A Civil War reading list, part 1

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

If you’re looking for some good reading on the American Civil War, may I suggest the following titles below?  I’m not sure if the Civil War exceeds World War II in the volume of publications it incites, but it’s got to be close at least.  Which is an indirect way of saying that no recommended reading list can ever claim to be comprehensive.  But I’m finding the books below to be intriguing, insightful, and/or provocative. Some I have yet to look at, others I’m in the process of reading in my copious spare time.  I’ll give more extended comments on them at a later date, as this week is quite action-packed, and I have another chapter to finish revising.  There’s no particular rhyme or reason to the list below; they’re simply books I’ve come across that seem to address some aspect of the Civil War that I’ve long wanted to know more about. Some are strong candidates for required or supplemental reading, should I ever teach a Civil War course. Others are more for personal curiosity (for example, the various studies about North Carolina’s experience in the war).  Well, speaking of North Carolina, I have to say that the UNC press holds the lion’s share of quality Civil War publications. Anyway…

Confederacy in general, and battles:

Kenneth W. Noe, Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861.  Provocative, and essential reading on morale and motivation.

Victoria E. Bynum, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.

Daniel W. Crofts, Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis.

Mark A. Weitz,  More Damning than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army. A crucial book for understanding the Southern war-machine and war-making capacity.

Kent Masterson Brown. Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign. Ok, this book I know of only by reputation, but supposedly it’s one of the very best operational studies to be published in the last twenty years or so…So it’s high on my reading list right now.

Wells and Green, eds. The Southern Middle Class in the Long Nineteenth Century (Well, more-or-less antebellum, but valuable for getting at an understanding of Southern society)

Brian K. Burton, Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles. Very well done, especially in considering the “command decision-making” perspective. Also consider Burton’s The Peninsula and Seven Days: A Battlefield Guide, and Gallagher’s edited volume The Richmond Campaign of 1862.

North Carolina’s experience:

Richard M. Reid, Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era

Judkin Browning, Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina. Pretty much what it says; a newer, shorter study of a topic that has been covered several times before, notably in Bynum’s and Crofts’ studies above.

Rod Gragg, Covered with Glory: The 26th North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg. A very fine battle study, at least from what I’ve read of it so far.

The Union:

Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865.  A dense, thought-provoking book that challenges a number of assumptions about the Union’s supposedly “barbaric” treatment of Southern civilians.  Has drawn a variety of reactions, but remains essential reading on the topic.

Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr., Upton’s Regulars: the 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War. Kind of does for the 121st New York what Gragg does for the 26th North Carolina.

Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War Examines the motivations of Union troops.

Post War, and Memory

Gallagher and Nolan, The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War HistoryThis book has proven very controversial, and a number of people disagree with not only the various articles in it, but with its premise in general.  I can’t say I agree with many of the criticisms that you’ll find, say, on Amazon.com, and which are motivated by a desire to preserve myths such as “Grant was a butcher and a bungler” (very much the opposite, on the whole, and I’ll have more to say on that later).  A very important book…


Well, there you go.  Constructive comments are always welcome, and I’ll be expanding and updating the list and my own comments in the months to come.  Have a great day!

  1. Wesley Moody says:

    I think you have to add something by James McPherson. Under postwar and memory there is a good book called Sing Not of War about veterans after the war. Also under memory there is a good book about Sherman out recently.

  2. I think you’re absolutely right on both counts, Wes! I apologize for the oversight–your book should definitely be there, not least ’cause it’s on my wish-list at the moment. I think I’ll do a second post going through my “wish list” books. Actually thought about McPherson, but I figured he needed little introduction. “Battlecry of Freedom” is a no-brainer, as is “For Cause and Comrades”, though I know he’s written a lot more than that. One book I didn’t put on this initial list is “Virginia’s Civil War”, an edited collection with a number of mixed-quality essays on Lee, and a fascinating one on the Freedmen’s Bureau in Lexington, VA, in the immediate aftermath of the war and Lee’s new presidency of Washington College.

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