ECW’s January Bookshelf

Do you need some ideas about what books to read next from your collection? Look no further than the current list of what ECW’s members are reading this month! Let us know what books you are currently reading in the comments below.

Ed Alexander

I just started Ted Widmer’s Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington (New York: Simon & Schuster) after hearing the author interviewed on Gerry Prokopowicz’s podcast. It also seems like a pretty relevant read given the book’s focus on Abraham Lincoln’s journey from Illinois to Washington for his presidential inauguration.

Sarah Bierle

I’m reading Banners South: A Northern Community At War by Edmund J. Raus, Jr. This book looks at the lives and experiences of soldiers and civilians from Courtland, New York, and how the Civil War impacted the entire community. I’m reading it with a particular interest in the accounts of the 23rd New York Regiment during the spring 1862 occupation of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Sean Chick

I’m reading A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut by Jeffery N. Lash. Hurlbut might not seem worth a biography. He only led troops in one major battle, although Shiloh was a battle that packed a lot of drama and punch. As a politician he was mostly a backroom dealer, serving only two terms in Congress and two stints as a diplomat in South America. I would say yes because Hurlbut was a mass of contradictions and surprisingly entertaining. He was a fine orator (Lincoln considered him the best) and a brave and competent battlefield soldier. He excelled at drill. On the other hand, he was a drunk given to cruelty and violence, even getting into a drunken rage and picking a fight with a teamster who proceeded to thrash him. His death in Peru was mourned and he lay in state for one week; in America, few cared. In an age of corruption, he was considered exceptional. He gambled away his money as a youth and resorted to cheating at cards. He dodged jail on several occasions, one of which saw his subordinate arrest him for drunkenness.

I am not sure if he is worthy of a movie, but he would make a great side character in a show about the Civil War or nineteenth-century politics. Lash has some factual errors, and while not a great writer, he is fair to Hurlbut and understands the politics of the war better than 90% of most historians.

Doug Crenshaw

Probably like everyone else, I’ve been reading a lot of books while sequestered at home. The most recent is Jon Meacham’s The Truth is Marching On which is a biography of John Lewis. It covers the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, and its graphic detail is extremely moving and effective. I just started reading David McCullough’s John Adams, and the writing style is amazing.

A couple of other recent reads that are recommended are Hampton Newsome’s The Fight for the Old North State, which discusses the Civil War in North Carolina in 1864, and Jeffrey William Hunt’s Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station. Any of these four books would be an enjoyable read!

Bert Dunkerly

I am reading Michael Harris’ Germantown: A Military History of the Battle for Philadelphia, October 4, 1777, the successor to his Brandywine book.  It does a great job laying out the movements of the forces from Brandywine to Germantown. He also describes the conditions of the armies and their organizational structures, which are important in understanding how they perform in combat.  It fills a real need for this important battle.

Jon-Erik Gilot

I just started The Untold Story of Shields Green: The Life and Death of a Harpers Ferry Raider by Louis DeCaro. This book was on my Christmas wish list and I was thrilled that Santa left it under my tree. So far so good!

Meg Groeling

Currently reading Andrew F. Lang’s A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era. Just finished The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism, by Susan Berfield. And Pogo–I always read Pogo.

Chris Heisey

I am currently (near finished) reading Elizabeth Mitchell’s Lincoln’s Lie: A True Civil War Caper through Fake News, Wall Street and the White House. As a true Abraham Lincoln aficionado, I have been captivated by this book. This book is illuminating and sheds light on an episode in 1864 as the Overland Campaign is consuming the attention of the press and the public as heavy Union casualties mount in the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. It is really a sharp, vividly written book that paces the story quite nicely.

Also on my nightstand is First and Always: A New Portrait of George Washington by Peter Henriques who is a retired historian from George Mason University and arguably has been one of the foremost Washington scholars over the past couple of decades. The book is not a traditional biography but is formatted in essays. And every essay has been revealing and what I appreciate most is that Professor Henriques, while a self-admitted Washington admirer, also shares anecdotes that show Washington’s sometimes, vain, petty and intolerant stance on those founding brothers who dared criticize him. But in the end, there is no United States without Washington, and I have found this book delightful. Given Washington died on my birthday, I have always had a scholarly interest in our first president.

