Civil War reading recommended by the US Army

The fine folks at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth have several bibliographies relating to military science and history, including Dr. Robert Berlin’s Historical Bibliography No. 8:Military Classics (1991), which has a section devoted to the Civil War. Here are the books they list on the war:

Beringer, Richard E., et al. Why the South Lost the Civil War. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

    This study offers serious students an interpretation of why the South lost the Civil War. The authors, all history professors, believe the Confederacy succumbed to internal rather than external causes.

Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox. New York: Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster, 1970, c1953.

    Written with vigor, clarity, and warmth, Catton’s work describes the last year of the Civil War, including the Battle of the Wilderness and the siege of Petersburg. This is the third volume in the author’s trilogy about the war. It is preceded by Mr. Lincoln’s Army and Glory Road. Catton’s Civil War volumes are simply magnificent.

_______.The Coming Fury (vol. 1), Terrible Swift Sword (vol, 2), and Never Call Retreat (vol. 3). Centennial History of the Civil War series. New York: Doubleday, 1961-65.

    Catton was America’s leading Civil War writer, and all of his books are worth reading. These volumes provide an exciting account of the Civil War from the Union perspective.

Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1984, c1968.

    For those seeking a thorough examination of the Battle of Gettysburg, this book provides a comprehensive battle analysis and evaluates command during the entire campaign leading to the battle.

Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, a Narrative. 3 vols. New York: Random House, 1958-74.

    A Mississippian, novelist, World War II field artillery captain, and master narrator of men and battles, Shelby Foote captures the flavor of the times and examines the war as a whole, including all the major campaigns. While the three volumes contain nearly 3,000 pages of text, they are beautifully written and easily read.

Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. 3 vols. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1942-44; New York: Scribner, 1986.

    Once very popular with U.S. military officers, this readable narrative is a composite biography of Confederate generals and a masterful study of command and war. Freeman takes great care to preserve some Confederate legends.

Fuller, J. F. C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982, cl933.

    Major General Fuller examines the influence of personality on generalship. He broke with the then-conventional view that Grant was a butcher and Lee one of the world’s greatest generals.

Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

    Emphasizing strategy and logistics, these two history professors have produced a thorough, comprehensive analysis of the Civil War from the viewpoint of the high-level commanders on both sides. Also included is an excellent appendix on how to study military operations.

Henderson, George Francis Robert. Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War. Abridged by E. B. Long. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1968, c1962.

    Written in 1898 by a famous British officer and military historian, this book is the classic analysis of the great Confederate general and was required reading for generations of British officers.

Luvaas, Jay, and Harold W. Nelson. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Antietam: The Maryland Campaign in 1862. Carlisle, PA: South Mountain Press, 1987.

    The authors, who teach at the U.S. Army War College, provide a valuable tool for conducting a staff ride of Antietam, covering the Battles of South Mountain, Crampton’s Gap, Harpers Ferry, and Antietam. If you have the opportunity to conduct your own staff ride at this well-preserved battlefield located near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., you should first read Landscape Turned Red by Stephen Sears, then examine the Center of Military History pamphlet, The Staff Ride (CMH Pub 70-21) by Dr. William Glenn Robertson of the Combat Studies Institute, and finally, go to the field with this guide. Luvaas and Nelson have also written a similar guide to Gettysburg.

McPherson, James. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: Knopf, 1982.

    McPherson, in the best one-volume survey of the war, examines political, military, social, and economic aspects of the Civil War.

Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. New Haven, CT: Ticknor and Fields, 1983; New York: Warner Books, 1985.

    In this recent, splendid battle analysis, Sears provides gripping reading about a battlefield you will want to visit.

Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. New York: McKay, 1974; New York: Ballantine Books, 1980.

    This historical novel of the Battle of Gettysburg is accurate, easy to read, and a much-discussed book at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (and for reasons other than it being required reading). Featured in this memorable war novel are Confederate General James Longstreet and the hero of Little Round Top, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Williams, T. Harry. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Random House, 1967, c1952.

    Williams, one, of America’s greatest professors of history, presents the controversial thesis that President Lincoln was an outstanding commander in chief whose strategic vision brought victory to the Union. The author also shows how Lincoln developed a modern command system for the United States. Students admire this book for its keen analysis bright narrative.

While this list is certainly a bit dated and several recent landmark works of scholarship are absent because of that, I do think that this list is quite good. I will explore a little further and see if an updated list has surfaced and will post it if found. I will also invite you all to consider their list of Books for the Military Professional, which has several of the works from the above list.


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