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Favorite Civil War Books

Recommended reading on the Civil War

The pool of excellent books published on the American Civil War is virtually bottomless.  This page represents a modest attempt to feature some of the books CCWRT members think most highly of - both to provide guidance for members looking for a good read, but also to create a forum for discussion on books we've read in common.  Let us know what you're reading.  (Note: all book descriptions and comments on this page come from the publisher unless otherwise noted.)

All books featured on this page (as well as throughout the Roundtable website) may be purchased from Amazon.com, with part of the proceeds from each purchase being returned to the CCWRT by Amazon in support of its education and preservation programs.  Roll-over any title on this page to bring up purchase information on that book.  For a more complete listing of books, not only on the Civil War, but on other eras in American history, religion, art and many other topics, please visit the Roundtable Bookstore.

  'Survey' Histories

 


The Civil War: A Narrative
Shelby Foote 
1958 - 1974
A stunning literary and historical achievement, the three volumes of Shelby Foote’s The Civil War vividly bring to life the four years of torment and strife that altered American life forever.  Taking the reader from the drama of Jefferson Davis’s resignation from the United States Senate and Abraham Lincoln’s arrival in the nation’s capital to Davis’s final flight and capture and Lincoln’s tragic death, Foote covers his subject with astonishing depth and scope. Every battle, every general, and every statesman has its place in this monumental narrative, told in lively prose that captures the sights, smells, and sounds of the conflict. Never before have the great battles and personalities of the Civil War been so excitingly presented, and never before has the story been told so completely.  With a novelist’s gift for narrative and a historian’s commitment to research, Shelby Foote’s epic retelling is the definitive account of the Civil War, a trilogy that has earned a place of honor on the bookshelves of all Americans.

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States)
James M. McPherson 
1988
Published in 1988 to universal acclaim, this single-volume treatment of the Civil War quickly became recognized as the new standard in its field. James M. McPherson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, impressively combines a brisk writing style with an admirable thoroughness. He covers the military aspects of the war in all of the necessary detail, and also provides a helpful framework describing the complex economic, political, and social forces behind the conflict. Perhaps more than any other book, this one belongs on the bookshelf of every Civil War buff. - Amazon.com

Bruce Catton's Civil War: Boxed 3 Volume Set 
Bruce Catton 
1961 - 1965
Three Volume set includes: The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword, and Never Call Retreat. A journalist and public official before becoming editor of American Heritage magazine, Bruce Catton won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his Civil War history A Stillness at Appomattox. As for this monumental Civil War trilogy, first published in the 1960s, historian Henry Steel Commager appraised: "better than any other history of our Civil War it combines narrative vigor, literary grace, freshness of view and independence of judgment, and a kind of catholic spirit which embraces the whole vast tumultuous scene." The first volume opens with the Democratic Party's Charleston convention in 1860 and the split that resulted in two Democratic candidates, followed by the Republican Convention and Lincoln's victory. The country first drifted and then was swept into war, even as Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were declaring that a peaceful solution could be found. The second volume shows how the Union and Confederacy slowly reconciled themselves to an all-out war, and how the statures of Lee, Grant, Sherman, Jefferson Davis, and many others emerged. McClellan's character is impaled here in extracts from his arrogant letters. In the final volume, Lincoln remains resolute in the belief that a house divided against itself cannot stand, while Jefferson Davis struggles valiantly for political and economic stability. Catton traces the most bitter years of the war here, from the fighting at Fredericksburg to the surrender at Appomattox and the end of the Confederacy, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
  Illustrated Histories

 


American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War
Bruce Catton & the Editors of American Heritage Magazine  
1960
Ask Civil War diehards when they first fell in love with the War Between the States and there's a good chance you'll hear about one of the early editions of this book, which was originally published on the war's centennial. Thoroughly updated by the remarkable James M. McPherson to take advantage of the latest scholarship, this classic retains all of the wonderful features Bruce Catton originally included. And then there are the pictures--they are some of the most striking battlefield visuals available. The American Heritage New History of the Civil War makes a great gift for young people interested (or potentially interested) in history, or good reading for folks who want an overview of how the North and South fought across five Aprils. - Amazon.com

