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""top twelve Civil War books"" Topic

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doc mcb27 Dec 2010 6:35 a.m. PST


Well, maybe. There two or three of his 12 that'd be on my list.

doc mcb27 Dec 2010 6:40 a.m. PST

12. "The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War":

11. "Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America": This slim book packs a powerful punch. As the title says, this is as much a book about America during the Civil War era as it is about Lincoln, who led the Northern states to victory. The late William E. Gienapp,

10. "Lincoln's Men: How President Lincoln Became Father to an Army and a Nation": As the Civil War erupted, Abraham Lincoln called on the states to supply men and arms for an army. In doing so, he defined the modern role of the president as commander in chief. In this robustly written book, William C. Davis,

9. "Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War": As Charles Bracelen Flood makes perfectly clear in this engaging book, the Union would have lost the war had it not been for the professional and personal relationship between Ulysses S. Grant, the Union army's general in chief, and William Tecumseh Sherman, his subordinate.

8. "Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls of the Brave": Countless "battle books" about the Civil War have been published, particularly over the past 50 years or so, but this account of Chancellorsville, written by Ernest B. ("Pat") Furgurson,

7. "Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam": This is probably the best book ever written on any single battle of the Civil War.

6. "Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches From the Unfinished Civil War": Actually this is not a book about the Civil War; rather, it's a book about how Americans -- and particularly Southerners -- think about the war today and how the war's legacies continue to shape our lives. In the 1990s, Tony Horwitz, another journalist, took to the highways to discover for himself what the Civil War means to modern Americans. He hoped to find out why the Civil War looms so large in the nation's memory, so much so that "living historians" spend thousands of dollars outfitting themselves as Yankees and Rebels who fire blank cartridges at one another in Civil War battle reenactments, and other Americans, black and white, still struggle over the Confederate battle flag, one of the war's caustic symbols of the "Lost Cause." In describing his travels through the South, Horowitz delineates how the Civil War lives on in our culture. His book is a funny, sober, poignant, and intelligent report on why the Civil War seems never to have ended. But Horwitz, for all his whimsy, reaches a serious and unsettling conclusion: We, as a nation, are nowhere near laying to rest the problems that the Civil War failed to solve.

5. "Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory": David W. Blight's book, published in 2001, explores how the past is connected to the present by looking at the ways in which Americans have remembered the Civil War.

4. "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War": This book takes stamina, not because it is poorly written or because it fails to command the reader's attention, but because it deals with an enormously difficult, but vitally important, subject -- how death, which came to nearly every household during the four years of the Civil War, was perceived and handled by the soldiers on the front lines and civilians on the home front as North and South tried to cope with a war that produced, as one Union officer called it, "a carnival of death." Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian who's now the president of Harvard

3. "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era": For many people, this is their favorite Civil War book. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1989 for this book, James M. McPherson, now a professor emeritus at Princeton University, set out to tell the story of the Civil War in a single (though huge) volume by writing a gripping narrative that relied on eyewitness accounts of the war and on the most recent scholarship in the field of Civil War studies.

2. "The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans": Charles Royster's book is unlike any other I've ever read about the Civil War.

1. "A Stillness at Appomattox": My top choice did win a Pulitzer for its author, Bruce Catton.

doc mcb27 Dec 2010 6:41 a.m. PST

I cut lengthy reviews of each book.

Personal logo Stosstruppen Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2010 7:22 a.m. PST

Interesting list. Have read 3, 6, and 7. 3 and 7 would be on my list, and its hard to say anything by Catton should not be on the list though I have never read him. 6 while an interesting read is highly debatable as a top twelve "Civil War" book.

doc mcb27 Dec 2010 7:32 a.m. PST


doc mcb27 Dec 2010 7:33 a.m. PST

As the Salon author explained, he omitted biographies, anything before WWII, and multi-volume works.

Gallowglass Inactive Member27 Dec 2010 7:54 a.m. PST

"Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam": This is probably the best book ever written on any single battle of the Civil War.

I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's certainly an excellent read.

vojvoda Inactive Member27 Dec 2010 7:59 a.m. PST

The ORs hands down.
James Mattes

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2010 8:17 a.m. PST

The whole point of Top 12 lists is to cause controversy. Why did he settle for 12? Why not stop at 10? Why eliminate novels, biographies, books written before WW2, and multi volume works?

doc mcb27 Dec 2010 9:00 a.m. PST

Yes, the Official Records are great reading, very often.

I remember reading a dispatch from the Provost Marshall General in Chicago, telling Lincoln that he was confident he could enforce the draft if the president would send him three regiments of infantry, a cavalry regiment, and a battery.

doc mcb27 Dec 2010 9:00 a.m. PST

And John, I agree; anything to stimulate web traffic.

axabrax27 Dec 2010 9:35 a.m. PST

Or the point is to sell books--notice the links to Barnes and Noble for every book?

d effinger27 Dec 2010 12:58 p.m. PST

Not a great list but there are a few that deserve to be on the top 12 or 20. He left out many really good ones that belong there over what he listed. Oh well, to each his own.

doc mcb27 Dec 2010 1:12 p.m. PST

Yes, i agree.

