Before we list the best books on the American Civil War, let’s first give a brief introduction to what exactly happened. The American Civil War was a conflict fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865. It arose primarily as a result of the long-standing disagreement over the institution of slavery and states’ rights.
The war began when southern states, believing that the federal government had become too powerful and was threatening the institution of slavery, seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. The northern states, led by President Abraham Lincoln, fought to preserve the Union and to abolish slavery. The war resulted in the deaths of an estimated 620,000 soldiers and an unknown number of civilians and left the country deeply divided. The Union emerged victorious and slavery was abolished as a result of the war.
Here are the best books on the American Civil War…
William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of my Country
William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of my Country is a biography of one of America’s most storied military figures, written by James L. McDonough. It is a New York Times best-selling book that offers an in-depth look into the life of General William Tecumseh Sherman, who is known for his 1864 burning of Atlanta and his role in some of the Civil War’s most decisive campaigns.
The book provides an insightful look into Sherman’s evolution from a spirited student at West Point to a ruthless leader who fought in some of the Civil War’s most significant battles. It also explores his famous March to the Sea across the Carolinas, where he devastated southern resources in an effort to bring a swift end to the war. Additionally, the book covers Sherman’s tenure as general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, and his role in paving the way west during the Indian wars.
One of the key strengths of this book is the way McDonough delves into Sherman’s dramatic personal life, including his strained relationship with his wife, his personal debts and his young son’s death. This provides a more complete and nuanced picture of Sherman, revealing him as a man who was tormented by fears that history would pass him by, and that he would miss his chance to serve his country. The result is a remarkable and illuminating portrait of an American icon, making this book one of the best about the American Civil War.
The Civil War
The Civil War by Bruce Catton is widely considered one of the best books about the American Civil War. As the Baltimore Sun states, “Nothing in our time makes the Civil War as alive as the writings of Bruce Catton.”
Infinitely readable and absorbing, The Civil War is one of the most widely read general histories of the war available in a single volume. It is introduced by the critically acclaimed Civil War historian James M. McPherson, which adds to the book’s credibility. The book 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. He carefully weaves details about the political activities of the Union and Confederate armies and diplomatic efforts overseas, making the book a comprehensive and detailed account of the American Civil War. It is a book that is sure to leave readers with a greater understanding and appreciation of this pivotal moment in American history.
The Myth of the Lost Cause
The Myth of the Lost Cause by Edward H. Bonekemper III is a book that delves into the enduring significance of the American Civil War and the role that the Confederate officers played in shaping the narrative of the war. It is a comprehensive and balanced correction of the historical record that helps to understand the ongoing controversies surrounding Confederate monuments.
The book’s central argument is that as soon as the Army of Northern Virginia laid down its arms at Appomattox, a group of Confederate officers took up their pens to refight the war for the history books. They composed a new narrative, the Myth of the Lost Cause, seeking to ennoble the sacrifice and defeat of the South, which popular historians in the twentieth century would perpetuate. This narrative would distort the historical imagination of Americans, north and south, for 150 years.
One of the reasons why this book is one of the best about the American Civil War is that it provides a fresh perspective on the war and its aftermath. The author’s balanced and compelling correction of the historical record helps readers understand the Myth of the Lost Cause and its effect on the social and political controversies that are still important to all Americans. The book is an important and timely contribution to our understanding of the Civil War and its legacy.
Hymns of the Republic
Hymns of the Republic by S.C. Gwynne is a spellbinding and epic account of the last year of the American Civil War. Written by the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell, this book offers a compelling narrative of one of history’s great turning points.
The fourth and final year of the Civil War is the focus of the book, which covers the epic battle between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant; the advent of 180,000 black soldiers in the Union army; William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea; the rise of Clara Barton; the election of 1864 (which Lincoln nearly lost); the wild and violent guerrilla war in Missouri; and the dramatic final events of the war, including Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
One of the reasons why this book is one of the best about the American Civil War is the way the author brings new perspectives and insights to the characters and events of the war. Robert E. Lee, known as a great general and Southern hero, is presented here as a man dealing with frustration, failure, and loss. Ulysses S. Grant is known for his prowess as a field commander, but in the final year of the war, he largely fails at that.
His most amazing accomplishments actually began the moment he stopped fighting. William Tecumseh Sherman, Gwynne argues, was a lousy general, but probably the single most brilliant man in the war. We also meet a different Clara Barton, one of the greatest and most compelling characters, who redefined the idea of medical care in wartime. And proper attention is paid to the role played by large numbers of black union soldiers—most of them former slaves.