The Civil War: An Illustrated History
Geoffrey C. Ward, Ric Burns, Ken Burns
1990
Companion volume to the Ken Burns, PBS series, this is an extraordinary collection of photos, engravings and paintings, many published for the first time, conveying military and political events of the Civil War, accompanied by a pungent text that avoids sentimentality in depicting "the most horrible, necessary, intimate, acrimonious, mean-spirited, and heroic" war in our history.  The book also includes original essays by distinguished historians James M. McPherson and C. Vann Woodward among others, and an edifying interview with historian Shelby Foote. - Publishers Weekly
  Biographies & Memoirs

 


The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
1885 - 1886
In 1862, a prominent Republican visited President Lincoln and called General Ulysses S. Grant an incompetent drunk who created unnecessary political problems. Lincoln, frustrated with all his generals but this one, famously replied: "I can't spare this man; he fights." Indeed, Lincoln had gone through a series of unheroic generals before settling on Grant to lead the Union's Army of the Potomac. Grant's success at marshaling the industrial might of the North eventually pounded the South into submission.  This memoir, finished as its author was dying of throat cancer in 1885, is widely admired for its clear and straightforward prose. The volume was an enormously popular hit upon publication, and today Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant ranks among the finest pieces of military autobiography ever written. - Amazon.com
Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship That Changed America
Mark Perry
2004
The friendship of Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain by no means changed America. It was, however, a remarkable and fascinating relationship that, though already intelligently told in numerous other volumes, is related quite well here. As Perry (A Fire in Zion: The Israeli-Palestinian Search for Peace) relates it, in 1881 Twain urged Grant, "out of office and out of favor" to write his memoirs, but Grant refused. He reminded Twain that two accounts of his military exploits (by other authors) had been unmitigated flops. A few years later, bankrupt and afflicted with agonizing throat cancer, Grant finally agreed to write four articles for the Century Magazine on some of his Civil War battles. The Century also offered to publish his memoirs. Twain, on hearing Grant might be willing to write a book, hurried back to New York from a lecture tour to scoop the project away from the Century and arrange for publication by a small firm he controlled. Once the deal was done, Grant labored in a grim race to finish his narrative before cancer finished him. He completed his story, "a masterpiece of fluent directness containing absolutely vital insights on Union army command strategies" in July 1885 and died soon after. Published a few months later, the Memoirs have never since been out of print. Perry does an excellent job of narrating Grant's and Twain's parallel lives and showing how their intersection at the end of Grant's life led to the creation of an American classic. - Publishers Weekly
Robert E. Lee: A Biography
Emory M. Thomas
1995
Thomas, a distinguished historian of the Civil War (The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience), has written a major analytical biography of Robert E. Lee. Synthesizing printed and manuscript sources, he presents Lee as neither the icon of Douglas Southall Freeman nor the flawed figure presented by Thomas Connolly. Lee emerges instead as a man of paradoxes, whose frustrations and tribulations were the basis for his heroism. Lee's work was his play, according to the author, and throughout his life he made the best of his lot. Believing that evil springs from selfishness, he found release in service to his family, his country and, not least, to the men he led. One of history's great captains and most beloved generals, he refused to take himself too seriously. This comic vision of life ultimately shaped an individual who was both more and less than his legend. Highly recommended. - Publishers Weekly

Lee
Douglas Southall Freeman
1934 - 1935
When he was approached by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1915 with the request for a biography of Gen. Robert E. Lee, CSA, Douglas Southall Freeman embarked on a 19-year journey that would finally produce the epic four-volume R. E. LEE in 1934. This set won a Pulitzer Prize in 1935 and has become one of the most respected biographies ever written.

