Question of the Week: October 5

What has been the most influential Civil War book that you have read, and why?

25 Responses to Question of the Week: October 5

  1. Tough question. Ultimately, I’d probably have to credit “Civil War Medicine” by C. K. Wilbur. It made me start considering the effects of war, starting my studies of CW medicine, doctors, and civilian roles during the war. Until that time, I’d been mostly interested in the battles and general history of the conflict – I still find that interesting, but now I look for the personal stories of surviving or making a difference in that challenging time.

  2. Stephen Sears’ Landscape Turned Red (1983 ed.), not because it had the greatest influence on my thinking about the Civil War, but because it captured my imagination and started me on the path of studying the conflict.

  3. Easy. Bruce Catton’s three volume Army of the Potomac series. His ability to weave the narrative had me hooked at around age 10, and ever since.

    1. That was his great gift, I think. He was an exceptional storyteller. I think his background as a journalist helped him understand how to effectively write for broad audiences.

  4. The American Heritage Civil War Volume. I was fascinated with the images and maps long before I actually read it. I’ve never stopped being interested in the war since the first time I opened it.

  5. Lee’s Lieutenants by Douglas Southall Freeman. I had a consuming interest in the Civil War as a all throughout my education from elementary school to graduate studies, but lost interest as I began a professional career. While in a holding pattern during work, I picked up a copy of the second volume of Lee’s Lieutenants in the local library and couldn’t put it down. I was rehooked, finished the other two volumes, participated in sesquicentennial reenactments and frequently do book reviews for our local history journal. I’m not going to tell you about my William Britain miniatures diorama that is taking up more and more space in my office. Just finished Gordon C. Rhea’s four wonderful volumes that I picked up at the Chancellorsville/Wilderness Visitor’s Center when I did the sesquicentennial reenactment at Spotsylvania last year keeping it alive.

  6. Catton’s _American Heritage Picture History Of the Civil War_ It captivated me in High School.

  7. Gotta be those silver bound books put out by–I think–Time-Life. William C. Davis had something to do with them, but it was the combination of word and image that caught my imagination.

  8. It’s a tie for me. Shelby Foote’s 3 volume set reads so much like a novel, but Frank O’Reilly’s The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock was a great one for me as well.

  9. “Hood’s Texas Brigade: Lee’s Grenadier Guard” by Colonel Harold B. Simpson. The definitive book about the Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee. The research and narrative of the history of “Lee’s Shock Troops” has impacted my study and research of the eastern theater of the Civil War and the importance of the soldiers of Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina within the ANV cannot be overstated. Due to Colonel Simpson’s outstanding book a renewed interest in Hood’s Texas Brigade began in 1970 when it was first published and has lasted to this day.

    1. Let me modify my above post and say it is the definitive book about Hood’s Texas Brigade that fought in the ANV.

  10. Joseph Harsh’s Taken at the Flood sets aside amateur psychologizing for a detailed analytic look at the Maryland campaign that reveals a more sensible account that has been buried for years under Lost Cause mythology. Opened my eyes that much of the conventional wisdom about the Civil War was questionable and politically motivated and that there is still much good work to be done to understand the Civil War.

  11. The most influential book for me, as a historian, was undoubtedly Gordon Rhea’s To the North Anna River, the third volume in his definitive study of the Overland Campaign. To the North Anna was the first microtactical battle study I’d ever read, which I chose because everyone else seemed to overlook that battle.

    The depth of the book’s research amazed me, but I was also indelibly impressed by Gordon’s ability to weave that wealth of information into an interesting, easy-to-follow narrative. It set the bar for me.

    I spent a lot of time “deconstructing” that book, going through the footnotes and tracking down as many of his primary sources as I could so that I could read them for myself. It was the best education I ever received on doing research, and I’ll always be in Gordon’s debt because of it. His books are magnificent.

  12. For a long time I would have said that the most influential Civil War books for me were the ones written by Harry Pfanz. I suspect that this is because they are the best tactical studies that I had read up to that point. Of course, these books still remain the books to read to get a complete understanding of Gettysburg. However, the most thought-provoking book that I’ve read on the war, and the one that caused me to reevaluate how I think about the war, was Timothy B Smith’s Champion Hill: Decisive Battle For Vicksburg. Smith was very effective in explaining the importance of the battle to the overall campaign and provided a great tactical study as well.

  13. For the longest time, I would say that Harry Pfanz’s books on Gettysburg were the most influential. They remain the definitive tactical studies of the battle. However, several years ago I read Tim Smith’s Champion Hill: The Decisive Battle for Vicksburg. I think he provided a brilliant tactical study and effectively demonstrated how that battle both fit in with the overall campaign and ultimately determined its outcome.

  14. Forgotten Valor, a collection of letters, journals and memoirs by U.S. General Orlando Wilcox was the first book I read that left me thinking that in”knew” the subject. I could feel his ambitions, his hopes and plans through that writing and it helped me realize the human nature of the war and those who fought it. They really were people like me, not just names from the past. It really struck a chord with me and opened my eyes for some reason.

    More recently, Creating acConfederat Kentucky by Anne Marshall showed me what a “memory study” could be and also taught me a lot about my home state. I look at monuments differently now

  15. My vote goes to The Killer Angels (1974) by Michael Shaara because of the personal and emotional connection I felt with the story and the characters.

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