Every Civil War enthusiast has a favorite book. Heck, I can name off ten. I thought to myself, “Which book had the greatest impact on stimulating my interest in the American Civil War”?
I have fond memories of Great Battles of the Civil War, co-authored by Martin F. Graham (contributing writer), George Skoch (contributing writer), and William C. Davis (consultant) from an early age. My mother worked as a real estate agent, so I kept myself busy by browsing its pages during her open houses. The book became a constant companion.
I still have the original copy in my library all these years later. It’s missing the jacket, most of the pages are detached from the binding, the cover is nicked and scuffed, and its edges are frayed. But it’s still a serviceable copy.
Taking a close look at the book for the first time in years, I easily realized why I was so fond of it. It covers 26 significant battles in chronological order, beginning with the Battle of Bull Run and ending with Petersburg. Each well-written battle summary is accompanied by photographs of the opposing commanders and lithographs of the battles. It’s a wonderful starter book for anyone wanting to learn about the major battles of the American Civil War.
The lithographs by Kurz & Allison are the most alluring element of the book. I was drawn to their brightly colored landscapes and well-dressed soldiers waging war in heroic contests. My favorite battle scenes were the havelock-clad soldiers fighting off cavaliers with plumed hats at Bull Run; the mortal wounding of General Nathaniel Lyon at Wilson’s Creek; the African-American soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts storming Fort Wagner; and General John M. Schofield’s entrenched infantrymen confronting a gray tide at Franklin. As my study of the war matured, I came to realize that these renditions were grossly inaccurate. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed them, and they helped me to visualize the battles I was reading about.
Although my interests have drifted in all directions since I first picked up Great Battles of the Civil War over a decade ago, it set the groundwork for me wanting to read more and write about the American Civil War. As a teenager, I started to draft my first book on the Union heroes of the war. It snowballed from there.
Numerous books have contributed to my continuing interest in the war and development as a scholar, but I thank Skoch, Graham, and Davis for publishing Great Battles of the Civil War. It reeled me in at an early age and added a lifelong Civil War enthusiast to the ranks.