Freeman, realizing that many biographies of Lee had been written prior to his accepting the task, sought sources that had been rarely, if ever, consulted. These sources included: the records of the Bureau of Engineers and of the United States Military Academy; collections of Southern families that included Lee's letters; correspondence and memoirs of those who served with and against him in the War Between The States; and the files of Washington and Lee University.  The portrait of Lee that Freeman paints in these four volumes is that of a true leader, who was loved by his troops and respected by those who opposed him. Lee was able to exhibit some of the best qualities of humanity in some of the most inhumane situations. In example after example, Freeman introduces us to this noble Victorian.  Along with its companion set, Lee's Lieutenants (also by Freeman), R. E. Lee provides a realistic, informative and sympathetic portrait of "Marse Robert", a man loved and respected in victory and defeat. - C. Dickens Books

Commander of All Lincoln's Armies : A Life of General Henry W. Halleck
John F. Marszalek 
2004
Civil War biographies do not come much better, if at all, than John F. Marszalek's account of Henry Wager Halleck. Written with scholarly precision and aplomb, it recounts the life and contributions of the Union's top soldier, 1862–1864, from his childhood on a New York farm...Researched in depth, closely reasoned, and energetically presented, Marszalek's biography will long remain the standard account of Lincoln's commander in chief. - Journal of American History

The Monitor Chronicles : One Sailor's Account. 
Today's Campaign to Recover the Civil War Wreck
George S. Geer
2000
In 1862, George Geer boarded the U.S.S. Monitor as a fireman and engineer and stepped into history. In regular correspondence with his wife back in New York, he recorded the workings of the machinery and crew on the newfangled "cheesebox on a raft," as the Union ironclad was called. He also described the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac, the posturing of commanders, and the sinking of the Monitor off the coast of North Carolina during a storm in 1863. This book collects Geer's very readable and revealing letters and augments them with an intelligent commentary on Union naval technology as well as the combined naval and military operations during the Peninsula campaign of 1862. A biography of Geer is included, while a concluding chapter surveys recent efforts to raise the Monitor from her watery grave. Whatever the success of the latter enterprise, this book triumphs as the best inside-the-hull account of life aboard an ironclad and gives Civil War sailors a rare voice in a subject area crowded with soldiers' accounts and the preoccupation with the war on land. - Library Journal
  Lincoln

 


Lincoln
David Herbert Donald
1996
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, Donald proves himself the superb biographer of Lincoln. Donald's profile of the 16th president focuses entirely on Lincoln, seldom straying from the subject. It looks primarily at what Lincoln "knew, when he knew it, and why he made his decisions." Donald's Lincoln emerges as ambitious, often defeated, tormented by his married life, but with a remarkable capacity for growth and the nation's greatest president. What really stands out in a lively narrative are Lincoln's abilities to hold together a nation of vastly diverse regional interests during the turmoil and tragedy of the Civil War. - Library Journal

 

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Doris Kearns Goodwin
2006
The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in countless books. Do we need another Lincoln biography? In Team of Rivals, esteemed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin proves that we do. Though she can't help but cover some familiar territory, her perspective is focused enough to offer fresh insights into Lincoln's leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. 

These men, all accomplished, nationally known, and presidential, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience, and were shocked and humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer. Yet Lincoln not only convinced them to join his administration -- Seward as secretary of state, Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Bates as attorney general--he ultimately gained their admiration and respect as well. How he soothed egos, turned rivals into allies, and dealt with many challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, is largely what Goodwin's fine book is about. Had he not possessed the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, she argues, he could not have led the nation through one of its darkest periods.

Ten years in the making, this engaging work reveals why "Lincoln's road to success was longer, more tortuous, and far less likely" than the other men, and why, when opportunity beckoned, Lincoln was "the best prepared to answer the call." This multiple biography further provides valuable background and insights into the contributions and talents of Seward, Chase, and Bates. Lincoln may have been "the indispensable ingredient of the Civil War," but these three men were invaluable to Lincoln and they played key roles in keeping the nation intact. - Amazon.com

Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America
Garry Wills

1992

Wills combines semantics and political analysis in this account of the most famous speech in U.S. history. He puts Lincoln's words in their cultural and intellectual contexts, establishing the contributions of New England Transcendentalism and the Greek Revival to the structure and the substance of the address. He also interprets the speech as revolutionary, since it's a speech, too for in it Lincoln bypassed as is, seems that Wills, not Lincoln, is bypassing the Constitution to justify civic equality and national union on the basis of the Declaration of Independence. Wills's analysis of the matrix of Lincoln's text is more convincing than his present-minded critique of "original intent." Nevertheless, he makes a strong case for his argument that the concept of "a single people dedicated to a proposition" has been overwhelmingly accepted by successive generations of Americans. - Publishers Weekly
Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President
Harold Holzer 
2004
Few people know more about Abraham Lincoln than Holzer (editor of Lincoln the Writer; Lincoln Seen and Heard; etc.). This fine new work focuses on a widely known but little studied address that Lincoln delivered early in 1860 in New York City, which Holzer believes made Lincoln the Republican candidate and therefore president. While one has to credit other political and historical factors, Holzer is probably right. Surely no one will again overlook this masterful speech, even if it never rose to the eloquence of the Gettysburg Address. That's precisely one of Holzer's main arguments: that the speech was intended as a learned, historically grounded, legally powerful rebuttal to claims of Lincoln's great Democratic opponent, Stephen Douglas, about the constitutionality of slavery's spread into the territories. But how, Holzer asks, did a long speech hold its audience at Cooper Union and then infuse tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of newspaper readers with enthusiasm for the man? The answer lies in large part with the nature of American culture, "a highly politicized one"in the 1860s. But as Holzer also makes clear, Lincoln conceived of the speech as part of an astute strategy to win his party's nomination. While his political wizardry will surprise few readers, they'll learn again how it was combined with intellectual power and a fierce determination to clarify his moral convictions. It was on this visit to New York that Matthew Brady shot his most celebrated portrait of Lincoln (which appears on the book jacket). Holzer devotes a fascinating chapter to this episode.  - Publishers Weekly
Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Edward Steers Jr. 
2001
"Hurrah! Old Abe Lincoln has been assassinated!" wrote a South Carolina girl in her diary in 1865, giving palpable voice to the intense anti-Lincoln sentiments of the slaveholders and the South in general. This well-argued, often exciting account of an organized Confederate plot behind John Wilkes Booth's murder of the president both finely synthesizes traditional Lincoln assassination scholarship and proposes new proof and twists on already acknowledged possibilities. Steers, an avocational historian who has written several other books on Lincoln and the assassination, has a sharp ear for historical discordance and a novelist's eye for illuminating detail. Carefully filling in background (from Booth's relationship to theater and politics to the fascinating, complicated trial of co-conspirator Mary Surratt) for the non-specialized reader, Steers gracefully disentangles a clutter of characters, historical details and hypotheses to prove his own conspiracy theory. Much of this material will be new to the common reader a Confederate plot to use yellow fever as a form of biological warfare against the North; the flight to the Vatican of Mary Surratt's son in an effort to escape prosecution after the assassination but Steers never loses his firm grip on his exciting primary narrative. Although he inclines toward purple prose in his more dramatic moments ("The deed was done. The tyrant was killed. Abraham Lincoln could burn in hell. Sic semper tyrannis!"), his theory is forthrightly and convincingly presented. Less a book for professional historians than U.S. history buffs and Lincoln diehards, this engaging expos‚ makes for provocative reading. - Publishers Weekly
Moonlight: Abraham Lincoln and the Almanac Trial
John Evangelist Walsh 
2000
In Mason Country, Ill., in 1857, two young men, James Norris and William "Duff" Armstrong, waylaid a drunken older man with a big stick and a "slung-shot" (a form of blackjack). Days later he died, and the pair was charged with murder: Norris was swiftly convicted of manslaughter; Armstrong's trial was postponed for a change of venue. On his deathbed, Armstrong's father, Jack, committed his wife to secure the area's best lawyer for his son: a close friend from Jack's youth named Abraham Lincoln. Thus was Lincoln drawn into the biggest and strangest criminal trial of his career. Already quite famous inside Illinois, Honest Abe had built his courtroom reputation largely on civil practice, notably avoiding criminal defendants he thought were guilty; this trial was likely the major exception, and Walsh's painstaking dissection of it tries to provide both a surprising look at Lincoln and a brief piece of courtroom theater. The book largely succeeds as the latter; witness by witness, argument by argument, independent historian and biographer Walsh (Darkling I Listen: The Last Days and Death of John Keats) shows how Lincoln won an unlikely acquittal. One of his tactics was a masterful cross-examination. Another amounted to witness tampering, and arguably to suborning perjury. A key argument had to do with the time the moon set on the night of the beating: here Lincoln used an almanac (misleadingly) to discredit the prosecution's star witness. Otherwise assiduous biographers and historians, Walsh maintains, got nearly all the facts about the "almanac trial" at least slightly wrong: Lincoln didn't (as was later charged) doctor the almanac or use one from the wrong yearAhe didn't have to: his masterful, "glib, insinuating," tactics alone succeeded in getting his client cleared. Walsh ably shows how and why. - Publishers Weekly
  Political and Social Histories

