Are you looking for some of the best Civil War books for your reading list? Our list of 30 includes books about soldiers that fought during the war, civilians impacted by it, and those about important events that happened throughout the war.
The authors of these books used a variety of available documentation from old letters, government reports, and diaries.
Written by: Sam R. Watkins
Published: November 1st, 2003
It's rare to find a book with such an intimate and personal account of the Civil War. Sam R. Watkins, a private in Company A, Tennessee Infantry Regiment, tells his story from the perspective of someone in the trenches with General Hood at Chickamauga; on picket duty when Yankee cavalry surrounded him them; and at Franklin where he helped carry off their wounded colonel.
He was one of seven of the original 120 soldiers to survive the war. After the war, he also includes stories about how he tried to readjust to life back home. This is not your typical dry war history book, but instead, it reads like an old friend telling you all these wonderful stories over dinner.
Written by: Mary Boykin Chesnut
Published: March 25th, 1997
Many people are familiar with the Civil War through reading about it in textbooks or watching documentaries about the battles. However, few know of the viewpoint of a Southern woman during this period. Mary Chesnut, who was married to Confederate General James Chesnut, Jr., is a great way to gain some insight into what went on behind closed doors.
She does this by writing about living in Dixie as men marched off to battle, women took care of their families and plantations, and slaves were emancipated. Her writing captures some of the significant events that occurred at that time, such as Lincoln's election, General Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savannah, and Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. This is one of the best civil war books if you want to read about it from a woman’s perspective.
Written by: James M. McPherson
Published: October 1st, 2008
Fought from 1861-1865, the American Civil War pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. The Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson is a fascinating history book that tells the story of this fight through countless letters and diaries written by people who were there. Using firsthand accounts makes it easy to see how these battles occurred and the damage they caused to the country.
It's not just about dry facts either; you can feel what it was like living during these years as an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary times due to warring political views and slavery being one of those highly charged issues.
Written by: Bruce Catton
Published: September 1st, 2002
Bruce Catton's The Story of the Union Side of the Civil War is a well-written, informative read. This book tells history from the perspective of the North and their soldiers during the Civil War. It starts with an introduction that gives readers some background information on how it was to be living in America at that time. From there, he discusses how people began to feel hatred for one another as they were being pulled apart by disagreements over slavery.
He also talks about why Lincoln was elected president and his stance on slavery before taking office. He also explores this war through the eyes of the men who were there and its horrors if you want to learn about the Union's viewpoint of the war.
Written by: Doris Kearns Goodwin
Published: June 5th, 2013
In the history of American politics, there have been many skilled and intelligent presidents. But none were more adept at using their political opponents to his advantage than Abraham Lincoln. In her book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin documents how Lincoln would recruit others who disagreed with him. This allowed him to have differing opinions and listen to all of them.
President Lincoln was particularly adept at using his rivals to figure out the best way to rule the country and stay ahead of what would be the civil war. This strategy enabled him to win a second term in office and helped pave the way for America's eventual victory in the Civil War. This is one of the best civil wars books to learn how Lincoln pulled together a varied cabinet to work together.
Written by: Shelby Foote
Published: March 1997
In the first volume of his trilogy on America's Civil War, Shelby Foote provides a comprehensive and engaging account of this pivotal event in American history. He explains how the Confederacy was formed out of growing discontent over slavery and states’ rights. Continuing to trace events through battles such as Fort Sumter and Perryville, he describes fascinating anecdotes about key figures, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Abraham Lincoln.
The narrative is richly detailed, often using information directly from the soldiers, leaders, and others involved in the war. Because of that, the reader isn't overwhelmed by too many details. This is the first of Mr. Foote’s three-part series.
Written by: Shelby Foote
Published: October 12th, 1963
The Civil War, Vol. 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian by Shelby Foote is a gripping account of the American Civil War. It follows the war from 1863-1865 and includes important battles such as Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and more. The book does an excellent job of giving ample detail about historical events while also giving insight into what it might have been like for soldiers in battle or civilians at home during this period.
This book provides a vivid perspective on one of America's most famous wars through its engaging storytelling style that makes you feel like you are right there with the characters experiencing every moment along with them. This is the second of the three-part series by Mr. Foote.
