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Good Books

Seeing how little activity there has been here recently, and presuming that it is attributable to the fact that grading time has also descended on the other Civil Warriors, I thought I would kick in with a “fun” activity: a list of ten really good Civil War books. This list assumes that one has already read a general history of the war, such as McPherson’s Ordeal By Fire, does not include secondary works older than 30 years, and does not include multivolume works. Anyway, at the risk of offending friends and colleagues—to preempt charges of nepotism I am leaving off works by other “Civil Warriors”—here is my list, in no particular order:

  • Ethan S. Rafuse, McClellan’s War
  • Ethan S. Rafuse, George Gordon Meade and the War in the East
  • Ethan . . .

OK, seriously:

  • Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones, How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press., 1982)
  • Phillip S. Paludan, “A People’s Contest”: The Union and the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).
  • Albert Castel, Winning and Losing in the Civil War: Essays and Stories (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996)
  • Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Charles L. Webster, 1885)
  • Joseph L. Harsh’s Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1999)
  • Gary W. Gallagher, ed. Lee the Soldier (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995)
  • David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995)
  • Earl J. Hess, Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005)
  • Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (New York: Free Press, 1987)
  • Mark Neely, The Union Divided: Party Conflict in the Civil War North (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002)

I know I am going to be smacking my head within ten seconds after posting this and saying to myself, “How could I forget . . . ?”

Anyway, what do you think? Did I pick the wrong week to stop sniffing glue?

Comments (14) to “Good Books”

  1. Hi Ethan, — Here is my list:

    Mark Neely, The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
    Larry Daniel, Days of Glory: The Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004).
    Mark Dunkelman, Brothers One And All: Esprit de Corps in a Civil War Regiment (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004).
    George Rable, Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).
    Emory Thomas, The Confederate Nation: 1861-1865 (New York: Harper and Row, 1979).
    Drew G. Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
    Philip S. Paludan, A People’s Contest: The Union and Civil War, 1861-1865, (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).
    David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
    Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Charles L. Webster, 1885).
    Gary W. Gallagher, ed. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989).

  2. Ethan,
    A very good list. I would add John Hennessy’s Petersburg Campaign study, Edward Ayers’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies, Kent M. Brown’s Lee’s Retreat from Gettysburg, and my single favorite Civil War book, Lee’s Miserables by J. Tracy Power. A tour de force.

  3. Oh, and my close second favorite, Carol Reardon’s Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory.

  4. Kevin:

    Nice list. It really brings across how heavily, perhaps overly so, oriented my list is toward military topics. Of the works on your list it was real hard keeping Rable or Alexander off the list. I also had a hard time deciding between Gallagher’s edited volume on Lee and Thomas’s biography. But how could you not have a Lincoln bio on there?

  5. Charles:

    I presume you mean Hennessy’s SECOND MANASSAS study, which I had an extremely hard time leaving off this list, as it is one of, if not THE outstanding modern campaign studies. His tactical study of First Manassas is terrific as well. Hopefully, the book Longacre is now writing for Oklahoma will be the Hennessy/Castel/Shea & Hess/Noe-esque study that First Manassas has long needed. I think that will be unlikely, though, if he strays too far from Hennessy’s narrative and interpretations of the battle.

    And while you name five books you would add to the list, what, pray tell, would you remove to make room for them? Hattaway and Jones? Paludan? Grant? Castel? Harsh?

  6. That surprises me that Ed Longacre would be the one to attempt that type of FBR study. Interesting.

  7. Ethan, — Good point, but I was thinking that Neely and Paludan provide coverage of Lincoln. If I had to recommend a biography it would be David Donald’s, but my favorite Lincoln book by far is Douglas Wilson’s _Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln_.

  8. Petersburg….Freudian slip I guess. Yes, Second Manassas- a model campaign study. I think I would put it in place of Castel, actually. Reardon in place of Hess (any good modern list should include a work on memory), and Power as an eleventh book. It’s our list right? Can’t we change the rules?

  9. Drew:

    I think Greg Urwin recruited him to write it. Hopefully, Longacre will devote the years of thought such a project requires and doesn’t just crank it out. His productivity is amazing, but I think the quality of his work and its value would benefit from his slowing down and taking more time with his projects. We don’t need another work that just provides a narrative of the campaign, but a study that also includes the sort of analysis I tried to provide within the limited confines of the series A Single Grand Victory was part of, and the sort that Piston and Hatcher’s provide in their book on Wilson’s Creek and Rable does in his Fredericksburg book.

  10. Kevin:

    I could go with substituting Paludan’s The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln for “A People’s Contest” to satisfy the Lincoln “requirement”–although I’ll buy your point that a good case can be made for The Fate of Liberty serving the need for a Lincoln book. Johannssen’s Lincoln, the South and Slavery is also a very interesting (and short) book, great as a supplemental text for class.

  11. Ethan,
    Thanks for commenting and for the original heads up. I totally agree about the need for a truly ‘full’ study of FBR. So many fascinating avenues of study connected with it…


  12. Ethan,

    You might find this interesting….

    Last weekend, Ed Longacre told my buddy JD Petruzzi that the FBR book is going to be his last Civil War book. He told JD that he is working on a World War II subject and that he wants to write Air Force history. That makes sense to me–Ed’s a staff historian for the U. S. Air Force.

    In any event, he told JD that he was leaving Civil War cavalry in our hands and moving on. Hopefully, this FBR book will be a noteworthy and memorable work so that he ends his Civil War history career on a high note.


  13. Is there another list for the war in the west? Or don’t you people know about that?


  14. Anyone read the regimental history “The 55th North Carolina in the Civil War: A History and Roster” I am thinking of buying it? It receieved good reviews from the NC Historial Review and CWB. It was written by Jeffrey M. Girvan