THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR: A SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR: ADDITIONAL READING

Someone once cracked that the real winner of the Civil War was the American Booksellers Association. There is no doubt that the wealth of material published on the Civil War (well over 100,000 items) makes it impossible to offer a definitive bibliography of the conflict. A search for “Civil War” on amazon.com yields several hundred thousand entries. For the year 2009, 727 new titles are listed.

Following are but a few works that discuss different aspects of the war. Additional citations may be found in the bibliographies of texts as James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom and Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction.

General

Bruce Catton is one of the finest writers about the Civil War. His works include: The Army of the Potomac, 3 volumes: Mr. Lincoln's Army, Glory Road and A Stillness at Appomattox; The Centennial History of the Civil War, 3 volumes: The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword and Never Call Retreat; This Hallowed Ground; Reflections on the Civil War.

Allan Nevins is another of the deans of Civil War historians. His eight volume work, consisting of The Ordeal of the Union and The War for the Union, covers the background of the conflict through the end of the fighting.

Shelby Foote became famous for his commentary during the PBS series on the Civil War by Ken Burns. Always the Southern gentleman, Mr. Foote tells the history of the war as a story that is eminently readable in his very popular The Civil War: A Narrative, 3 volumes, Ft. Sumter to Perryville, Fredericksburg to Meridian and Red River to Appomattox.

Page Smith. Trial by Fire: A People’s History of the Civil War and Reconstruction is volume V of his 8-volume history of the United States.

James M. McPherson teaches history at Princeton and has consulted on everything from the PBS Civil War series to the movie Glory. Battle Cry of Freedom was a bestseller, and his Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction is a widely used as a textbook. This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War is McPherson’s perceptive analysis of the Civil War.

Gary W. Gallagher, Margaret E. Wagner, Paul Finkelman, editors. The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference is a detailed work by many contributors covering all aspects of the Civil War. Foreword by James McPherson.

Edwin C. Bearss. Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War.  Bearss has conducted very popular battlefield tours for many years.

Biographies

David Herbert Donald. Lincoln was highly regarded and won a Pulitzer Prize.

Stephen B. Oates. With Malice Toward None is an excellent one-volume biography of Lincoln from boyhood to death.

James M. McPherson. Abraham Lincoln. Another fine work by the Civil War historian.

Douglas Southall Freeman is best known for Robert E. Lee (4 volumes) and Lee's Lieutenants (3 volumes.) Some historians believe the latter is more accurate than the former as it was written later and corrects some errors in the first work.

Robert E. Lee never got around to writing his memoirs, but historians compiled a collection of Lee’s letters and papers under the title of Memoirs.

Emory M. Thomas. Robert E. Lee: A Biography.

Jean Edward Smith. Grant. Smith has also written excellent biographies of John Marshall and Franklin Roosevelt.

Ulysses S. Grant. The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant are considered by many to be the best ever written by any U.S. President.

William S. McFeely. Grant: A Biography presents a complete picture of the soldier-president in all his triumphs and flaws.

Horace Porter was one a General Grant's top aides and wrote about his experiences in Campaigning with Grant.

Gene Smith presents two contrasting lives side by side in Lee and Grant.

Stephen W. Sears. George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon uses McClellan's own writings extensively and reveals McClellan’s fatal flaws.

Earl Schenck Miers. The General Who Marched to Hell: Sherman and the Southern Campaign.

Alice Rains Trulock. In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the Civil War is a biography of the general who accepted the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

T. Harry Williams. Lincoln and His Generals is an excellent one-volume account of the President's problems in finding a general who could lead the Union armies to victory.

Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's letters, speeches and official documents provide great insight into the man. The Library of America collected his most important works in two volumes.

William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman told his own story in his 2-volume Memoirs. Unlike his partner Grant, he does have a case to make and defends his actions vigorously.

James I. Robertson Jr. Robertson teaches the Civil War at Virginia Tech. His best known works include Robert E. Lee: Virginian Soldier, American Citizen; General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior; and Standing Like a Stone Wall: The Life of General Thomas J. Jackson.