Popular history at its best, Hymns of the Republic is an engrossing and riveting read that reveals the creation that arose from destruction during the Civil War. It is a must-read for Civil War enthusiasts.
And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle
And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle is a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham that chronicles the life of Abraham Lincoln, charting how—and why—he confronted secession, threats to democracy, and the tragedy of slavery to expand the possibilities of America. This book is a New York Times bestseller, and is considered one of the best books of the year by The Christian Science Monitor and Kirkus Reviews.
One of the strengths of this book is the way Meacham presents a very human Lincoln, an imperfect man whose moral anti-slavery commitment, essential to the story of justice in America, began as he grew up in an anti-slavery Baptist community; who insisted that slavery was a moral evil; and who sought, as he put it, to do right as God gave him to see the right. This illuminating new portrait gives us a very human Lincoln and presents an understanding of the possibilities of the presidency as well as its limitations.
This book tells the story of Lincoln from his birth on the Kentucky frontier in 1809 to his leadership during the Civil War to his tragic assassination in 1865: his rise, his self-education, his loves, his bouts of depression, his political failures, his deepening faith, and his persistent conviction that slavery must end. In a nation shaped by the courage of the enslaved of the era and by the brave witness of Black Americans, Lincoln’s story illustrates the ways and means of politics in a democracy, the roots and durability of racism, and the capacity of conscience to shape events. And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the life and legacy of one of America’s most iconic and revered leaders.
Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee’s Army after Appomattoxow
Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee’s Army after Appomattox by Caroline E. Janney is a dramatic new history that explores the chaotic dispersal of the Army of Northern Virginia, even before the meeting of Lee and Grant at Appomattox Court House. It delves into the events after the surrender and the interregnum marked by military and political uncertainty, legal and logistical confusion, and continued outbursts of violence, and the messy birth narrative of the Lost Cause.
The book starts with the dispersal of the Confederate army and how thousands of wounded and exhausted men fell out of the ranks even before the official surrender. It also covers the aftermath of the surrender, including the Federal troops’ struggle to keep order and sustain a fragile peace, and their newly surrendered adversaries seething with anger and confusion at the sight of Union troops occupying their towns and former slaves celebrating freedom.
One of the strengths of this book is the way the author takes readers from the deliberations of government and military authorities to the ground-level experiences of common soldiers. Janney’s research is meticulous and the narrative is rich in detail, providing a comprehensive understanding of the events that occurred after Appomattox. The author’s ability to provide a nuanced perspective on the Lost Cause, lays the groundwork for the understanding of the defiant resilience of rebellion in the years that followed. This book is a must-read for Civil War enthusiasts and anyone interested in understanding the aftermath of the American Civil War.
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight is an extraordinary biography of the most important African-American of the 19th century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in History and was named one of the best books of 2018 by multiple publications.
As a young man, Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery. By the Civil War, Douglass had become the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation.
One of the strengths of this book is the way the author has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers. Blight’s biography tells the fascinating story of Douglass’s two marriages and his complex extended family, providing a deeper understanding of the man behind the icon. The author’s writing is cinematic and deeply engaging, making this a powerful portrait of one of the most important American voices of the 19th century. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent figures in American history.
The Colours of Courage
The Colours of Courage by Margaret S. Creighton is an innovative look at the decisive battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of Gettysburg’s women, immigrant soldiers, and African Americans. These perspectives have been overlooked in the traditional narrative of the battle, making this book a fresh and unique contribution to the understanding of the American Civil War.
The author, Margaret Creighton, is an academic with a superb flair for storytelling. She draws on memoirs, letters, diaries, and newspapers to get to the hearts of her subjects. This allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of these individuals who participated in the battle of Gettysburg. The book covers a wide range of perspectives from people like Mag Palm, a free black woman living with her family outside of town on Cemetery Ridge, to Carl Schurz, a political exile who had fled Germany after the failed 1848 revolution.
The book is beautifully written, making it an easy and enjoyable read. The author’s ability to fluidly weave together the stories of these individuals, makes this a stunningly fluid work of original history. The narrative is sure to redefine the Civil War’s most essential battle and is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the American Civil War from a different perspective.
