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The American Civil War
CannonFiring (46K)

Re-enactors of Battery C, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, demonstrate the firing of a Civil War six-pounder light cannon. Battery C belongs to the Ohio Valley Civil War Association.

If you're interested in both military history and American history, it's hard to avoid being interested in the American Civil War, which grew directly from the country's history before 1860, and had repercussions which are still being felt today. I have a shelf-full of books about the Civil War, which can be roughly grouped into four categories:

Master historian Bruce Catton

The centerpiece of my Civil War collection is four books by master historian Bruce Catton. In 1953, Catton wrote This Hallowed Ground as a single-volume history of the Civil War. Ten years later he expanded it into his masterwork, The Centennial History of the Civil War.

  • THIS HALLOWED GROUND
    Author: Catton, Bruce
    Copyright:1956
    Publisher: Washington Square Press
    ISBN: 0-671-63884-X
    Catton's one-volume history of the Civil War. In some ways, it's actually better than the expanded three-volume history he wrote ten years later.
  • COMING FURY, THE
    Author: Catton, Bruce
    Copyright:1961
    Publisher: Washington Square Press
    ISBN: 0-671-82445-7
    This first volume of Catton's masterful trilogy describes the situation that led to the outbreak of the war, which everyone expected to be settled quickly. Everyone was wrong.
  • TERRIBLE SWIFT SWORD
    Author: Catton, Bruce
    Copyright:1963
    Publisher: Washington Square Press
    ISBN: 0-671-41131-4
    Volume 2 of Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War. Describes the first two years of the war, 1861 and 1862.
  • NEVER CALL RETREAT
    Author: Catton, Bruce
    Copyright:1965
    Publisher: Pocket
    ISBN: 0-671-80651-3
    Volume 3 of Bruce Catton's superb general history of the Civil War. Covers from the Battle of fredericksburg to the end of the war and Lincoln's assassination.

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Other general books about the Civil War

While Catton's books are (I think) the best about the Civil War, they certainly aren't the only good books about the war as a whole. Many other historians have tried their hand at writing about the war, and some of them are well worth reading.

  • AMERICAN HERITAGE PICTURE HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR
    Author: Catton, Bruce (text)
    Copyright:1960
    Publisher: American Heritage Press
    ISBN: 0-517-38556-2
    A single-volume visual history of the war that contains relatively little text, but a great many paintings, diagrams, and early photographs.
  • BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM
    Author: McPherson, James M.
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-35942-9
    James McPherson's single-volume history of the Civil War. Very good and very complete, much thicker than THIS HALLOWED GROUND. But I think McPherson isn't quite as good a writer as Catton was, so THIS HALLOWED GROUND is slightly the better of the two.
  • DECISIVE BATTLES OF THE CIVIL WAR
    Author: Mitchell, Joseph B., Lt. Col.
    Copyright:1955
    Publisher: Fawcett
    ISBN: 0-449-30031-5
    A relatively short book that provides a good step-by-step survey of the progress of the war in both the Eastern and Western theaters.

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The Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg is probably the single most written-about battle of the entire Civil War. It may even be the most written-about battle that ever took place on American soil. And for good reason: into its three days were packed everything that makes a battle worth studying. If you're interested at all in any aspect of warfare, you can find something to interest you in accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg.

  • BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG
    Author: Large, George R.
    Copyright:1999
    Publisher: Burd Street Press
    ISBN: 1-57249-171-X
    The National Park Service's official guide to Gettysburg Battlefield National Park.
  • GETTYSBURG
    Author: Haskell and Oates
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: Bantam Books
    ISBN: 0-553-29832-1
    Lt. Frank Haskell was aide-de-camp to Union General John Gibbon, Commander, 2nd Division of II Corps, which defended Cemetery Ridge and held the center of the ridge against Pickett's Charge. Colonel William Oates was the commanding officer of the 15th Alabama Regiment, one of those that attacked Little Round Top and met the 20th Maine there. This book contains both men's eyewitness accounts of the battle.
  • GETTYSBURG NOBODY KNOWS, THE
    Author: Boritt, Gabor (editor)
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-19-510223-1
    An account of a side of the battle you don't often hear much about: the aftermath. The three days of fighting at Gettysburg produced an appalling list of casualties: more than five thousand dead and at least twice that many wounded and missing. Civil War combat medicine was extremely primitive by today's standards, and hundreds of men died of wounds or exposure in the days following the battle.
  • GETTYSBURG: CULP'S HILL & CEMETERY HILL
    Author: Pfanz, Harry W.
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: Univ. of N.C. Press
    ISBN: 0-8078-2118-7
    The second day of the Battle of Gettysburg included fighting all along the Union line, from Little Round Top at one end to Culp's Hill at the other. A lot has been written about the battles on the Union left, along the Emmitsburg Road and on the slopes of Little Round Top. This book describes and discusses the fighting on the other end of the line: the Union right, Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill, which for some reason doesn't often get as much attention as it deserves. This book is part of a series of three that Pfanz wrote about Gettysburg, but I don't have the other two.
  • GETTYSBURG: STORIES OF MEN AND MONUMENTS
    Author: Hawthorne, Frederick
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: ALBG
    ISBN: 0-9657444-0-X
    After the battle, Gettysburg battlefield was soon named a memorial park. In the century and a half since then, the battlefield has been carpeted with numerous monuments to specific people, combat units, and events from the battle. This book is a guide to those monuments.
  • GREAT INVASION, THE
    Author: Hoke, Jacob
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: Stan Clark Military Books
    ISBN: 1-879664-12-7
    In June 1863, General Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia north into Pennsylvania in an attempt to force a decisive battle on Union soil. He believed that a major Union defeat on home territory would force the Union government to the negotiation table. This "Great Invasion" culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg, which was indeed a decisive victory ... for the Union.
  • HIGH TIDE AT GETTYSBURG
    Author: Tucker, Glenn
    Copyright:1958
    Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill
    ISBN: 0-914427-82-2
    A very detailed account of the entire Battle of Gettysburg, from the campaign that led to it through all three days of battle. Focuses on the leadership (or lack of it) shown by commanders on both sides.
  • HISTORY OF THE IRISH BRIGADE
    Author: Seagrave, Pia Seija (ed.)
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: Sgt Kirkland's Museum
    ISBN: 1-887901-03-5
    The "Irish Brigade" was a set of regiments recruited mainly from first- and second-generation Irish immigrants living in New York State. The Brigade was part of the Army of the Potomac and fought in most of the major battles of the eastern campaign, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The Irish Brigade regiments were viewed as elite troops and were frequently used to spearhead attacks. As a result, the brigade repeatedly took massive casualties and had to be completely rebuilt more than once. This is a collection of essays on the Irish Brigade and the battles it fought in.
  • STAND FIRM YE BOYS FROM MAINE
    Author: Desjardin, Thomas A.
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-19-514082-6
    On July 2nd, 1863, the Twentieth Maine Regiment formed the anchor of the Union army's left flank, on the back slopes of Little Round Top. Its desperate stand against two Confederate regiments with more than twice as many soldiers was the stuff of legend, as well as being one of the most critical fights on a day filled with them. This book is a battle history of the Twentieth Maine, focusing on its battle at Little Round Top.
  • THEY MET AT GETTYSBURG
    Author: Stackpole, Gen. Edward A.
    Copyright:1956
    Publisher: Stackpole Books
    ISBN: 0-8117-2089-6
    The classic account of the Battle of Gettysburg. Other accounts have been written that cover one or another aspect of the battle in greater detail, but Stackpole's book seems to be generally accepted as the best over-all account of the battle from a military analyst's point of view.

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Other Civil War battles and campaigns

Gettysburg may be the most-written-about battle of the Civil War, but it's far from being the only major battle. It may not even be the most important single battle. The entire war is full of stories every bit as riveting as the Gettysburg campaign. These books discuss other significant battles of the war.

