16 Best Civil War Books

Best Civil War Books: The American Civil War was a civil war in the United States fought between northern and Pacific states and southern states that voted to secede and form the Confederate States of America.

Best Civil War Books

How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America by Heather Cox Richardson

While the North prevailed in the Civil War, ending slavery and giving the country a “new birth of freedom,” Heather Cox Richardson argues in this provocative work that democracy’s blood-soaked victory was ephemeral. The system that had sustained the defeated South moved westward and there established a foothold. It was a natural fit. Settlers from the East had for decades been pushing into the West, where the seizure of Mexican lands at the end of the Mexican-American War and treatment of Native Americans cemented racial hierarchies. The South and West equally depended on extractive industries-cotton in the former and mining, cattle, and oil in the latter-giving rise a new birth of white male oligarchy, despite the guarantees provided by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the economic opportunities afforded by expansion.

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

James McPherson’s fast-paced narrative fully integrates the political, social, and military events that crowded the two decades from the outbreak of one war in Mexico to the ending of another at Appomattox. Packed with drama and analytical insight, the book vividly recounts the momentous episodes that preceded the Civil War–the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry–and then moves into a masterful chronicle of the war itself–the battles, the strategic maneuvering on both sides, the politics, and the personalities. Particularly notable are McPherson’s new views on such matters as the slavery expansion issue in the 1850s, the origins of the Republican Party, the causes of secession, internal dissent and anti-war opposition in the North and the South, and the reasons for the Union’s victory.

The Civil War: A Visual History by DK

This comprehensive, visually arresting guide covers the history, causes, and consequences of the Civil War. It provides eyewitness accounts by soldiers and civilians, key profiles of military leaders, and clear timelines that give an overview of how the events developed.

This lavish volume is illustrated throughout with photography and paintings and includes detailed galleries showcasing weapons, equipment, and other artifacts. This expanded edition also comes with informative and photographic features on memorial sites associated with the Civil War.

Produced in association with the Smithsonian Institute, The Civil War: A Visual History is an invaluable resource for schools and libraries, as well as a perfect companion for anyone interested in military and social history. 

The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David A Welker

Antietam. For generations of Americans this word—the name of a bucolic stream in western Maryland—held the same sense of horror and carnage that the simple date 9/11 does for modern America. But Antietam eclipses even this modern tragedy as America’s single bloodiest day, on which 22,000 men became casualties in a war to determine our nation’s future.

Antietam is forever burned into the American psyche, a battle bathed in blood that served no military purpose, brought no decisive victory. This much Americans know. What they didn’t know is why this is so—until now. The Cornfield: Antietam’s Bloody Turning Point tells for the first time the full story of the

The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters by James M. McPherson

In The War that Forged a Nation, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson considers why the Civil War remains so deeply embedded in our national psyche and identity. The drama and tragedy of the war, from its scope and size–an estimated death toll of 750,000, far more than the rest of the country’s wars combined–to the nearly mythical individuals involved–Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson–help explain why the Civil War remains a topic of interest. But the legacy of the war extends far beyond historical interest or scholarly attention. Here, McPherson draws upon his work over the past fifty years to illuminate the war’s continuing resonance across many dimensions of American life.

April 1865: The Month That Saved America (P.S.) by Jay Winik

One month in 1865 witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond, a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare, Lee’s harrowing retreat, and then, Appomattox. It saw Lincoln’s assassination just five days later and a near-successful plot to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in the South, and finally, the start of national reconciliation.

In the end, April 1865 emerged as not just the tale of the war’s denouement, but the story of the making of our nation.

Gods and Generals: A Novel of the Civil War (Civil War Trilogy) by Jeff Shaara

In this brilliantly written epic novel, Jeff Shaara traces the lives, passions, and careers of the great military leaders from the first gathering clouds of the Civil War. Here is Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a hopelessly by-the-book military instructor and devout Christian who becomes the greatest commander of the Civil War; Winfield Scott Hancock, a captain of quartermasters who quickly establishes himself as one of the finest leaders of the Union army; Joshua Chamberlain, who gives up his promising academic career and goes on to become one of the most heroic soldiers in American history; and Robert E. Lee, never believing until too late that a civil war would ever truly come to pass. Profound in its insights into the minds and hearts of those who fought in the war, Gods and Generals creates a vivid portrait of the soldiers, the battlefields, and the tumultuous times that forever shaped the nation.

Grant by Ron Chernow

Before the Civil War, Grant was flailing. His business ventures had ended dismally, and despite distinguished service in the Mexican War he ended up resigning from the army in disgrace amid recurring accusations of drunkenness. But in war, Grant began to realize his remarkable potential, soaring through the ranks of the Union army, prevailing at the battle of Shiloh and in the Vicksburg campaign, and ultimately defeating the legendary Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Along the way, Grant endeared himself to President Lincoln and became his most trusted general and the strategic genius of the war effort. Grant’s military fame translated into a two-term presidency, but one plagued by corruption scandals involving his closest staff members.

