Questions of the Week: 12/6 – 12/12

My cousin wrote to me the other day with a harder-than-expected request:

“Each year around this time, I try to put together a self study program on a given topic. For ’22, it’s the Civil War. If you were assigning a student reading list for a course on the War, what would be on your list?”

I came up with a list, although it took me a while to come up with one. I’ll share it with you in a few days. In the meantime, I’m curious: What would your list look like?

14 Responses to Questions of the Week: 12/6 – 12/12

  1. My suggestion: “Don’t read, watch… Ken Burn’s “The Civil War.” Important persons will be introduced and crucial battles will be revealed, providing opportunity and incentive for further research, via Google, YouTube, or your local public library.”

  2. My 240 book reading list for my Civil War and Reconstruction doctoral comprehensive test:) updated since with many more books

  3. I would suggest as a good primer for an overall view of the war, political as well as military, Shelby Foote’s three volume history, The Civil War: A Narrative.

  4. Gettysburg Batltefield has a study list of books to know if you want to be a qualified battlefield guide. No Bruce Catton is on the list, a Pulitzer prize winning author.

  5. A master narrative — either the old standby, McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom or Guelzo’s more recent Fateful Lightning … Battle Cry is the longer of the two with far more military history than Lightning.
    A battle narrative — pick your favorite battle & author … i like Sears and Guelzo … an oldie, but still goodie is Rable’s Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg … puts the battle in the larger cultural and political context … and Fredericksburg frequently gets overlooked.
    Grant’s memoirs … great general and an equally good writer.
    Blight’s Frederick Douglass bio … all Americans should know a lot more about this great man
    Chandra Manning’s, What This Cruel War was Over … terrific study on why soldiers, on both sides, faught the war … Manning is a modern day Bell Wiley.
    Guelzo’s Redeemer President … gotta have a book on Lincoln.
    Ayer’s In the Presence of Thine Enemies … side by side study of two counties in the Shennandoah and Cumberland Valleys during the war … one in PA, the other in VA.
    Faust’s Republic of Suffering … if i had to pick only one book, it would be this one.
    A reconstruction narrative — ether of Foner’s books — A Short History of Reconstruction (the short one) or Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution (the long one) …

  6. I have a different approach. If somebody is literally coming at this anew, I’d suggest only McPherson’s 1988 book – still probably the best book for combining military/political/etc overview in a relatively up-to-date package. I would then find out what areas they are interested in pursuing. The suggestion of using Burns’ PBS series seems solid to me – as a backup to McPherson. As we know, trying to cover this topic at the outset could generate a reading list of 100 books – at least.

  7. I’d be incline to suggest Shelby Foote’s trilogy, since that gets a decent overview of the war itself. Though, I’ve heard it’s not the best resource.
    My next suggestion would be to find the “definitive” book on the general subjects of the war. Military, civilian life, medical, political, enslaved narratives, navy, cavalry, etc. It’d give a broader, comprehensive education on the war and all its aspects, rather than just military as some books solely cover. Then, students can find what subject most interests them.

  8. The hard part is keeping it short, right?
    Shelby Foote’s novel, Shiloh
    Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
    Everything by Bruce Catton starting with The Coming Fury
    Grant’s, Sherman’s and Longstreet’s Memoirs.
    Plus a good Civil War Atlas, e.g. The West Point Atlas.

  9. While McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom is an excellent start if your cousin wanted to start with something a bit shorter but still an excellent read, then I would suggest The American War: A History of the Civil War Era by Gary Gallagher and Joan Waugh.

    It also has a section devoted to Further Reading that contains many very good books.

    If your cousin likes a good, true and entertaining civil war read, then maybe he should read Carrying the Flag by Gordon Rhea.

    If the question is, “Why did men fight?” , then the book to be read is For Cause and Comrades by James McPherson.

  10. As an introductory map, the one that came in with a National Geographic magazine in 1961. I’m not sure, but I think the NGS may have reissued it in recent years.
    As an introductory one volume history, Bruce Catton’s This Hallowed Ground. Dated, but a good and easy read for someone to get an overview of sorts.
    Further additions to the reading list? Too many to think about right now.

  11. Years ago, Time-Life Books had a great series on the American Civil War. While those books are no longer in print, some or all (there were 28 books in the series if my memory serves) are often available on sources like eBay and Amazon. My local library has some number of them on hand. But they, to me, were, and remain, a great introductory venue to read up on the War.

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