It’s Civil War Wednesday again!! Woo-hoo! I know that this upcoming weekend is the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but I know that everybody else will be talking about it so I don’t want to irritate you guys with having to read about it again. I will be celebrating the anniversary by watching the movie “Gettysburg”. You can do that too, if you want.
Today I thought that I would share some of my favorite books that are written about the War, the battles or perhaps even the leaders who took part in the great conflict. This is actually going to be a hard post to write because as of right now I have 325 books on the Civil War. How do I know the exact number? I actually have an Excel spreadsheet that I use to keep track of them. Please keep your laughing to a minimum. I’m an accountant so that’s my go-to method of organization. lol Okay, are you ready for some CW books?
I’ve decided to begin with the book that started my Civil War obsession. Yes, it’s a piece of fiction, but without this book I might never have started down the War path. The summer between Seventh and Eighth grades my mom suggested that I read Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind”. She had only seen the movie so she thought that the book would be good to keep me busy. I did a lot of reading so I didn’t hesitate to pick up this very thick book. It took me two weeks, but I finished it from front to back. I cried when Rhett left Scarlet because he had loved her so much and she hadn’t realize just what she had until he left. On a whole I feel that Scarlet is a giant brat, but I loved this book. After reading it, though, I realized that I didn’t really know much about this period in our nation’s history. I knew that I had always loved the giant hoop skirts that the women wore, but I figured that I should know the basics at the very least.
I am grouping this next set of books together. After reading “Gone With the Wind” I found another Civil War novel that I read and instantly was in love. It was “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara. This is the book that the movie “Gettysburg” was based on. This was the first book that I really read that was strictly based on the military. I realize that it was fiction, but I figured that it had to be based on facts at some point. This book took me through all three days of the battle and really gave me a much better picture of what had happened, as compared to my history textbooks. I also loved the prequel and sequel that Michael’s son, Jeff, wrote many years later; “Gods and Generals” and “The Last Full Measure.” I cried while reading both of these novels. Jeff Shaara is a wonderful writer and he really pulls you into the story. I have also enjoyed his other novels that he’s written about the American Revolution, the war with Mexico, and then both World Wars. If you enjoy historical fiction then you should definitely give Jeff Shaara’s books a glance.
As for an overall look at the war my favorite series would be “The Civil War: A Narrative” by Shelby Foote. This is a three volume set. Three VERY THICK volumes. This entire series was written on yellow legal pads with a fountain pen. In this age of computers my hand is cramping up just thinking about all of that writing. I love Foote’s style of writing. It’s like he’s a friend sitting there telling you about the War. He has a great writing voice and it really comes out. There is a LOT of information in the book, but there are maps sprinkled throughout to help you see the lay of the battlefield and he uses a LOT of actual quotes to help tell the story. It’s an easy read and an enjoyable one as well. I have managed to get through the first volume completely and halfway through the second.
This book by Noah Andre Trudeau is my favorite book about the battle of Gettysburg. Not only do you get the military side of things, but it also gives you a look at what the civilians were going through, too. I have actually read this book twice because I enjoyed it so much. It brings the battle to life in an easy-to-understand way. It was another quick page turner for me. Trudeau has also written a book on Gen. William T. Sherman, but I haven’t yet had a chance to read that one. I’m sure that it will be excellent if he continues to write as well as he did in this book. I know that I’m not giving you a concise review of the book, but just trust me. I wouldn’t recommend these books to you if I didn’t feel that they were praise-worthy. lol. Besides, if I told you everything that happens in them I would ruin the element of surprise for you.
If you already know me, then you know that my very favorite general of all time is Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. He makes me swoon! Jackson was looked upon as being peculiar, but that’s what endears him to me. He was a good man, a faithful man, and his word was his bond. He was also one of the driving forces behind Gen Robert E Lee’s victories during the first half of the war. James Robertson does an amazing job of bringing Jackson to life and introducing the real Thomas Jackson to the reader. When Stephen Lang was preparing for his role as Jackson in the movie “Gods and Generals” he kept two books always close as hand; the Holy Bible and this book. Maybe that’s why I LOVE the movie “Gods and Generals”. Lang does a wonderful job of bringing Jackson to life. Robertson also wrote a book on A.P. Hill, which I’ve never read, but I hear that it’s just as good.
My favorite president of all time has always been Abraham Lincoln. When I first heard about this book by Doris Kearns Goodwin I was unsure if I wanted to read it because there was some controversy surrounding Ms. Goodwin’s footnoting and research. Due to my love of Lincoln, however, I decided to give it a try. It was great! It’s my favorite book on Lincoln that I’ve ever read. The common theme with all of these books is that they don’t lecture to you, they sit you down and tell you a story. That’s what this book does. It says, “Hello, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Let me get you two some tea and cookies so that you can have a nice long visit.” If anybody thinks that Lincoln was just a bumbling ‘original gorilla’ then they did NOT know the true Lincoln. You get to see Lincoln the man, the politician, and the war weary president. You get to see his natural wit and humor come through as well. If you were looking for a good volume on the 16th president, then this is it.
After the War there were quite a few soldiers who wrote down their memories from their time in the ranks. Sam Watkins was one of those soldiers. This is a very entertaining read and I often found myself laughing at the various stories that were being told. One of my favorite lines from this book was the recollection of one of Sam’s cohorts as he marched around camp saying, “Bully for Bragg! He’s hell on retreat!” lol
This will be my final book suggestion for this post. This book teaches you a little bit about the Civil War, but it’s more about the author’s journey of Civil War discovery. After having spent so many years on the inside it was interesting to see the perspective of somebody from the “outside”. Even if you don’t have an obsession with the War it will entertain you and possibly teach you some things that you didn’t know. You might also learn about the obsession that some of us have with the War, and at the very least, respect it.
Well, I guess that’s it for now. I could probably have added a dozen more, but I can hear your snoring from here so I will quit. lol. Again, I didn’t give a very good description about each book and I apologize. These books are my own personal favorites so I realize that you might not agree with me on if they are worth reading. Who knows. Maybe one of them will cause the Civil War bug to bite you. 😉