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August 13, 2008

Check it out: Civil War books

civil%20war%20edited.jpgOne hallmark of Southern writing is the Civil War. Even if the war isn't mentioned outright, its heroic and tragic themes loom in the background. For recommendations about war-related books, I turned to local author Charles Mitchell, whose Maryland Voices of the Civil War is a collection of letters, diary entires and other contemporaneous writings. To get grounded in the war, he suggested these five great reads:

1. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

2. The Fate of Liberty by Mark E. Neely

3. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

4. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation by Allen C. Guelzo

5. Mary Chesnut's Civil War and/or A Diary from Dixie by Mary Chesnut

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 2:52 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Check It Out, Recommended


Writing on the South (Fiction)
Confederates, Thomas Keneally
Thomas Keneally, Australian writer (Schindler's List), uses his heritage to a come to grips with the rural South, slaveholding, and honor. Campaigning soldiers are treated realistically, so, well, men will be men. The setting is the Shenandoah Valley and the Confederates are in the Stonewall Brigade. First published in 1980 by Harper Collins, the book has never been out of print and is currently published in paperback by the University of Georgia.

The Long Roll and Cease Firing by Mary Johnston, daughter of Confederate general Joseph Johnston. First published in 1911 and 1913, these two novels are in print by Johns Hopkins University Press. Johnston's heritage supplies her with remarkable details of the Confederate soldier's life; her work is realistic and not over wrought with magnolias. The setting is the Shenandoah Valley and the soldiers are in the Stonewall Brigade.

Jacob's Ladder by Donald McCaig. Imagine a collaboration between Shelby Foote and Margaret Mitchell and you get some idea of the historical irony and passion of this work. The story begins in 1934 with a WPA writer interviewing 90-year-old Marguerite Omohundru.In the course of the story a dark secret of a prominent Virginia family is revealed, pro-Union Virginians are discovered in this Confederate family's attic and not all Confederates are loyal, brave and true. First published in 1998 by W.W. Norton, it still in print with Penguin Press.

The Black Flower, The Year of Jubilo, and The Judas Field by Howard Bahr. The Black Flower, first published in 1997, won several literary awards and Bahr has followed every three years with two other wonderfully descriptive novels that are true to the subtleties of human nature and the horrors of fighting. These are not combat novels in which regiments move like game pieces. These storie are about men with guns fighting for the men beside them and their communites in northern Mississippi and western/middle Tennessee. The battles of Franklin and Nashville are featured as well as the rural communites located between the armies. The unabridged audiobooks are as pleasurable to listen to as the print novels are too read.

Mr. Mitchell's suggestions are a great start for a Civil War "essentials" list. I would add the following to his recommendations:
1. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
The classic of Civil War studies.
2. What This Cruel War Was Over by Chandra Manning
A brilliant study of why soldiers fought and what they believed about their war.
3. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power by Richard Carwardine
A beautifully written biography focusing on what Lincoln thought and believed over the course of the Civil War.
4. Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust
An innovative look at how the Civil War changed Americans' understanding of death--and how the war's massive carnage impacted soldiers and the home front.
5. The Destructive War by Charles Royster
A modern classic that investigates violence and destruction in the Civil War.
6. The Life of Billy Yank and The Life of Johnny Reb by Bell I. Wiley
Two classic books that give readers an inside look at how common soldiers--in Blue and Gray--lived and fought.
7. The Confederate War by Gary Gallagher
Gallagher looks at Confederate patriotism and its impact on the Confederate war effort.
8. Why the North Won the Civil War edited by David Herbert Donald
Since its publication in 1960, this book's essays have provoked serious thought on why the Union won the war. Still a great read.
9. April 1865 by Jay Winik
Winik knows how to tell a story, as amply shown by this fascinating study of the last month of the Civil War.
10. Race and Reunion by David Blight
Blight offers a fascinating take on the national collective memory of the Civil War--it was hardly a single meaning!

I look forward to reading other people's posts; no one person has the same Civil War essentials list!