Lastly, Gary Gallagher’s The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis features dozens of short essays that have appeared in Civil War Times over the past decade. I have been reading one essay a day and then pondering the premise Dr. Gallagher has made in the various pieces that are divided into multiple sections such as Civil War leaders, memory, writers, primary sources and battles. I cannot remember a book making me think or examine more deeply some of my conceived notions or conclusions more than this book. And that is why I have read it at a slow pace and in small doses. I would recommend this book to any Civil War student, author, or enthusiasts.

Steward Henderson

I am reading Strike Them A Blow and The Great Battle Never Fought by Chris Mackowski. As a battlefield guide for Fredericksburg Tours, we are planning to do tours of Mine Run and the North Anna River battlefields, this year. I use these two books as guides and also for some anecdotes about the battles.

Chris Mackowski

I’m starting off with Charles B. Dew’s Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Referencing one of the primary sources he draws on in the book, Dew calls it “a document that should be required reading for anyone trying to understand the radical mindset gripping the lower South on the eve of the Civil War.” He might as well be describing his own book. This is a short volume, but it packs a walloping punch.

David Gerrold’s A Matter for Men, Book One of the “War Against the Chtorr,” is a modern science fiction classic from 1983 (I first read it when I was 14). There’s a lot of brain candy here, although Gerrold has a tendency to lapse into didactic stretches where he ruminates on the nature and ethics of war, which have surprising resonance when applied to, say, the Civil War. If you’re a sci-fi nerd who also likes the Civil War, or if you’re a Civil War buff who also likes sci-fi, you’ll find some thought-provoking ideas here, but otherwise, this isn’t a book for typical Civil War folks.

And I just started The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War by Michael Gorra
My Ph.D. is in English/Creative Writing, with a concentration on Civil War-related literature, so this book seems like it was served up just for me!

Kevin Pawlak

I’m reading Andrew Bledsoe’s and Andrew Lang’s Upon the Fields of Battle: Essays on the Military History of the Civil War. It is an excellent collection of essays that demonstrate the different ways to look at the military history of the Civil War.

Terry Rensel

I’m currently reading the History of the Eighty-Third Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers 1851-1865 by Amos Judson. One of three regiments from my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. Judson was a Captain in the 83rd and originally published this in 1865, this is the 1986 Morningside reprint. I’m digging into Gaines’ Mill, which led me to want to take a deeper dive into the Regiment. I’m finding this really readable and well written. Judson keeps this tightly focused on the 83rd and their actions.

Dan Welch

I just finished reading Tenacity, the Left End Story by Patsy Palombo. Left End was the undisputed heavyweight champion of Youngstown Rock N Roll for nearly four decades. I started listening to them when they started doing reunion gigs in the late 90s early 00s. I’ve been a big fan of theirs and have always wanted to hear more of the stories from their crazy days of performing in Youngstown during the 1970s. They hit pretty big around 1974, got a record deal from Polydor but then got hosed by the record company and never were able to score a second recording contract. They plugged along nonetheless and wrote and self-released a bunch of great, original material. I highly recommend the book, despite its editorial errors, and picking up their debut release, Spoiled Rotten.

Kris White

I haven’t really been reading, but using for reference From the Cannon’s Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams edited by Milo M. Quaife. It’s a book I turn to a great deal for the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg sections. Williams led the 1st Division of 12th Corps at both battles (technically he was temporary commander of 12th Corps at Gettysburg for a while). Williams letters are fantastic. They are very descriptive and well written. I have often considered his published letters to be on par with, and a Union equivalent, of what Edward Porter Alexander’s memoirs are for the Confederate side of the conflict. I can’t recommend the book enough for serious students of the war in the east and west.