TIME-LIFE The Civil War in 500 Photographs by The Editors of TIME-LIFE

The name TIME-LIFE has become synonymous with providing readers with a deeper understanding of subjects and world events that matter to us all. Now, with the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War upon us, TIME-LIFE The Civil War in 500 Photographs will be an indispensable guide to a nation-changing era and the military, social, economic, and political forces that shaped it.

The narrative of the Civil War, fought from 1861 to 1865, is familiarly to almost all Americans, from Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln’s noble declaration that “the government cannot endure permanently half-slave, half-free” to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Yet the details of the battles and battlefields, the political maneuverings, and the personalities who defined the war continue to fascinate citizens of all ages.

The Civil War: The Story of the War with Maps by David M. Detweiler

For readers addicted to histories or novels about the Civil War, a common challenge is the lack of adequate maps. This excellent volume satisfies that need, once and for all: It’s the clearest, fullest collection of strategic and tactical maps available, a fine volume on its own and an indispensable aid to understanding many another book. Few works truly are ‘must-haves’ for a Civil War collection, but this one’s essential. –Ralph Peters, author of Cain at Gettysburg and Hell or Richmond

 

The Civil War: The Story of the War with Maps combines the colorful, detailed maps of an atlas with the vivid storytelling of the best narratives to piece together the nation-spanning jigsaw puzzle of the American Civil War. See the conflict develop from a few small armies into total war engulfing the whole South.

Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington by Ted Widmer

As a divided nation plunges into the deepest crisis in its history, Abraham Lincoln boards a train for Washington and his inauguration—an inauguration Southerners have vowed to prevent. Lincoln on the Verge charts these pivotal thirteen days of travel, as Lincoln discovers his power, speaks directly to the public, and sees his country up close. Drawing on new research, this riveting account reveals the president-elect as a work in progress, showing him on the verge of greatness, as he foils an assassination attempt, forges an unbreakable bond with the American people, and overcomes formidable obstacles in order to take his oath of office.

The Saddest Words: William Faulkner's Civil War by Michael Gorra

William Faulkner, one of America’s most iconic writers, is an author who defies easy interpretation. Born in 1897 in Mississippi, Faulkner wrote such classic novels as Absolom, Absolom! and The Sound and The Fury, creating in Yoknapatawpha county one of the most memorable gallery of characters ever assembled in American literature. Yet, as acclaimed literary critic Michael Gorra explains, Faulkner has sustained justified criticism for his failures of racial nuance―his ventriloquism of black characters and his rendering of race relations in a largely unreconstructed South―demanding that we reevaluate the Nobel laureate’s life and legacy in the twenty-first century, as we reexamine the junctures of race and literature in works that once rested firmly in the American canon.

The Civil War (American Heritage Books) by Bruce Catton

Introduced by the critically acclaimed Civil War historian James M. McPherson, The Civil War vividly traces one of the most moving chapters in American history, from the early division between the North and the South to the final surrender of Confederate troops. Catton’s account of battles is a must-read for anyone interested in the war that divided America, carefully weaving details about the political activities of the Union and Confederate armies and diplomatic efforts overseas.

The Scourge of War: The Life of William Tecumseh Sherman by Brian Holden Reid

William Tecumseh Sherman, a West Point graduate and veteran of the Seminole War, became one of the best-known generals in the Civil War. His March to the Sea, which resulted in a devastated swath of the South from Atlanta to Savannah, cemented his place in history as the pioneer of total war.

In The Scourge of War, preeminent military historian Brian Holden Reid offers a deeply researched life and times account of Sherman. By examining his childhood and education, his business ventures in California, his antebellum leadership of a military college in Louisiana, and numerous career false starts, Holden Reid shows how unlikely his exceptional Civil War career would seem. He also demonstrates how crucial his family was to his professional path, particularly his wife’s intervention during the war.

Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War by Tim Rowland and J. W. Howard

Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War is an entertaining look at the Civil War stories that don’t get told, and the misadventures you haven’t read about in history books. Share in all the humorous and strange events that took place behind the scenes of some of the most famous Civil War moments. Picture a pedestal in a public park with no statue on top; Rowland’s book explains that when the members of the New York Monument Commission went to hire a sculptor to finish the statue, they were shocked to discover that there was no money left in the agency’s accounts to pay for the project. The money for the statue of Dan Sickles had been stolen—stolen by former monument committee chairman Dan Sickles!.

Civil War Commando: William Cushing and the Daring Raid to Sink the Ironclad CSS Albemarle by Jerome Preisler

Here at last is an action-packed portrait of one of America’s greatest but little-remembered Civil War heroes, Commander William Barker Cushing, who sank the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in a spectacular mission in 1864.

Regarded as erratic and insubordinate, Midshipman Cushing was drummed out of the Naval Academy in March 1861. But with the outbreak of war, the Union needed every trained officer it could find— and whatever his flaws, Cushing was an extremely talented naval officer. Ferocious, uncompromising, courageous, and loyal, he became a U.S. Navy commando and at the age of twenty-one was sent to destroy the South’s ultimate naval weapon—the Albemarle, an unsinkable vessel with a devastating iron ram.