Favorite Childhood Civil War Books

We all have a favorite Civil War book which we read, and re-read, as a kid, which probably turned us on to the War as much as anything else.

Well, one of my favorites, checked out of the Margaret Mitchell Elementary School library here in Atlanta, was MacKinlay Kantor’s Gettysburg (1952), one of Random House’s Landmark series for young readers. I couldn’t get beyond the title of the very first chapter: “Ja, the Rebels Eat Babies!”

The line has stuck in my brain ever since then.

Catch this: a while back,  attending a lecture by Prof. John McCardell, President of the University of the South in Sewanee, penned on a card the question I wanted to ask him when the Q/A began: “Dr. McCardell: isn’t it true that yankees eat babies?”

I never got a chance to ask it. (Probably for the better.)

18 Responses to Favorite Childhood Civil War Books

  1. “Dr. McCardell: isn’t it true that yankees eat babies?” LOL. I don’t think they did, though I grew up in a region and time where folks still had their suspicions. I do know that I cannot convince either of my two yankee sons in law to eat grits.

    Your post brought back fond memories of my elementary school library where I would spend as much time as possible reading the old “Childhood of Famous Americans” series. I’ve read them all, but was always particularly attracted to the ones about my fellow Virginians. I suppose my favorite was “Robert E. Lee – Boy of Old Virginia” by Helen Albee Monsell. There were several editions, the first one being published in 1937. I read it in 5th grade when I was 11 in the 1960’s. I think mine was the 1960 edition. I believe the author is the same Helen Monsell buried, interestingly enough, in Hollywood Cemetery.


    1. Richard:

      Like your sons-in-law, I too am a Yankee. But I love grits. Have you suggested they try grits with a pat of butter and pinch of salt?

      And how about introducing them to black eyed peas, corn fritters and southern fried chicken (pan fried, not deep fried).

  2. When I was about 121 I found a dog-eared copy of The Gallant Mrs. Stonewall by Harnett Kane at a library book sale. My mother allowed me to buy it (for 10 cents I think) and I loved it and have kept it. Last year I was working on a project related to the subject (it’s not published yet so this isn’t a plug) and pulled it out. It proved not to be useful but I read it through anyway. I still love it.

    1. Oh, “The Gallant Mrs. Stonewall” is on my reading list for this summer. Have you read “Bride of Fortune” by Harnett Kane? It’s about Varina Davis and is a real treasure of a book.

      1. No, but I did read a Kane book about Mary Custis Lee. I think the name was “Lady of Arlington.” I didn’t like it quite as much and didn’t keep it, so I can’t check. On rereading the Stonewall book recently I found that Kane was remarkably accurate except about Little Sorrel, which is what I was interested in. Of course, almost everybody else is inaccurate about him too.

  3. I remember that book well. In fact, the whole Landmark series captivated me in grade school back 50’s. I liked them so much that I searched the internet and bought all the civil war volumes and now have them in my library.

  4. My first CW book was from the Illustrated Classic series on the CW. Also, my aunt had two CW record alums, “The Union” and “The Confederacy” by Columbia Records. They had dialog written by Bruce Catton, and CW songs & music. The albums had many photos. I was lucky to have inherited these, so I still have them.

  5. For me, it was when I was in third grade when I read a book from the Magic Tree House series titled “Civil War on Sunday.” It was definitely elementary, but it did help my simple interest bloom into a full blown passion.

  6. Back in grade school, I discovered Joseph A. Altsheler in our school library. He was a popular juvenile novelist in the 19-teens, writing a long series on the Civil War, Star of GB, Guns of Shiloh, etc. They followed cousins or brothers fighting on each side, who managed to always be where the big battles were! A few years ago I found 2 or 3 for $1 in a used bookstore and grabbed them. My goodness are they bad! But they lit the fire in me — and, as t turned out, my future wife also read them in grade school! But don’t bother checking them out!
    The other was Bruce Catton’s American Heritage Picture History Of the Civil War, a Christmas present when I was in high school. That one I still have and remember the aerial views of the battles!
    Oh, and the Landmark books: I had forgotten about them. Gettysburg, and Custer and Normandy as well as others.

  7. I discovered the civil war through a Christmas gift from my parents titled The American Heritage’s American Civil War. I loved those Greenpan battlefield maps! Bruce Catton’s Amry of the Potomac trilogy was also a big favorite.

  8. Me, too, Jerry. I know a lot of buffs who were mesmerized as kids by those David Greeenspan maps!

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