For Cause and Comrades
For Cause and Comrades by James M. McPherson delves into the question of why soldiers fought in the Civil War. McPherson, a preeminent Civil War historian, argues that contrary to popular belief, soldiers remained convinced of the ideals for which they fought throughout the conflict. They fought for duty and honor, and often for religious faith and the principles of liberty, freedom, justice, and patriotism. They also fought to defend their country and their honor and manhood.
McPherson draws on over 25,000 letters and nearly 250 private diaries from soldiers on both sides to provide a unique perspective on the motivations of the soldiers. These letters and diaries, written by some of the most literate soldiers in history, offer a candid and detailed account of the soldiers’ experiences, including their thoughts on marches, battles, political debates, and morale.
What sets For Cause and Comrades apart is the use of primary sources and the focus on the soldiers’ own words. This approach allows the soldiers to tell their own stories and provides a moving and truer account of the Civil War than most other books on the subject. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the motivations of Civil War soldiers.
The American War
The American War, written by renowned historians Gary W. Gallagher and Joan Waugh, is a masterful examination of the Civil War, its aftermath, and its enduring memory. This comprehensive one-volume assessment delves into the causes, events, personalities, and social and economic processes that led to the war, enabled the Union to prevail, and forever transformed the United States.
The book provides a fresh perspective on the Civil War by investigating it through the eyes of civilians, celebrated leaders, and citizen soldiers. This approach gives readers a deeper understanding of the dramatic events and personalities that shaped the war, as well as the social and economic processes that led to its outbreak.
One of the best aspects of The American War is its ability to shed light on why the Civil War remains a crucial period of American history, more than 150 years after the end of hostilities. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the Civil War era and its impact on the United States. Prize-winning historian William C. Davis calls it, “easily the best one-volume assessment of the Civil War to date.”
Ulysses S. Grant’s life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and an inept businessman, or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War. But these stereotypes don’t come close to capturing him, as Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow shows in his masterful biography, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.
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.
One of the best things about this book is how it delves into Grant’s military strategies and his relationship with Lincoln, shedding new light on how he was able to lead the Union army to victory. Chernow also provides a nuanced look at Grant’s presidency and his efforts to ensure freedom and justice for black Americans, as well as his struggle with alcoholism. With its deep research and literary brilliance, Grant is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding this complex and underappreciated figure in American history.
A People’s History of the Civil War
A People’s History of the Civil War, written by historian David Williams, is a sweeping history of a nation at war with itself, told from the perspective of the people who lived it. This bottom-up approach to history is considered by many to be one of the best books about the American Civil War.
The book is widely praised for its meticulous research and persuasive argument, with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describing it as “meticulously researched and persuasively argued”. It has been compared to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, as it similarly presents a new and powerful story about a crucial period in American history.
A People’s History of the Civil War is the first account of the Civil War that focuses on the perspectives of ordinary people, such as foot soldiers, slaves, women, prisoners of war, draft resisters, Native Americans, and others. It is richly illustrated with little-known anecdotes and first-hand testimony, making it a “readable social history” that “sheds fascinating light” on this defining period of American history.
The Fall of the House of Dixie
In The Fall of the House of Dixie, historian Bruce Levine tells the riveting story of how the Civil War upended the economic, political, and social life of the old South. He describes how the Confederacy and the society it represented and defended were utterly destroyed by the war, which ultimately had an impact on the country as strong and lasting as that of the American Revolution.
The book provides an in-depth analysis of the society of the South in 1860, where a small minority had amassed great political power and enormous fortunes through a system of forced labor. The book also explains how by the end of 1865, these structures of wealth and power had been shattered, as millions of black people gained their freedom, many poorer whites ceased following their wealthy neighbors, and plantation owners were brought to their knees, losing not only their slaves but their political power, their worldview, and their way of life.
The author, Levine, captures the many-sided human drama of this story using a huge trove of diaries, letters, newspaper articles, government documents, and more. In The Fall of the House of Dixie, the true stakes of the Civil War become clearer than ever before, as slaves battle for their freedom in the face of brutal reprisals; Abraham Lincoln and his party turn what began as a limited war for the Union into a crusade against slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; poor southern whites grow increasingly disillusioned with fighting what they have come to see as the plantation owners’ war; and the slave owners grow ever more desperate as their beloved social order is destroyed, not just by the Union Army, but also from within.
This book is considered as one of the best books on the American Civil War, it is brilliantly argued and engrossing, The Fall of the House of Dixie is a sweeping account of the destruction of the old South during the Civil War, offering a fresh perspective on the most colossal struggle in our history and the new world it brought into being.