Jeffrey D. Wert. Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart and General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier

Robert Gould Shaw. Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. edited by Russell Duncan and William S. McFeely. Shaw commanded the 54th Massachusetts Regiment portrayed in the film Glory.

William C. Davis. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour. Portrait of the Confederate President.

Diaries

Mary Chesnut and C. Vann Woodward. Mary Chesnut's Civil War  is her diary.

Sarah Morgan. Sarah Morgan's Civil War Diary is less well known than Mary Chesnut's, but it tells vividly of her life in Louisiana.

Unit Histories

Hundreds of regimental, brigade, division and higher unit histories exist. I have selected two as examples, one Union and one Confederate.

Richard Moe. Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers

Terry L. Jones. Lee's Tigers: The Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Special Topics

Mary Elizabeth Massey and Jean V. Berlin. Women in the Civil War. One of many titles on virtually every aspect of the civil war, such as medicine, nursing, finance, railroads, music, weapons, food, clothing and just about anything else you can imagine.

Fiction

Michael Shaara. The Killer Angels is considered by many to be the finest work of fiction on the Civil War. It was the basis for the movie, Gettysburg.

MacKinley Kantor. Andersonville is a story about the infamous Andersonville prison.

Charles Frazier. Cold Mountain. Also became a film with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law.

Stephen Crane. The Red Badge of Courage. An all-time classic published in 1895.

Richard E. Beringer, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones and William N. Still, Jr.

  • These authors in Why the South Lost the Civil War are among many recent historians who go beyond what happened and ask why it happened. They have an interesting thesis about why things turned out as they did.

Bruce Catton

  • Mr. Catton is one of the deans of the corps of Civil War historians. He has written many works about the war and other aspects of American history. His works are not only full of insights but are also very readable. Among his best known books are The Army of the Potomac, 3 volumes: Mr. Lincoln's Army, Glory Road and A Stillness at Appomattox; and The Centennial History of the Civil War, 3 volumes: The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword and Never Call Retreat. Other works include This Hallowed Ground and Reflections on the Civil War.

Mary Chestnutt

  • Mary Chesnut's Civil War is the best known of the observer accounts of the Civil War. She was in Charleston when it started and comments all the way through the war in her own style.

Jefferson Davis

  • The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (2 volumes) is President Davis's account of the life of the government which he headed from 1861 to 1865, written while he was in prison at Fortress Monroe after the war.

David Herbert Donald

  • A good one volume account of the period is Mr. Donald's The Civil War and Reconstruction. His more recent (1995) biography, Lincoln, was a welcome and highly regarded (Pulitzer Prize) addition to the already vast literature on Lincoln.

Earl Schenck Miers

  • In The General Who Marched to Hell: Sherman and the Southern Campaign the author pulls no punches in his story of the man who said "War is hell" and helped make it so.

Eastern Acorn Press

  • This is the publishing imprint of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association, whose works are distributed and sold by the National Park Service at visitors centers at Civil War battlefields. Among their works, which cover all the major battles and figures, are titles such as U.S. Grant: An Appraisal and Six Vignettes, The Struggle for Vicksburg, The Negro and the Civil War and Life in Civil War America.

Shelby Foote

  • Shelby Foote became famous for his commentary during the P.B.S. series on the Civil War by Ken Burns. Always the Southern gentleman, Mr. Foote tells the history of the war as a story that is eminently readable in his very popular The Civil War: A Narrative, 3 volumes, Ft. Sumter to Perryville, Fredericksburg to Meridian and Red River to Appomattox.

Douglas Southall Freeman

  • Mr. Freeman is best known to us as the biographer of Robert E. Lee and his compatriots, contained in two multi-volume works, Robert E. Lee (4 volumes) and Lee's Lieutenants (3 volumes.) Some historians believe the latter is more accurate than the former as it was written later and corrects some errors in the first work.

