Question of the Week: 8/15-8/21/22

One of our guest authors asks: What are some underrated or overlooked books about the American Civil War?

He says, “I’m always surprised when I come across a title that has been out for a while, and that I find really good but somehow overlooked. Looking forward to your suggestions!”

29 Responses to Question of the Week: 8/15-8/21/22

  1. “Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy: a Civil War Odyssey” by Peter Carlson. These two war corespondents were captured near Vicksburg and sent to various POW camps and their attempts to escape.

  2. Taken at the Flood, by Joseph Harsh

    The Myth of the Lost Caused Civil War History by Gary Gallagher and Alan Nolan

    Rocks and Rifles: The influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War by Scott Hippensteel

    1. Hippensteel is very good (if pricey). I might be biased with a background in geology, but that is truly an underappreciated aspect of the war.

      1. Topography is fate.

        Even at Rev War and WW 2 sites, I look at the terrain as a deciding factor. Recall Bemis Heights in the Battle of Saratoga.

        The terrain helps one to understand the Normandy Invasion and how the US troops were supposed to get off the beach, at the various draws on Omaha Beach.

      2. That’s one of the things I like about some of the more recent Civil War scholarship – an increased emphasis on terrain and its effects. I found Hippensteel to be a “must read” because he does just that. My background is also much more focused on the western US and he does a very good job of discussing the basic geology in the areas where ACW fighting took place.

  3. Dust off the Catton trilogies — they both meet the “been out for while” criteria … the “Army of the Potomac” set published in the early 50’s and his master narrative, the “Centennial History of the Civil War” volumes released between 1961 and 1963 … while they might fall short by 21st standards — not much about African Americans or women — they have aged remarkably well given their age … and you get insights and interpretations you won’t read in later scholarship … the Centennial History is particularly good as Catton moves effortlessly between the different areas of operation — military, diplomatic, cultural, and political … and if Catton is to your liking, i highly recommend his trilogy on U.S. Grant.

  4. I am reading a new work titled: “The Howling Storm” by Kenneth Noe. The premise of the book is how weather affected individual battles and strategy of the Civil War.
    Also, I agree with nygiant about Taken at the Flood, it is a great book.

    1. Noe is an important book. He’s carving out a real niche in the area of weather and its impact on the war.

    2. I reviewed The Howling Storm & it immediately came to mind when I read the question. I have never read anything like it & I pity the fools who think they “know the war” if they haven’t read this book!

  5. One resource that I use almost daily is online: “Confederate Railroads,” which was initiated twenty years ago by David L. Bright (who continues to maintain the site, with frequent upgrades.) As we know, The American Civil War was the first true railroad war; and without a firm grasp of where the railroads of the South were constructed, and when they operated, it is difficult to understand the importance of places like Chattanooga, Atlanta, Bowling Green Kentucky, Corinth Mississippi… “Confederate Railroads” lists the railroads in operation during the Civil War by state. Each listing includes the number of rolling stock and locomotives; names and locations of stations; names of significant employees/ managers/ owners; often includes financial records and correspondence with Confederate State’s officials; and includes maps. There are maps of significant Southern cities with their railway stations and switching/ maintenance yards indicated. And there are two maps (Eastern Theatre and Western Theatre) showing the location and name of every known active railroad in the CSA (use the Key to decode the Numeric identification.)
    In addition, there is one category – Essays and Documents – that holds numerous interesting stories, such as “Why Southern cities had significant gaps between stations,” and “Who were the manufacturers of the Locomotives and rail iron?” And another category – Images – with period photographs of bridges, stations, passenger tickets, passes, baggage tickets, railroad money…

  6. I have had Andrew Ferguson’s “Land of Lincoln” on my mind lately. It’s written in the same style as “Confederates in the Attic” but with a focus on Abe Lincoln (and it does not feel at all like a Horwitz knock-off). Ferguson goes around to a number of Lincoln-related sites and explores the ways in which we’ve shaped Lincoln in national memory.

  7. An easy decision for me – The Nature of Sacrifice by Carol Bundy. Fascinating biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr. and his abolitionist family in Boston. Already wounded once and needing help to remount his horse, Colonel Russell led a Union cavalry charge at Cedar Creek and was mortally wounded. Insightful bio and nicely written by a descendant. Unfortunately overlooked but on my top ten list of favorite Civil War books.

  8. The Private Civil War: Popular Thought During the Sectional Conflict by Randall C. Jimerson

    All That Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South

    No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Freeman Biddlecom

  9. My Great-Great-Grandfather, a CSA private, William H. Boswell, was killed at the first Kelly’s Ford, Virginia, November 7, 1863. I am unable to find any “order of battle” for this. Can you help me

  10. Here are two Gettysburg-specific books that I’ve enjoyed that seem to fit the criteria:

    Morning at Willoughby Run: July 1, 1863 – Richard S. Shue (1995)

    The Battle Between the Farm Lanes: Hancock Saves the Union Center: Gettysburg July 2, 1863 – David L. Schultz and David F. Wieck (2006)

    The titles are self-explanatory. I’ve gleaned a fair bunch of information specific to these actions from both books.

    For future posts, is it unseemly to ask which books are overrated/bad/weak/wrong? I’d nominate Pickett’s Charge: A New Look at Gettysburg’s Final Attack by Phillip Thomas Tucker. Don’t get me started!

  11. A Disease of the Public Mind by Thomas Fleming. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from a historian who primarily deals with our founding. Every chapter fits the “what if” theme as he takes the reader to a point where two paths forward were available. It is a fine read.

  12. In Armageddon’s Shadow: The Civil War and Canada’s Maritime Provinces, by Greg Marquis. After reading this well-researched and -detailed book, I now understand why Maine’s political and business leaders worried so much about Confederate-related activities taking place right next door in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia!

  13. Here’s a few books I’d suggest for people:

    – Cutler’s Brigade at Gettysburg

    – Mother May You Never See the Sights I have seen: A History of the 57th Massachusetts

    – Jim Pula’s history of the XI Corps

    – Simon Bolivar Buckner: Borderland Knight

    – Anything by Bruce Catton

  14. NYGiant 1952:
    Excellent observation about Bemis Heights @Saratoga. I had read about that battle for 20 years; living in Atlanta; it took me forever to get up there. I learned immeasurably more about the battle after seeing the site(3x now!).
    Plus; Eric Schnitzer(sp?) may be the single most knowledgable NHP historian ever.

    1. Agree on Eric Schnitzer. His book with Don Troiani’s artwork and collection of artifacts is a must for anybody with an interest in Saratoga.

  15. Just finished “The Bonfire, The Siege and Burning of Atlanta.” March Wortman, Author.

    Being an Atlanta native with relatives who have lived in Atlanta for 125 years, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It covers Atlanta history from its founding, as well as the Atlanta Campaign, and post-Civil War reconstruction. Compared to the rest of Georgia, Atlanta has always had a lot of Yankee carpetbaggers. Now I know why. They were here from the very beginning!

  16. John Foskett, I try and find out something about the geology/geography of a battlefield before I tour.

    Evidently some US colleges do offer courses on military geography

    1. nygiant1952: I do the same. Geology in much of the eastern US is – to oversimplify – less “obvious” and a little more complicated to figure out than it is farther west, so I access USGS materials, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are courses.

  17. All Roads Led to Gettysburg by Troy Harman.

    Just published, I have moved this book to the top of my reading list. This book brings the “hard science”of geography into the Gettysburg Campaign, and it builds upon the book Retreat from Gettysburg by Kent Masterson Brown.

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