The Civil War: A Narrative
The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote is a classic narrative of the American Civil War. The first volume of the three-volume set opens with Jefferson Davis’s farewell to the United Senate and ends on the bloody battlefields of Antietam and Perryville, as the full, horrible scope of America’s great war becomes clear. Exhaustively researched and masterfully written, Foote’s epic account of the Civil War unfolds like a classic novel. The book includes maps throughout which provides a great visual representation of the war.
This book is considered one of the best about the American Civil War for its unique and brilliant achievement. It is praised for its color, life, character, and a new atmosphere of the Civil War, and at the same time a narrative of unflagging power. Critics have said that this book is eloquent proof that an historian should be a writer above all else. The book is so well written that it reads like a novel and provides a great insight into the Civil War.
The Civil War: A Narrative is a must-read for anyone interested in the Civil War. It is an epic account of the war that is masterfully written, exhaustively researched, and provides a great visual representation of the war through maps. The book is a unique and brilliant achievement that must be firmly placed in the ranks of the masters. It is a stunning book that is full of color, life, character, and a new atmosphere of the Civil War, and at the same time, a narrative of unflagging power.
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson is a detailed one-volume history of the American Civil War. The book is filled with fresh interpretations and information, puncturing old myths and challenging new ones, making it an essential read for anyone interested in the Civil War. 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.
The book provides a masterful chronicle of the war itself, covering the battles, the strategic maneuvering on both sides, the politics, and the personalities. McPherson also offers new perspectives on key issues such 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 book’s title refers to the sentiments that informed both the Northern and Southern views of the conflict: the South seceded in the name of that freedom of self-determination and self-government for which their fathers had fought in 1776, while the North stood fast in defense of the Union founded by those fathers as the bulwark of American liberty.
One of the reasons that Battle Cry of Freedom is considered one of the best books about the Civil War is because of its ability to make sense of the vast and confusing “second American Revolution” that was the Civil War. McPherson’s book is a transformative and authoritative volume that expanded our heritage of liberty and transformed a nation. The book is well-researched and provides an in-depth understanding of the war, making it an essential read for anyone interested in American history.
Why the American Civil War Started
The American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, began in 1861 and lasted until 1865. It was a result of a long-standing disagreement between the Northern and Southern states over issues such as state sovereignty, the expansion of slavery, and economic and cultural differences.
One of the main causes of the Civil War was the disagreement over the issue of slavery. The Northern states had largely abolished slavery, while the Southern states relied heavily on it as a source of labor for their large cotton and tobacco plantations. The Southern states believed that they had the right to continue to practice slavery and that the federal government should not be able to interfere with it.
Another major cause of the Civil War was the question of state sovereignty. The Southern states believed that each state should have the right to make its own laws and govern itself, while the Northern states believed that the federal government should have more power to regulate the actions of the states. This disagreement was particularly pronounced over the issue of slavery, as the Southern states believed that they should be able to continue to practice it, while the Northern states believed that it should be abolished.
Economic and cultural differences between the Northern and Southern states were also a major cause of the Civil War. The Northern states had a more industrialized economy and a more urban population, while the Southern states relied heavily on agriculture and had a more rural population. These differences led to different views on issues such as tariffs and the role of government in the economy, which further exacerbated tensions between the two regions.
The Civil War was a complex and multifaceted conflict, with several underlying causes that led to its outbreak. The main causes were the disagreement over the issue of slavery, the question of state sovereignty, and the economic and cultural differences between the Northern and Southern states.
Who Won the American Civil War?
The Union, also known as the North, won the American Civil War. The Union was led by President Abraham Lincoln and his administration, the Union army was larger and better-equipped, and it had the support of the federal government and the industrial resources of the North.
The Confederacy, also known as the South, was led by President Jefferson Davis and its army. They fought for the preservation of slavery, the protection of states’ rights, and the autonomy of the Southern states. The Confederacy had some early military successes but was ultimately unable to match the resources and manpower of the Union.
The war ended with the surrender of the Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. This effectively ended the war and marked the end of the Confederacy as a sovereign nation. The Union victory in the Civil War effectively abolished slavery and reunited the country under the authority of the federal government. The 13th amendment of the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, was passed and ratified during and after the Civil War and it was enforced in the entire United States.
When did the American Civil War take place?
The American Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865. The war began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The attack was in response to the election of President Abraham Lincoln and the perceived threat by the Southern states of his anti-slavery policies. The war officially ended on April 9, 1865, with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.