Ulysses S. Grant

  • The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant are considered among the best written by any U.S. President. His accounts of the war itself are accurate and insightful. Acknowledged for his greatness as a general during his own lifetime, he has nothing to hide, no axe to grind, no case to make, but tells the story of the war as he fought it.

Frank Aretas Haskell

  • Colonel Haskell, as a result of the wounding of General Winfield Scott Hancock, became for a brief time the commander of the center of the Union line at Gettysburg. That time happened to be during Pickett's famous charge. Colonel Haskell's The Battle of Gettysburg was written a few weeks after the battle, and one can hear the cannon roar.

Robert E. Lee

  • Lee never got around to writing his memoirs, but his son and later other historians compiled a collection of letters and papers that Lee had gathered to begin writing his own story. The are collected under the title of Memoirs.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Reading President Lincoln's letters, speeches and official documents provide insight into the man that cannot be achieved by any other means. The Library of America has collected many of his most important works in two recent volumes.

General James Longstreet

  • General Longstreet was a controversial officer during and after the war. In his book From Manassas to Appomattox he gives a detailed account of the war as he saw it happen. Longstreet was in on some of the war's greatest actions and saw it from near the top of the Confederate hierarchy.

William S. McFeely

  • In Grant: A Biography Professor McFeely presents a complete picture of the soldier-president in all his triumphs and flaws. While recognizing Grant's many significant achievements, the author lays out his failures in detail, especially during the presidential years.

James M. McPherson

  • James McPherson, probably the present dean of American Civil War historians, teaches history at Princeton and has commented or consulted on everything from the P.B.S. series to the movie Glory. He frequently reviews books on the Civil War as well and may be the foremost current authority on the war. His recent Battle Cry of Freedom won the Pulitzer Prize and became a bestseller, and his Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction is used as a textbook for many Civil War courses. Both these works contain detailed bibliographies with excellent commentary.
  • What They Fought For 1861-1865. McPherson latest book contains lectures he gave recently at L.S.U. based on diaries and letters of soldiers on both sides, telling why they were willing to fight for their cause.

Sarah Morgan

  • Sarah Morgan's Civil War Diary is less well known than Mary Chesnut's, but it tells vividly of her life in Louisiana in the midst of the despised Yankees.

Allan Nevins

  • Mr. Nevins is another of the deans of Civil War historians. His eight volume work, consisting of The Ordeal of the Union and The War for the Union, covers the background of the conflict through the end of the fighting in considerable detail. He presents his case from the perspective of the Union.

Stephen B. Oates

  • A wealth of material has been published about Lincoln. With Malice Toward None is an excellent one-volume biography of Lincoln from boyhood to death.

Edward A. Pollard

  • Pollard's The Southern History of the War was first published in 1866 and presents the Southern point of view of events by the wartime editor of the Richmond Examiner. Pollard also wrote The Lost Cause, which became the name of the post-war movement to justify the South's position despite the military defeat suffered by the Confederacy.

Horace Porter

  • Porter was one a General Grant's top aides and wrote about his experiences in Campaigning with Grant.

Stephen W. Sears

  • George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon uses McClellan's own writings extensively and reveals the fatal flaws in the man who promised a great deal and delivered very little. Landscape Turned Red is Mr. Sears' excellent one-volume account of the Battle of Antietam.

Michael Shaara

  • Mr. Shaara's The Killer Angels is considered by many to be the finest work of fiction on the Civil War. It's about Gettysburg and the colonels and generals who fought that great battle. It was the basis for the movie, Gettysburg.

William Tecumseh Sherman

  • Probably the most controversial figure of the Civil War, Sherman told his own story in his 2-volume Memoirs. Unlike his partner Grant, he does have a case to make and defends his actions vigorously.

Gene Smith

  • In Lee and Grant Mr. Smith presents the two contrasting lives side by side, from West Point days to the years after the war. A very readable dual biography.