 


Behind Bayonets: The Civil War in Northern Ohio
David Van Tassel with John Vacha
2006
Eminent Cleveland historian David Van Tassel had undertaken the challenge of writing an illustrated history of the Cleveland homefront during the Civil War. Unfortunately, he died in 2000 before completing his manuscript. Historian John Vacha completed the final chapters using notes, lists, and ideas that Van Tassel had gathered, and their efforts are presented in Behind Bayonets.

Behind Bayonets focuses on Ohio’s substantial role in the Civil War. It is perhaps the only work that uses published and unpublished sources written by northeast Ohioans to comment on the causes, course, and purpose of the war. It does not provide an overview of battles, but it does address soldiers’ enlistments and early camp experiences, women’s experiences, public reactions to emancipation and the general political interest in the war, local business growth during the war, and Lincoln’s assassination and the funeral train’s stop in Cleveland.

The authors use moving first-person commentaries and accounts to illustrate and explain these issues and situations. Additionally, the text is lavishly illustrated with rare photographs from the Western Reserve Historical Society’s archives.  This regional perspective on the war is a noteworthy addition to Civil War literature, offering insight into what was going on at home while the war was being fought.

The Great Republic: A History of America 
Winston S. Churchill 
1999
Drawn from uncollected speeches and articles as well as from the author's four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples, this anthology of the great statesman Winston Churchill's writings on American history highlights both its author's vigorous prose style and his commitment to the idea that the United States and the United Kingdom shared not only a common past but a common destiny.

As a young man, writes his namesake and grandson in his introduction, Churchill toured some of the battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and it is in writing of these two epochs and the expansionist years between them that Churchill is strongest. Of particular interest are his remarks on the ideological origins of the colonial revolution in such documents as the Magna Carta and the teachings of the Puritan elders, although, as an eminently practical politician, Churchill gives attention to less lofty causes of dissent--for instance, the English crown's logistical difficulty in governing an overseas empire with ideas of governance and resources of its own. Churchill's reflections on the Second World War are also of much value, and he provides an insider's view of the defeat of Nazism and the birth of the cold war.  Devotees of Churchill's work will not find much new here, but readers approaching him for the first time will find this volume to be a fine introduction to Churchill's writing and thought. - Amazon.com

The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History 
Edited by: Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan 
1999
The South lost the Civil War, but southerners have certainly held their own in the postwar battle to shape historical interpretations of the conflict. Southern politicians, war veterans, and historians successfully promoted the "Lost Cause" view of the origins and results of our national nightmare. The South, so the story goes, wanted to preserve its unique culture, and slavery was not a fundamental basis of that culture. Led by valiant gentlemen-officers (e.g., Robert E. Lee) and brave, defiant common soldiers, the Confederacy struggled against insurmountable odds, eventually succumbing to numerically but not morally superior forces. This collection of essays by nine Civil War scholars shows how the myth was consciously propagated by southerners, often in an attempt to rationalize the physical and social carnage left by the war. These essays are well reasoned and timely, given current controversies raging over the display of the Confederate battle flag. This will be a valuable addition to Civil War collections. - Booklist
  Battle Histories