  • CHICKAMAUGA AND CHATTANOOGA: The Battles that Doomed the Confederacy
    Author: Bowers, John
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Avon Books
    ISBN: 0-380-72509-6
    A history of the twin battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, the Confederacy's last real chance for a significant victory. In fall 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland moved against a Confederate army in southern Tennessee. They met near the town of Chickamauga, and Confederate battle skill combined with Union mistakes let the Confederate army score a major victory. The Union army retreated into Chattanooga, where it was besieged and cut off from supplies. Union reinforcements under General Grant then broke the siege and drove off the Confederates in a series of fights that culminated in the storming of Missionary Ridge, one of only two occasions in the entire war where a frontal assault drove an opposing army out of an entrenched position on high ground.
  • ECHOES OF GLORY: ILLUSTRATED ATLAS OF THE CIVIL WAR
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Time-Life Books
    ISBN: 0-7370-3160-3
    This is one of three books that make up the Time-Life Books boxed set Illustrated History of the Civil War. The other two are listed in the Weapons and Tactics section, below. This one gives descriptions and maps of the major battles of the war. The descriptions are rather sketchy and general, but the maps and other illustrations are extremely good.
  • MARCH TO THE SEA AND BEYOND
    Author: Glatthaar, Joseph T.
    Copyright:1985
    Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.
    ISBN: 0-8071-2028-6
    In fall 1864, a huge Union army under the command of General William Sherman left the conquered city of Atlanta and marched from there to the coastal city of Savannah. The "March to the Sea" was like no other campaign of the Civil War. The army lived off the land and methodically destroyed everything of military value in its line of advance. In some ways it foreshadowed the massive bomber campaigns of the Second World War, in which an enemy's civilian population and his entire economy became as much a target as his army was.
  • SHERMAN'S MARCH
    Author: Davis, Burke
    Copyright:1980
    Publisher: Vintage Books
    ISBN: 0-394-75763-7
    Another look at the March to the Sea, based on firsthand accounts from the soldiers who made up Sherman's great army.
  • THUNDER ALONG THE MISSISSIPPI
    Author: Coombe, Jack D.
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Bantam Books
    ISBN: 0-553-37967-4
    From 1861 to 1863, the Union army fought a unique campaign along the length of the Mississippi River. Its ultimate goal was to cut the western Confederate states from the eastern ones. Using the new technology of powered riverboats as an "inland navy", the Union forces methodically moved south from Cairo, Illinois, taking control of the river as they went. In late 1862 a Union force attacked New Orleans at the southern end of the river, and began a second assault from the south. This book describes and discusses the series of campaigns that conquered the Mississippi and split the Confederacy in two, culminating in the conquest of Vicksburg in summer 1863.

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Weapons and Tactics of the Civil War

These books discuss general weapons and tactics of the Civil War, and some of its implications for military history. In many ways the Civil War marked a fundamental shift in the nature of warfare, from the old Napoleonic style in which the manpower of massed infantry mattered most to a newer style in which firepower was most important. Many new weapons made their first appearance in the Civil War, including the long-range rifle, explosive artillery rounds, and rapid-firing repeater firearms. These facts have made it fertile ground for military historians.

  • AMERICAN CIVIL WAR AND THE ORIGINS OF MODERN WARFARE
    Author: Hagerman, Edward
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: Indiana Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-253-20715-0
    A study of how the American Civil War transformed military tactics, from old-fashioned Napoleonic infantry maneuvers to a more 'industrialized' approach to warfare based on rapid-firing weaponry, destructive artillery, and defensive fortifications.
  • ECHOES OF GLORY: ARMS AND EQUIPMENT OF THE CONFEDERACY
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Time-Life Books
    ISBN: 0-7370-3159-X
    One of a set of three books from Time-Life Books which are collected in the boxed set Illustrated History of the Civil War. This one is a detailed examination of the weapons and equipment used by Confederate soldiers and sailors during the Civil War. It includes small arms, cannons, personal equipment kit, and uniforms.
  • ECHOES OF GLORY: ARMS AND EQUIPMENT OF THE UNION
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Time-Life Books
    ISBN: 0-7370-3158-1
    One of a set of three books from Time-Life Books which are collected in the boxed set Illustrated History of the Civil War. This one is a detailed examination of the weapons and equipment used by Union soldiers and sailors during the Civil War. Like the volume about Confederate arms and equipment, it includes small arms, cannons, personal equipment kit, and uniforms.

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