Benvartok27 Dec 2010 3:00 p.m. PST

Confederates in the Attic, Number 6 is a great book. It defines a "Civil Wargasm"! Now before you head for the gutter this is actually a journey that includes multiple civil war battlefield visits inside a set period of time. Fantastic read!

Just started to reread Macpherson's history before I move onto a book of essays.

NoLongerAMember Inactive Member27 Dec 2010 3:15 p.m. PST

I find it a flawed list, in that he omits multi-volume series, and a subject the size of the ACW that is a flawed approach.

On other books, the Time Life series I have found to go from readable to excellent. The book on Antietam especially covers what is a slightly confusing battle extremely well.

The G Dog Fezian Inactive Member27 Dec 2010 4:11 p.m. PST

12. "The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War"

I blame this book for my lifelong interest in military history and more specifically – wargaming. Those lavish illustrations of battles hooked me on board games and miniatures.

The complete lack of any mention of the naval war is a crying shame.

DJCoaltrain27 Dec 2010 8:51 p.m. PST

The G Dog 27 Dec 2010 3:11 p.m. PST

12. "The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War"

I blame this book for my lifelong interest in military history and more specifically wargaming. Those lavish illustrations of battles hooked me on board games and miniatures.

*NJH: Same for me.

DJCoaltrain27 Dec 2010 8:57 p.m. PST

I think Nevin's Ordeal of the Union is a terrific read. Sure, it's eight volumes, but each is well worth the time. Same for Foote's three volumes.

MacPherson has some really good books out there, as well as Wiley Sword.

I'd hate to try to create a 12 best ACW books. Maybe I could do 110 best ACW books. But the list of really great ACW books I'd be leaving out would be much larger.

John Leahy27 Dec 2010 11:58 p.m. PST

I'm with G-dog. Those illustrations reached out and grabbed me. There are also some in the AWI book. I must have checked out the ACW one 20 times when in Junior school.

2ndKYCav Inactive Member07 Feb 2011 3:52 p.m. PST

"12. "The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War"

I blame this book for my lifelong interest in military history and more specifically wargaming."

I'm with ya G-Dog! I've been trying to capture the "feel" of those battle "maps" using figures my entire life.

barcah200109 Feb 2011 10:45 a.m. PST

"Lee's Lieutenants" is a must for a feel of the Army of Northern Virginia. Wittenbergs's "The Union Cavalry Comes of Age" and "Brandy Station" are good---"Clash of Cavalry" is an older study of Brandy Station but has lots of color
and is an enjoyable read.


Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP10 Feb 2011 11:02 a.m. PST

How could any top 12 list of ACW books not include some of the works by the likes of Pfanz, Rhea and Cozzens?

I still have my American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. I loved the battlefield scenes with the little figures running around all over the place.

Hummster Inactive Member20 Feb 2011 4:00 a.m. PST

As a wargamer I'd say Brent Nosworthy's Bloody Crucible of Courage or Paddy Griffith's Battle Tactics of the Civil War were pretty essential to really get an understanding of how the war was fought.

Personal logo capncarp Supporting Member of TMP10 Nov 2011 4:55 p.m. PST

This should stir up a little dust:
"Arms and Equipment of the Civil War" by Jack Coggins. While rather sparse in text content, its illustrations speak volumes. I'd suggest it as a primer to a student of the Civil War.

Campaigner1 Inactive Member11 Nov 2011 3:35 p.m. PST

Just to add my two cents, I agree that Pfanz has to be somewhere in there for his massive contributions to the battle of Gettysburg.

I also personally would put John Priest's book about Antietam up there on that list. I don't think I have ever cried more reading a Civil War book than when I read Priest's collection of soldier's personal stories from the battle. It is graphic, stark, and disturbing, while still providing an overall narrative that follows the course of the battle as a whole.

Campaigner1 Inactive Member11 Nov 2011 3:39 p.m. PST

And I don't know what the cutoff point would be in terms of how far back you can go in time picking an author…

But my number one book of all time on a favorites list would be none other than "Hardtack and Coffee" by John Billings.

This legendary first-hand account of life in the Army of the Potomac IS the heart and soul and the memory of the Union army. I must have read this book at least 30 or 40 times.

Campaigner1 Inactive Member11 Nov 2011 3:41 p.m. PST

That list itself is ok, but I'm not sure any of them belong in a "top 12", maybe a top 100 list would be more fair since there are so many other great authors who are left out of this.

Campaigner1 Inactive Member11 Nov 2011 3:49 p.m. PST

Bruce Catton….ehh.. I mean he's one of the "classic" authors of the Civil War. He's always recommended by someone. He's good…. But top 12? I think a ton of other authors have trumped his works over the years.

McPherson, kind of the same thing. Huge single volume on the Civil War, but unique enough for the top 12?