 


Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg
Timothy B. Smith 
2004
The Battle of Champion Hill was the decisive land engagement of the Vicksburg Campaign. The May 16, 1863, fighting took place just 20 miles east of the river city, where the advance of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Federal army attacked Gen. John C. Pemberton's hastily gathered Confederates.  The bloody fighting seesawed back and forth until superior Union leadership broke apart the Southern line, sending Pemberton's army into headlong retreat. The victory on Mississippi's wooded hills sealed the fate of both Vicksburg and her large field army, propelled Grant into the national spotlight, and earned him the command of the entire U.S. armed forces.  Timothy Smith, who holds a Ph.D. from Mississippi State and works as a historian for the National Park Service, has written the definitive account of this long overlooked battle. His vivid prose is grounded upon years of primary research and is rich in analysis, strategic and tactical action, and character development.  Champion Hill will become a classic Civil War battle study. - Amazon.com
Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War
Edwin C. Bearss 
2006
Bearss presents the story of the Civil War as he has in the battlefield tours he has conducted for many years. A former chief historian of the National Parks Service, he chronicles 14 crucial battles, including Fort Sumter, Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Sherman's march through the Carolinas, and Appomattox, the battles ranging between 1861 and 1865; included is an introductory chapter describing John Brown's raid in October 1859. Bearss relates the details of terrain and tactics and of personalities and command decisions; he personalizes generals and politicians, sergeants and privates. The text is augmented by 80 black-and-white photographs and 19 maps. A chance to tour battlefields without leaving home. - Booklist
  Military Histories

 


Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command
Douglas Southall Freeman
1942 - 1944
"Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command" is the most colorful and popular of Douglas Southall Freeman's works. A sweeping narrative that presents a multiple biography against the flame-shot background of the American Civil War, it is the story of the great figures of the Army of Northern Virginia who fought under Robert E. Lee.  Dr. Freeman describes the early rise and fall of General Beauregard, the developing friction between Jefferson Davis and Joseph E. Johnston, the emergence and failure of a number of military charlatans, and the triumphs of unlikely men at crucial times. He also describes the rise of the legendary "Stonewall" Jackson and traces his progress in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign and into Richmond amid the acclaim of the South.  The Confederacy won resounding victories throughout the war, but seldom easily or without tremendous casualties. Death was always on the heels of fame, but the men who survived — among them Jackson, Longstreet, and Ewell — developed as commanders and men. "Lee's Lieutenants" follows these men to the costly battle at Gettysburg, through the deepening twilight of the South's declining military might, and finally to the collapse of Lee's command and his formal surrender in 1865. To his unparalleled descriptions of men and operations, Dr. Freeman adds an insightful analysis of the lessons learned and their bearing upon the future military development of the nation.
War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor
David A. Mindell
2000
In a familiar story, the USS Monitor battled the CSS Virginia (the armored and refitted USS Merrimack) at Hampton Roads in March of 1862. In War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor, David A. Mindell adds a new perspective to the story as he explores how mariners--fighting "blindly" below the waterline--lived and coped with the metal monster they called the "iron coffin." Mindell shows how the iron warship emerged as an idea and became practicable, how building it drew upon and forced changes in contemporary manufacturing technology, and how the vessel captured the nineteenth-century American popular and literary imaginations.  