Cecily Nelson Zander

I am currently digging into Andrew F. Lang’s new book A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era (UNC Press: 2021) and am really finding a lot to like. Typical of all the volumes in T. Michael Parrish and Gary W. Gallagher’s Littlefield Series at UNC Press, it boasts deep research and clear analysis. In our current moment, Lang’s forceful arguments about the ways the Civil War redefined conceptions of nationhood and reoriented the country’s path throughout the Reconstruction era have meaningful resonances.

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9 Responses to ECW’s January Bookshelf

  1. John Foskett says:

    i just started Dave Powell’s book on Grant at Chattanooga, with Tim Smith’s book on the Vicksburg assaults next up. I have open spots in the lineup for Doug Crenshaw’s ECW book on the Peninsula Campaign, Eric Wittenberg’s new book Sic Days of Awful Fighting, and Marvel’s forthcoming biography of Fitz John Porter.

  2. I particularly endorse the recommendation for Elizabeth Mitchell’s book, Lincoln’s Lie. I couldn’t put it down. While good, carefully sourced history, it reads like a novel.

  3. Buck Buchanan says:

    I have switched centuries and reading Ian Toll’s exceptional history of the US Navy in the Pacific In World War 2. Pacific Crucible tells the story of the war prior to Pearl Harbor and up through the Solomons. The Conquering Tide is the story of the Central Pacific Campaign of 43-44. I am currently reading Twilight Of The Gods and the story of the War from mid-44 to conclusion.

    Last year I read Jim Hornfischer’s excellent Neptune’s Inferno and Eet At Flood Tide which covers the same ground.

    As I was a Second World War Historian before pivoting to the Revolution and Civil War I can’t recommend enough these titles.

    • Lyle Smith says:

      I just finished Ian Toll’s trilogy. It’s very comprehensive and a fast read. It reads a bit like Stephen Sears’ work, but with more politics and culture covered. I had never read a single book about the Pacific War before this. I had no idea Japan was beaten so badly. Arguably they had less of a chance of winning that war than the Confederacy had in winning the Civil War.

  4. nygiant1952 says:

    As my Mom used to tell me and her students during her 40 year career as an elementary school teacher…” The boy and girl who read, are the boys and girls who succeed”.

    Like Buck, I have postponed reading any Civil War books, until the release of Kent Masterson Browns new book, Meade at Gettysburg.

    And again like Buck, I have moved to World War 2, reading Omaha Beach by Joseph Balkoski, The Devil’s Garden by Steven Zaloga and Sand and Steel by Peter Caddick-Adams.

    I can heartily recommend the books Buck is reading. Toll’s trilogy is great as are the books by Hornfischer.

    Presently I am reading A Peoples History of the Supreme Court, by Peter Irons, concentrating on the Civil War era and Reconstruction.

  5. geneofva says:

    Wandering around our local library the other day, I stumbled upon a book which I think every Civil War-interested person should read, “Gone with the Wind.” The version I found had an incisive introduction by the esteemed “Southern writer,” Pat Conroy. His thesis was that Margaret Mitchell’s book was superb literature and a fairy tale about a place which never existed except in the minds of the people who made the postwar South what it was, for good or (mainly) ill. Having now read it for the first time, I can say that Conroy (most of whose books I have read) had it right.

  6. Katy Berman says:

    Thank-you for all the good suggestions. Charles P. Roland’s “Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics” was fist published in 1964, and selected by CW Times at some point as “one of the best books ever written on the Civil War. I recommend it!

  7. Dave Bieksza says:

    The last book I read was “The Great Battle Never Fought,” with the idea of getting some historical context before playing a war game on the topic.

  8. So, my job has been kicking my butt lately, leaving me little time to do anything fun. ECW has been my biggest source of Civil War reading over the last month. However, I’ve been catching a few pages here and there from “Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers” by James Broomall, and “For Cause and Comrades : Why Men Fought in the Civil War” by James McPherson. Both excellent and intriguing. For school, I’ve been reading “Historical Research: A Guide for Writers of Dissertations, Theses, Articles and Books” by Bill McDowell and it’s been thought provoking about the whys and hows we go about studying and interpreting history.

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