"This Republic of Suffering" by Drew Faust I feel actually belongs here. I read this shortly after it came out, and its frank and thorough examination of death in the Civil War era is truly overwhelming and extraordinary.

Campaigner1 Inactive Member11 Nov 2011 4:02 p.m. PST

And of course this "top 12" covers mostly the classically and most popularly known works of the Civil War.

As a student of the Civil War, and one who has personally sought to disspell the rifle-musket's overrated, long, popularly perceived impact on the Civil War and the supposed "revolution to the battlefield" that it always been assumed to be, I'd have to include:

Earl J. Hess, "The Rifle Musket in Civil War combat: Reality and Myth"

Brent Nosworthy, "The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War"

And this one will cause some trouble, but also:

Paddy Griffith, "Battle Tactics of the Civil War"

These three authors are as important to the true and accurate history of the rifle musket as Pfanz and Harman are for Gettysburg in my opinion.

Campaigner1 Inactive Member11 Nov 2011 4:14 p.m. PST


Just noticed you also gave mention to Paddy Griffith and Brent Nosworthy. Some students of the Civil War absolutely despise Griffith, still not sure as to why, but he and Nosworthy contribute a great deal to putting into perspective the rifle-musket's actual use on the Civil War battlefield and what it's actual impact was, as well as providing excellent insight into Civil War tactics and combat in general.

John Michael Priest11 Nov 2011 6:52 p.m. PST

I genuinely appreciate the compliment. Mike

Campaigner1 Inactive Member11 Nov 2011 7:22 p.m. PST

You are most welcome John! Meant every word of it.

Campaigner1 Inactive Member11 Nov 2011 7:47 p.m. PST

Actually looking at the list, I shouldn't have said that "most" of it is the classically popular Civil War books of our time. But some of it is.

I was referring to McPherson's single volume book, and the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War, as well as Catton's A Stillness at Appomattox.

These three books, while very popular, I don't think deserve a place anywhere near a top 12 list.

Maybe I'm speaking blasphemy about Bruce Catton, but reading his books just never really struck a nerve with me, not sure why. As far as McPherson's single volume goes, I didn't find anything particularly compelling or unique about it. I had read other narratives about battles and the war that were much more compelling.

d effinger14 Nov 2011 12:31 p.m. PST

When people ask me about a book on Antietam I tell them there are only two and you must read them in the correct order. I read them both many years ago when they first came out. At that time the book Gleam of Bayonets was THE book but not any more. It's good but not on top any more.

1. Landscape is great and gives you the overview of the campaign and battle. Lots of nice details about the strategy of what Lee did and why, South Mountain, Harper's Ferry and the battle itself.

2. Soldier's Battle is GREAT for the actual details of the battle using gobs of first person accounts. You really feel you are there! This one is superb. It is also very good if you want to design scenarios for gaming.

This September I went to visit Antietam again with another CW buff. He asked what he should read and I told him of the above. He never read either. When we got down there the NPS HQ has a book store and he wandered around looking for something to buy. I told him again to buy at least Soldier's Battle and he did. On the way home he started reading it as we had a 5 hours car ride. I was driving and after the first 15 minutes he fell quiet. I assumed he fell asleep reading. After about 2 hours he blurted out, "Why didn't you tell me this book was so good! I should have read it before we went." I explained I _DID_ tell him but he never listened to me. He said, "We have to go back next year and I'm taking this with me." By the time we were home he was finished reading the book and he said, "This book is f&%*ing great!" Duh.


"Who ever saw a dead cavalryman?"

Campaigner1 Inactive Member14 Nov 2011 2:33 p.m. PST

Hey Don,

Good to see you again on here! Hope things are well.

Glad to hear that a friend of yours was exposed to Priest's book because of your encouragement, it's every bit as compelling, vivid, raw, and real as you described. You certainly steered him in the right direction as far as reading what I consider one of THE essential books on the battle of Antietam.

Priest's book quite simply TAKES YOU THERE. I think I have read it probably more than six times now.


d effinger14 Nov 2011 4:46 p.m. PST


Yup all is well… sort of. :) Good to hear from you again.

What I liked about it is exactly what you like about it…. detail and lots of it. I have read enough books about battles and what the divisions and brigades did. I've got a ton of them and that's fine but… I want more! This book gives it to you in spades. I want to feel I am there watching the men fight and that's what you get here. If you just went straight to this book and knew nothing about the battle it could get confusing and that's one reason some don't like it or it confuses them. I get that. That's why I recommend a broader scope of the fight with Landscape first.

When at the NPS visitor Center I noticed they (the publisher?) put out a book and pulled bits out of the book, turning it into a guide book of it to visit the battlefield. It is a deeper tour than the normal NPS one. You go to a spot and it describes the action with first hand accounts (from the book)which might be otherwise hard to find once you are standing on the battlefield thumbing through the book while your friends and family get bored while you fumble. It's helpful and adds to the on-site experience. Best to buy this one BEFORE you go. You can plan your stops better when you are prepared.


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