Jean Edward Smith

  • Mr. Smith's biography of John Marshall was excellent, and his latest work, Grant, continues a rehabilitation of Grant that began a few years back. While not claiming that Grant was a great president, Smith points out that past criticisms of Grant's White House years need another look, which he provides. Although there is not much new on the war years, the book describes Grant's achievements with clarity.

Kenneth M. Stampp

  • Mr. Stampp has provided two useful books on the background of the war, The Causes of the Civil War, a collection of documents, which he edited, and The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South.

Matthew Forney Steele

  • Steele's American Campaigns is used at places like West Point as a study of the tactics and strategies on the battlefields. Various atlases and other analyses accompany this and other works.

Emory M. Thomas

  • Mr. Thomas's The Confederate Nation: 1861-1865 is an interesting history of the Confederate States of America.

Alice Rains Trulock

  • Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain become well known as a result of the popularity of Shaara's book on Gettysburg. In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the Civil War is Ms. Trulock's recent biography of the general.

T. Harry Williams

  • Lincoln and His Generals is an excellent one-volume account of the President's problems in finding a general who could lead the Union armies to victory.

Addendum: "The Civil War in American Memory"

Many authors have written about the impact of the Civil War on America and in particular on the American South. Beginning with books like Edward A. Pollard's The Lost Cause (see above) published shortly after the war, many Southern writers—journalists and historians—have tried to come to grips with the war that in many ways destroyed the "Old South." The debate goes on, and new books continue to appear addressing this topic of endless fascination. Following are a few titles:

James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy. The South Was Right! The exclamation point says it all. This is an argument based on the authors' belief that "much of Civil War history is untrue." While it is easy to understand why the book was written, it is nevertheless disturbing because in attempting to set the record straight the authors often over correct or fail to present their case with appropriate consideration for the historic context of the war and its causes. In many ways it sounds a lot like Robert L. Dabney's A Defense of Virginia and the South, published originally in 1867, a rather sad attempt to defend slavery as the way things were supposed to be.

Michael Kammen. Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture. Kammen is a cultural historian at Cornell. The title comes from Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address in which he said, "Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." (As opposed to the "Killer Angels.")

Kammen includes our recollections of the Civil War in this work.

A History of the South is a ten-volume history (nine are out) published by L.S.U. Press, edited by Wendell Holmes Stephenson and E. Merton Coulter. This is a detailed history of that region from colonial to modern times. Volumes VII though X all deal in various ways with the Civil War and its aftermath.

William J. Cooper and Thomas E Terrill, The American South: A History, is a comprehensive study of the aspects of southern history, culture, economy and so on. A related book is the Idea of the American South 1920-1941 by Michael O'Brien.

Alan T. Nolan, Lee Considered, is a recent book that explores the legends surrounding Robert E. Lee. Nolan draws a crowd whenever he speaks, especially around these parts, and the crowds aren't always friendly. He picks up some of the ideas in Thomas L. Connelly, The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society. Lee's character and reputation are virtually unassailable, but his military judgment has come under far closer scrutiny recently than it did for most of the past 130 years.

Stephen W. Sears, The Civil War: The Best of American Heritage, is a nice collection of essays on the war and its meaning.

Southern fiction is one of America's treasures. Authors from William Faulkner to Robert Penn Warren to Walker Percy, Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor have all taken up the topic of the Civil War at various points in their work. Warren's All the King's Men, a novel about Huey Long (disguised as Willie Stark) contains long passages about the legacy of the Civil War. Faulkner's work is filled with relics of the war, human and otherwise. Warren also wrote The Legacy of the Civil War in 1964 in which he discussed the meaning of the war. A related book is Wilbur J. Cash, The Mind of the South, a book about the legacy of the war that in turn inspired other books about whether he (Cash) got it right. The jury is still out.

Finally, I would suggest that it is difficult to go through a week without seeing something in some newspaper or magazine about the latest debate over the Confederate flag, or a Civil War battlefield or Grant or Lee, Longstreet or Sherman. The Civil War is alive and kicking all over the place, and the only thing certain is that the arguments will continue for a long time.

Civil War Home | Updated May 11, 2017