TBR: Civil War Reads

Please forgive my silence this past week, but I’ve been in some sort of posting purgatory. I finally, finally finished Gone with the Wind. The only book that took me longer to read than this one (at least from memory) was Robert Caro’s first book about Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power (which I highly recommend if history or poilitics interest you), for much the same reasons: I found myself spending more time thinking about and talking about the book than actually reading it. In fact, even though I haven’t even begun to gather my thoughts for my final post on Gone with the Wind, I’ve already started to pull together a list of books about the Civil War that I’d like to read–ahem, in my spare time.


confedinatticConfederates in the Attic, by Tony Horwitz. I’ve already put this on hold at the library. This somewhat kooky book will hopefully help relieve a bit of the drama hangover I have from Gone with the Wind.

Synopsis: “When prize-winning war correspondent Tony Horwitz leaves the battlefields of Bosnia and the Middle East for a peaceful corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he thinks he’s put war zones behind him. But awakened one morning by the crackle of musket fire, Horwitz starts filing front-line dispatches again this time from a war close to home, and to his own heart.

Propelled by his boyhood passion for the Civil War, Horwitz embarks on a search for places and people still held in thrall by America’s greatest conflict. The result is an adventure into the soul of the unvanquished South, where the ghosts of the Lost Cause are resurrected through ritual and remembrance.

In Virginia, Horwitz joins a band of ‘hardcore’ reenactors who crash-diet to achieve the hollow-eyed look of starved Confederates; in Kentucky, he witnesses Klan rallies and calls for race war sparked by the killing of a white man who brandishes a rebel flag; at Andersonville, he finds that the prison’s commander, executed as a war criminal, is now exalted as a martyr and hero; and in the book’s climax, Horwitz takes a marathon trek from Antietam to Gettysburg to Appomattox in the company of Robert Lee Hodge, an eccentric pilgrim who dubs their odyssey the ‘Civil Wargasm.’

Written with Horwitz’s signature blend of humor, history, and hard-nosed journalism, Confederates in the Attic brings alive old battlefields and new ones ‘classrooms, courts, country bars’ where the past and the present collide, often in explosive ways. Poignant and picaresque, haunting and hilarious, it speaks to anyone who has ever felt drawn to the mythic South and to the dark romance of the Civil War.”



april1865April 1865: The Month That Saved America, by Jay Winik. I saw this at the book store. I did not buy it. Aren’t you proud of me?

Synopsis: “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.

Jay Winik offers a brilliant new look at the Civil War’s final days that will forever change the way we see the war’s end and the nation’s new beginning. Uniquely set within the larger sweep of history and filled with rich profiles of outsize figures, fresh iconoclastic scholarship, and a gripping narrative, this is a masterful account of the thirty most pivotal days in the life of the United States.”





repubofsufferThis Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpin Faust. I love the personal view behind this one. The Atlanta History Museum does a good job with bringing the personal to bear on the public in this same manner, I think.

Synopsis: “More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. An equivalent proportion of today’s population would be six million. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation, describing how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief in a benevolent God. Throughout, the voices of soldiers and their families, of statesmen, generals, preachers, poets, surgeons, nurses, northerners and southerners come together to give us a vivid understanding of the Civil War’s most fundamental and widely shared reality.”





battlecryBattle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, by James M. McPherson. I picked this because as a solid history, because Shelby Foote’s trilogy seems too daunting. I hope to supplement this (someday) with that, and with Ken Burns’s documentary about the Civil War.

Synopsis: “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 including the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. From there it moves into a masterful chronicle of the war itself–the battles, the strategic maneuvering by each side, 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 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. Eventually, the North had to grapple with the underlying cause of the war, slavery, and adopt a policy of emancipation as a second war aim. This “new birth of freedom,” as Lincoln called it, constitutes the proudest legacy of America’s bloodiest conflict.

This authoritative volume makes sense of that vast and confusing “second American Revolution” we call the Civil War, a war that transformed a nation and expanded our heritage of liberty.”


colorsofcourageThe Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle, by Margaret S. Creighton. After reading Gone with the Wind, I am interested in the historical perspective this book offers in regards to these same people who populated Mitchell’s novel, and then some.

Synopsis: “In the summer of 1863, as Union and Confederate armies converged on southern Pennsylvania, the town of Gettysburg found itself thrust onto the center stage of war. The three days of fighting that ensued decisively turned the tide of the Civil War. In The Colors of Courage, Margaret Creighton narrates the tale of this crucial battle from the viewpoint of three unsung groups–women, immigrants, and African Americans–and reveals how wide the conflict’s dimensions were. A historian with a superb flair for storytelling, Creighton draws on memoirs, letters, diaries, and newspapers to bring to life the individuals at the heart of her narrative. The Colors of Courage is a stunningly fluid work of original history-one that redefines the Civil War’s most remarkable battle.”




redbadgeThe Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. No, I’ve never read it, okay? No comments. My area was 18th Century British, after all. Please. 

