Civil War Battles Top Ten Booklist
The Civil War is the most written about event in United States history. There are an extraordinary number of books covering all aspects of the war from large overviews like James McPherson's Battle Cry Freedom, Gary Gallagher's books on The Union War and The Confederate War, Allan Nevins 8 volume set on the conflict, and Shelby Foote's three volume set of books on the war. Like a lot of people, I started with Shelby Foote's books, but over the years I have drifted towards more academic works. Unsurprisingly, all kinds of different authors have written non-fiction books on the topic. Some of these authors are academic historians such as James McPherson and Gary Gallagher, more literary authors such as Winston Groom (author of fiction works such as Forest Gump and Civil War nonfiction works Shiloh, 1862 and Vicksburg, 1863) and Shelby Foote, and an extraordinary number of independent scholars. I would not be surprised to learn that there are more self-published books on the American Civil War than any other American historical topic.
Therefore, this list is not comprehensive. That would be impossible. Additionally, it only focuses on specific battles or campaigns of the war. Even when you intentionally restrict the number of total books on the war, you are still left with thousands of book titles. There are over 1,000 books available on Amazon discussing some aspect of just the battle of Gettysburg. The books on the list has a focus on both traditional academic historians and independent historians. While this list has been focused on battles, there are some truly extraordinary Civil War historians who have never written about battles or military campaigns. Drew Gilpin Faust's The Republic of Suffering may be one of the most important books ever written about the Civil War and it focused people dealt with the growing numbers of dead. The number of great Civil War historians left off of the list is tragic.
Creating this list has been both very easy and extraordinarily difficult. It is easy to find great books, but it is almost impossible to pick only ten. If you are a stickler and count the books listed, you will notice that the final is little bit higher than 10.
These books have typically been lauded as some of the best books on these battles and campaigns. Even if your favorite is not listed, these books are fantastic place to start.
Here is our list.
Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, Stephen W. Sears - Stephen Sears'Landscape Turned Red<i> is considered to be the preeminent book on the Battle of Antietam. When it was published in 1983, Symonds book received near universal acclaim and it still holds up extremely well. Symonds book not only walks the reader through the battle, but clearly explains why the stakes were so high for both sides of this battle.
Antietam: Crossroads of Freedom, James McPherson - McPherson has written extensively on the Civil War, but he has usually approached this topic from broader narrative. In his Pultizer Prize winning book Battle Cry Freedom, he masterfully wrote about the entire war. In one of his most recent books The War that Forged a Nation, he explained how the war fundamentally changed the United States and why it still resonates today. In Antietam, McPherson took a different approach. He not only walks the reader the entire battle, but he explains why the battle of Antietam fundamentally altered the course of the war.
Chancellorsville 1863, The Souls of the Brave, Ernest B. Furguson - Furguson's book elegantly explains the tactically complicated Battle of Chancellorsville and puts the reader into the midst of the battle. Furguson, a former columnist and journalist for the <i>Baltimore Sun has written several other outstanding books on Civil War including Ashes of Glory and Freedom Rising.
Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, George Rable - Rable's book is the classic book on the Battle of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg was a disastorous defeat for the Union army and his books not only looks at the military aspects of the conflict, but also the social and political aspects that influenced and shaped the battle. This is the best book to start with if you want learn about Fredericksburg.
Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, Edited by Caroline Jenner & Gary Gallagher - Jenner and Gallagher's book is one in a series the excellent Military Campaigns of the Civil War series of books published by the University of North Carolina Press. Other books in the series examine the Fredericksburg, Shenandoah Valley and Wilderness campaigns. Like other books in this series it includes essays from noted Civil War and 19th Century historians including Joan Waugh, Stephen Cushman, Keith Kathryn Shively Meier, Gordon Rhea. Instead of simply describing the campaign, these essays delve deeply into a diverse array of topic including the work of Confederate engineers, enduring the life of a soldier, the resilience of Confederate soldiers after Gettysburg, and the experiences of civilians caught in the battle for Petersburg for over a year.
The Battle of Gettysburg. It is impossible to pick just one book on the Battle of Gettysburg. While there has been a longstanding debate over which battle was more important during the war (Antietam and Gettysburg), Gettysburg is part of the American consciousness. Not only did it end the Confederacy's advance into the North, it gave birth to the most famous speech in American history. Each of these books attempts to answer different questions about Gettysburg. Gettysburg: The Second Day, Gettysburg, Sears, Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory Carol Reardon, Gettysburg: A Battle Guide Grimsley and Simpson
The Civil War at Sea, Symonds,
Cold Harbor, Gordon Rhea The Overland Series
The Battle of the Wilderness, Gordon Rhea
Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, Kenneth Noe