Combining technical, personal, administrative, and literary analysis, Mindell examines the experience of the men aboard the Monitor and their reactions to the thrills and dangers that accompanied the new machine. The invention surrounded men with iron and threatened their heroism, their self-image as warriors, even their lives. Mindell also examines responses to this strange new warship by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, who prophetically saw in the Civil War a portent of the mechanized warfare of the future. The story of the Monitor shows how technology changes not only the tools but also the very experience of combat, generating effects that are still felt today in the era of "smart bombs" and pushbutton wars.  
The Bloody Crucible of Courage:
Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War
Brent Nosworthy
2005
This massive study of Civil War weaponry, tactics and combat practices covers so much so well that it's indispensable; it's also so densely written that even series students of the conflict may find it slow going. The author, a distinguished independent scholar, has written similar studies of the 18th century's wars (The Anatomy of Victory) and Napoleonic ground combat (With Musket, Sword and Cannon), and here, as in those books, is politely revisionist. Civil War generals were not ignoramuses who mindlessly pitted mass infantry formations against rifled muskets, but men who had studied the revolution in both tactics and weaponry in more detail than is usually allowed in conventional Civil War historiography, of which the author has no high opinion. (It also neglects the prewar roots of the ironclad ship, which Nosworthy does not.)

The need for a revolution had not been proven in 1861, and the outstanding merit of the book is the way it pulls into a single narrative how that revolution was completed-or in some cases not completed. Competent officers soon learned that the rifle was potent but not invincible, until it became a repeater (which it should have been in the Union Army by 1863) and the riflemen were snug behind field fortifications, supported by rifled artillery. But the smoothbore Napoleon (for Napoleon III, be it noted) saw out the war because of its greater mobility, and the much derided bayonet retained a psychological impact and the cavalry saber a physical one, both at close quarters. With its first-hand accounts, diagrams and all-in-all exhaustive coverage, this volume is an exceptional reference.  - Publishers Weekly

  Fiction

 


The Killer Angels
Michael Shaara
1974
The late Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (1974) concerns the battle of Gettysburg and was the basis for the 1993 film Gettysburg. The events immediately before and during the battle are seen through the eyes of Confederate Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Armistead and Federal General Buford, Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, and a host of others. The author's ability to convey the thoughts of men in war as well as their confusion-the so-called "fog of battle"-is outstanding.  - Library Journal
The March: A Novel
E.L. Doctorow
2005
Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas produced hundreds of thousands of deaths and untold collateral damage. In this powerful novel, Doctorow gets deep inside the pillage, cruelty and destruction—as well as the care and burgeoning love that sprung up in their wake. William Tecumseh Sherman ("Uncle Billy" to his troops) is depicted as a man of complex moods and varying abilities, whose need for glory sometimes obscures his military acumen. Most of the many characters are equally well-drawn and psychologically deep, but the two most engaging are Pearl, a plantation owner's despised daughter who is passing as a drummer boy, and Arly, a cocksure Reb soldier whose belief that God dictates the events in his life is combined with the cunning of a wily opportunist. Their lives provide irony, humor and strange coincidences. Though his lyrical prose sometimes shades into sentimentality when it strays from what people are feeling or saying, Doctorow's gift for getting into the heads of a remarkable variety of characters, famous or ordinary, make this a kind of grim Civil War Canterbury Tales. On reaching the novel's last pages, the reader feels wonder that this nation was ever able to heal after so brutal, and personal, a conflict.  - Publishers Weekly
Lincoln: A Novel
Gore Vidal
1984
Lincoln is a masterwork of historical fiction, in which Gore Vidal combines a comprehensive knowledge of Civil War America with 20th-century literary technique, probing the minds and motives of the men surrounding Abraham Lincoln, including personal secretary John Hay and scheming cabinet members William Seward and Salmon P. Chase, as well as his wife, Mary Todd. It is a book monumental in scope that never loses sight of the intimate and personal in its depiction of the power struggles that accompanied Lincoln's efforts to preserve the Union at all costs--efforts in which the eradication of slavery was far from the president's main objective. As usual, there's plenty of room for Vidal's wickedly humorous deflation of American icons, including a comic interlude in a Washington bordello in which Lincoln's former law partner informs Hay that Lincoln had contracted syphilis as a young man and had, just before marrying Mary Todd, suffered what can only be described as a nervous breakdown. (Protestors should note that Vidal is only passing along what that former partner had written in his own biography of Lincoln.) Don't be intimidated by the size of Lincoln; if you like historical fiction, you should read this book at the first opportunity. - Amazon.com

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