Christopher Childers
Editor, Civil War Book Review

Lisa B. Kamps, manager of the gift shop at Gettysburg National Military Park, was kind enough to share a look at best sellers in her store:
Fiction: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara; Gods and Generals, and The Last Full Measure by Michael Shaara; Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Non-fiction: The Gettysburg Campaign by Edwin B. Coddington; Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears; and The Maps of Gettysburg by Bradley Gottfried

I heartily agree with all of the above recommendations, especially David Blight's Race and Reunion and Bell Wiley's two books on the common soldier North and South. I thought I'd add my own recommendations to the list, this time covering more of the military history side of things. These are in no particular order.

1. The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote
Foote's three volume work was one of the first I read as a child in elementary school. He has a bit of a Southern bias and a few errors creep into the story from time to time, but Foote's story of the Civil War reads like a novel. It's a great set for those people looking to move from a casual to a serious interest in the study of the Civil War.

2. This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga by Peter Cozzens
Cozzens is well-known as a master of the detailed campaign and battle study. His focus up until now has been the Western Theater, and to me his best book is This Terrible Sound. He has written three other campaign studies focusing on the west, including books on Stones River, Iuka & Corinth, and Chattanooga. Look for Cozzens' newest book on Jackson's Valley Campaign entitled Shenandoah 1862, which will be released shortly.

3. The Battle Of The Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864 by Gordon Rhea
Rhea is to the later war in the East as Cozzens is to the West. Rhea's first book on Grant's Overland Virginia Campaign of 1864 was an auspicious debut. He has since followed this effort with books on Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna River, and Cold Harbor. Look for the fifth and last book in the series soon, covering the Battle of Petersburg.

4. Return To Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy
I wish Hennessy had more campaign studies to his credit, because this effort couldn't be much better. Return to Bull Run is tactical history at its finest.

5. Lee Considered by Alan T. Nolan
The recently deceased Nolan challenged readers to examine the historical evidence around "The Marble Man" and question the legends passed down about Lee. Fellow blogger Eric Wittenberg patterned his own work on Little Phil Sheridan after Nolan's book.

For some more of my thoughts on Civil War books, check out "My Top Five Most Influential Civil War Books of the Past 20 Years".

Brett Schulte
Founder of TOCWOC - A Civil War Blog

Three ACW Book Gems

To those who have commented so far, kudos. I’ve enjoyed your recommendations. As a graduate student in military history, I have had the pleasure of spending a lot of time reading books about the American Civil War. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution by James McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press).

Nothing less than masterful, McPherson’s essays explore Abraham Lincoln as a revolutionary figure and the extensive change driven by the American Civil War.

Edward Hagerman’s The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

A fascinating book filled with information particularly of interest to military historians, Hagerman’s treatment of fortification and entrenchment is worth the price of the book alone.

Manet and the American Civil War by Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

This highly visual book provides a terrific blend of Civil War maritime history and art history. In a stunningly beautiful format, it chronicles the sea battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama off the coast of France near Cherbourg in 1864. But it is really about much more: Lincoln’s blockade and the Confederate response, Europe fascination with America’s conflict, intrigue and espionage, two bigger-than-life captains, and - of course - the work of artist Manet and his contemporaries.


Rene Tyree
Wig-Wags Blog

Shelby Foote's Trilogy, "Civil War, A Narrative" is hard to beat. Reading all three extended my battlefield visitation vacation by months.

Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" should be requried reading for today presidential hopefuls.

I have no idea where I found it, but a little book which I enjoyed for its style and content is, The Strange Story of Harper's Ferry with Legends of the Surrounding Country. By Joseph Barry. "A resident of the place for half a century."

It was originally published in 1903 and is written by someone who saw many of the events first hand.

In reverse order, here are some Civil War books I've recently read:
-- Bartholomees, Buff Facings and Gilt Buttons: Staff and Headquarters Operations in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1861-1865.
-- McClintock, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
-- Wittenberg, Petruzzi and Nugent, One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863
-- Rhea, The Battles for Spotsylvania Courthouse and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7-12, 1864
-- Myers, Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in
British-American Relations
-- Jones, The Right Hand of Command: Use and Disuse of Personal Staffs in the American Civil War (reread)

Yes, I'm a bit behind in reading Rhea.

Everyone should run out and read McClintock and Myers.

Great site.

I really like your post. Does it copyright protected?

Jane, yes, it is as part of The Sun. But feel free to refer to it.

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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