Synopsis: “First published in 1895, America’s greatest novel  of the Civil War was written before 21-year-old  Stephen Crane had “smelled even the powder of a  sham battle.” But this powerful psychological  study of a young soldier’s struggle with the  horrors, both within and without, that war strikes the  reader with its undeniable realism and with its  masterful descriptions of the moment-by-moment riot  of emotions felt by me under fire. Ernest  Hemingway called the novel an American classic, and  Crane’s genius is as much apparent in his sharp,  colorful prose as in his ironic portrayal of an episode  of war so intense, so immediate, so real that the  terror of battle becomes our own … in a  masterpiece so unique that many believe modern American  fiction began with Stephen Crane.”





killerangelsThe Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. A Pulitzer winner! A movie–Gettysburg! Never saw it! Doh.

Synposis: “Detailing the events around four days in late June and early July, 1863, the story follows four men as they march into the field for what will become the bloodiest three days in American history. Robert E. Lee leads the Confederate troops on an invasion of Pennsylvania, believing it is the only way the South can still force Washington to accept peace, and a Southern victory. By his side, James “Pete” Longstreet does not share Lee’s optimism, and understands that this great fight could be the South’s Waterloo. On the Northern side, Cavalry General John Buford is the man on the spot, and heroically holds Lee’s army back while the rest of the Union troops move into position on the valuable and crucial high ground of Cemetery Ridge. Leading a regiment to the far end of the line, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is told he must hold the flank, that his small command is the key to the entire Union position. Ordering his men to dig in, waiting for the inevitable assault from Longstreet’s troops, the former college professor realizes that this is his destiny, commanding soldiers on a hill known as Little Round Top.”



oldestconfedwidowOldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, by Alan Gurganus. My mother kept loaning me this book, but I never got around to reading it. This one is supposed to be quite funny, and after all that war, one needs a little laughter.

Synopsis: “Allan Gurganus’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All became an instant classic upon its publication. Critics and readers alike fell in love with the voice of ninety-nine-year-old Lucy Marsden, one of the most entertaining and loquacious heoines in American literature. Lucy married at the turn of the last century, when she was fifteen and her husband was fifty. If Colonel William Marsden was a veteran of the “War for Southern Independence,” Lucy became a “veteran of the veteran” with a unique perspective on Southern history and Southern manhood. Her story encompasses everything from the tragic death of a Confederate boy soldier to the feisty narrator’s daily battles in the Home–complete with visits from a mohawk-coiffed candy-striper. Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is proof that brilliant, emotional storytelling remains at the heart of great fiction.”

*all images from powells.com

Posted in TBR

8 thoughts on “TBR: Civil War Reads

  1. I read “Gone With the Wind” a while ago but I never really associate it with the Civil War quite as much as I associate it with the reconstruction. As for the others, I’ve tried to read “The Red Badge of Courage” but every single time I try to get into it, something about the tone puts me off. I’ve never been able to read more than twenty pages before setting it aside again.

    As for all the non-fiction books, I’ve been avoiding U.S. history (non-fiction) for a couple of years now, ever since I decided to read something like twenty books one after the other about the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. I came to the conclusion that there was only so much I could read about the same subject and decided I’d read more about other history. Still, this list is bringing back some fond memories. I might still look into some of these books… “The Colors of Courage” especially seems quite interesting.

  2. I’ve been wanting to read Killer Angels myself. I’m doing the Pulitzer Project, so I’ll get to it eventually!

  3. Great list, for sure. I love McPherson, writes like he speaks and to me that always makes reading history more interesting. I was wondering if you ever read Cold Mountain? It’s written in such gorgeous prose, I fall more in love with it every time I read it. I also enjoyed reading some diaries…Mary Chestnut’s, which I bought at The History Center, and Julia Morgan’s, who was the daughter of a judge in Baton Rouge. Both very interesting. I like to read about the mundane every-day events of life during great upheavals. It seems to make the times more real, if you know what I mean. I can’t wait to read your overview of GWTW. Wasn’t it magnificent and awful? Mom

  4. Amy, who knows what I’ll actually get to…I just thought these looked best out of all the searching I did.

    Bibliobio, there’s no way I would read these one after the other, or else I’d end up throwing myself off a bridge or something. I tried to look for some variation in the books I picked here, some different points of view. Some of these books are quite new, like April 1865 ans This Republic of Suffering (which I also thought looked quite good, with a more personal viewpoint).

    Nymeth, did you see Gettysburg? I generally avoid books and movies with a lot of battles…I even tried to pare down this list to avoid them as much as possible. I suppose to get the full picture, it isn’t possible.

    Mom, I didn’t care much for Cold Mountain. I read about half of it and just lost interest…I’m not sure why. I bet the diaries are very interesting! Maybe in 2011 or 2012…ha!

  5. Looks like a great list. I read Red Badge of Courage in school but have been meaning to reread it. And I’ve had Killer Angels on my TBR for about two years.

  6. What a great list of books on Civil War. My local bookstore is featuring Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, which seems intriguing. After Gone with the Wind, I would like to peruse more books on the subject. This might be a good place to begin.

  7. Rebecca, for the fiction I was thinking I might start with Killing Angels, but the first thing I’m picking up from the list is Confederates in the Attic.

    Matt, my mother loves that book. She swears by it and says it’s so funny. I think it could be a good summer read.

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