephen Sears, The Landscape Turned Red. 1983.
An exceptionally good treatment of Antietam/Sharpsburg; Works equally
well as a guide to the battlefield and to the politics and personalities
of the moment.
Ernest B. Furguson, Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls of the Brave. 1992.
Despite the corny title, this is the definitive modern work on
Chancellorsville. Covering the time between the defeat at Fredericksburg
and the defeat at Chancellorsville, Furguson gives an insightful,
well-written presentation of a confusing battle that is often difficult to
understand. Of particular interest are his conclusions about the
effectiveness of Confederate command. He argues convincingly that even
after Stonewall Jackson turned the right flank of the Army of the Potomac,
the federals had a number of excellent chances of crippling the
Confederate army had Hooker simply held his ground and allowed Lee to
attack frontally as Lee was planning to do.
Richard Wheeler, The Siege of Vicksburg. 1978.
A history of the siege of Vicksburg and the campaign leading up to it.
Wheeler tends to use eyewitness accounts heavily, tracing the broad
outlines in his own words but letting the participants speak for
themselves on the details of what happened. Wheeler has written many more
books in the same style, if you like this one you might want to read his
Edwin B. Coddington. The Gettysburg Campaign. Scribner's Press, 1968.
The definitive account of the campaign and battle of Gettsburg,
starting in June 1863 and running to the end of July. Though more books
have been written about Gettysburg than any other battle, this one is the
most accurate, most comprehensive, and most accessible of them.
Robert Kerby, Kirby Smith's Confederacy. 1972.
The definitive account of the war west of the Mississippi from 1863
through 1865. Discusses the generals and campaigns, the irregular warfare
in Missouri, the home front in the West, and the relationship of the
Western theater to the whole war in about equal parts.
Glenn Tucker, Chickamauga, Bloody Battle in the West. 1964?
A fairly detailed tactical history of Chickamauga, with some comments
though not many on the preceding campaign and on the general history of
the Western Offensive plan that Longstreet and Johnston, among others, had
been advocating for some time.
Ludwell Johnson, The Red River Campaign. 1958.
The history of the Red River campaign of 1864. Provides about an equal
mix of battle tactical details, and the political maneuvering over
Southern cotton that led to the campaign in the first place.
Noah Trudeau, Bloody Roads South. 1989.
History of the Grant's 1864 campaign from the Wilderness to Cold
Harbor. Contains an excellent description of Grant's strategy, tactics,
and the problems therewith as they manifested themselves in operations
Wiley Sword, Embrace An Angry Wind. 1991.
The Franklin/Nashville campaign.
Section 11. Strategies, Tactics, and General Military Aspects
Douglas Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants. 1944.
A study of the generals of the Army of Northern Virginia who served
under Lee. Primarily intended as a study in the makings of commanders, it
also gives a solid history of Lee's strategy for the war in the East as
well as providing a good working biography of nearly all the important
Confederate generals in the Eastern theatre.
Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the American Civil War.
Presents the thesis that the Civil War tactics were dominated by
Napoleonic thinking that was never really supplanted until after the war.
A somewhat controversial book.
Hattaway and Jones, How the North Won. 1983.
An excellent introduction to 19th century strategy, logistics and
grand tactics. Essential for an understanding of why and how battles came
to be fought where and as they did. Concerns itself less with battle
accounts than with operations and command organization.
George Edgar Turner, Victory Rode the Rails (1953, reprinted by the U of
Nebraska Press, 1992).
A description of the impact that railroads had on the battles and
strategy of the Civil War, both North and South. Contains many
fascinating tidbits and insights missed by larger and more general works
on the war.
John Waugh, The Class of 1846. Warner Books, 1994.
The West Point class of '46 was probably the most remarkable in its
history. George McClellan, Stonewall Jackson, A.P. Hill, George Pickett,
Dabney Maury and Darius Couch all graduated that year. The book traces
their schooling and Mexican fighting together. Most interesting is the
contrast between McClellan, who was the star of that class, and Jackson,
who was the one who came to the Point with determination, but no academic
skills. The portaryal of the West Point education shows why just about
every ACW star went to the Point.
Kenneth P Williams, Lincoln Finds a General. 5 volumes. 1949.
A study of the command problems of the Union army.
T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and his Generals. 1952.
A shorter version of the same material.
Stephen R. Wise, Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During
the Civil War (U. of South Carolina, 1988).
A thorough study of blockade running-- how cargoes were obtained, the
effect of blockade running on the Confederate war effort, and the
companies involved in activity. Contains a chronological list of runners
by port of entry and a descriptive list of all known vessels used in
Steven E. Woodworth, Jefferson Davis and His Generals. 1990.
A penetrating examination of the failure of Confederate command in the
West. This includes brief biographies of all major commanders in the
Western theater, an evaluation of their performance, and Jefferson Davis's
successes and failures. A clear, sucinct portrait of why there was so
little good news from the West for the Confederacy.
Section 12. The Experience of Soldiers
Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: the Experience of Combat in the
American Civil War. 1987.
Looks at the 1861 volunteers of both sides and traces the emotional
and psychological changes which their war experiences inflicted upon them
Bell Irving Wiley, Johnny Reb.
A collection and study of the collected reminiscences of a number of
Southern soldiers, providing a detailed look at the life of enlisted men
in the Confederate army.
Bell Ivring Wiley, Billy Yank.
Same as Johnny Reb for the Northern side.
Section 13. Civil War Periodicals (popular press)
These are periodicals for the general reader which deal with the Civil War
and are likely to be found at your news stand.
Civil War Times Illustrated.
The articles are a well researched, and there are features that focus
on the life and times aspect of the War.
Blue and Gray.
Each issue focuses on a particular battle or campaign, with articles
by several authors taking different tacks on the main story. It is really
wonderful to have an issue when you are visiting a battlefield.
The number of people who contributed to this list has grown so large
that it is no longer feasible to list all their names. However, I would
like to thank them collectively for all of the effort they put into
recommending books and writing descriptions. Without their work this list
would not exist.
Stephen Schmidt (email@example.com)
*** End of Civil War Reading List ***
Justin M. Sanders "I shot an arrow into the air. It fell
Dept. of Physics to earth I know not where." --Henry
Univ. of South Alabama Wadsworth Longfellow confessing
firstname.lastname@example.org to a sad ignorance of ballistics.