Written by: Shelby Foote
Published: November 12th, 1974
This is the third volume in Shelby Foote's epic, a three-volume history of the American Civil War. The book begins with General Sherman's bloody March to the Sea and ends with Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. In between are some of the most dramatic moments in our nation's history: Grant taking command of all Union armies; Hood fighting Sherman to a standstill before suffering thousands more casualties than his foe; Confederate President Jefferson Davis being captured by Union cavalrymen while trying to escape from Richmond after seeing it fall to Grant.
It continues with Lincoln winning reelection over McClellan on a platform that called for passage of constitutional amendments outlawing slavery and guaranteeing equal rights for blacks—and then dying before he could implement them. On their own, these books are all excellent. However, if you want to get the whole experience, you want to read all of them since they are some of the best civil wars books anywhere.
Written by: William A. Frassanito
Published: January 1st, 1975
Unlike other books on this list, the story of Gettysburg is primarily shown using photographs. In Gettysburg: A Journey in Time, William Frassanito has captured the events of the Battle of Gettysburg and created a vivid account that is sure to please any reader. The book begins with an introduction to the battle itself, which includes maps and diagrams.
This is followed by a detailed history lesson about this famous event in American history that will be sure to captivate readers no matter how much they think they know about this pivotal moment in our nation's past. Throughout this book, the use of the photographs and the historical information makes it an incredible read.
Written by: Bill O'Reilly, Martin Dugard
Published: September 27th, 2011
Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever is a non-fiction book written by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. It was published in 2011 and has since been recognized as one of the best books on Abraham Lincoln's life. This book goes through the events leading up to, during, and after President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford Theater by John Wilkes Booth on April 14th, 1865.
It also follows how Lafayette Baker, a detective in New York, uses clues and can find Booth. The author uses multiple sources, from newspaper articles to personal letters written about or to Abraham Lincoln himself. These accounts help make this story indeed come alive for readers today.
Written by: Robert Hunt Rhodes, Elisha Hunt Rhodes
Published: March 13th, 1991
Elisha Hunt Rhodes was born in 1842 and died in 1922. At 19, he enlisted not for glory or fame but to be with his friends who had already joined. His diary is a valuable piece of history that takes us through the Civil War from the perspective of an ordinary soldier. It chronicles daily events such as marching, camping, battles, and skirmishes.
However, it also gives insight into what life was like for these soldiers during this period, their relationships, and how they viewed themselves within society. The writings are lively and descriptive, which makes them an entertaining read. One of my favorite bits of information is that he was paid only $13 a month to fight in a war to save the country.
Fun Fact: This book was referenced in the PBS series “The Civil War.”
Written by: Ulysses S. Grant, Geoffrey Perrett
Published: January 1st, 1999
Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant is a fascinating read detailing the life of one of America's most prolific military leaders and presidents, Ulysses S. Grant. The book provides an intimate look into General Grant's complex character while also presenting insightful commentary on his tenure in the White House during Reconstruction following the Civil War.
This autobiography is essential reading for anyone looking to understand more about this period in American history or just interested in knowing more about one of our nation's greatest heroes who led the USA through challenging times. It is one of the best civil war books, as you can live this event directly through the eyes of President Grant.
Written by: Stephen W. Sears
Published: July 26th, 1984
On September 17th, 1862, the bloodiest day in American history occurred when General Robert E. Lee's Confederate army was decisively defeated by General George B. McClellan and his Union forces at Antietam Creek in Western Maryland. The battle took place on a foggy morning, with the confederates being able to surprise their opponents from behind a small hill that created a natural barrier against artillery fire.
It was the bloodiest of all the battles during the war, with over 23,000 soldiers killed. This event is considered one of the most critical turning points of the Civil War. Because of it, President Lincoln issued an emancipation proclamation for slaves, declaring them free with compensation for former owners.
Written by: Edwin B. Coddington
Published: June 1st, 1983
It is a well-known fact that the Civil War was a war of attrition. In this book, Edwin Coddington describes how the Union Army could win in Gettysburg because they were more willing to take risks and use unorthodox tactics.
He explains that General Robert E. Lee's command system was not as effective as it could have been in directing his army around Gettysburg. This led to mistakes in positioning troops and made them vulnerable when fighting against General George G. Meade's forces at Devil's Den on July 2nd, 1863.
Written by: Ronald C. White Jr.
Published: January 13th, 2009
A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White Jr. tells the story of one of our nation's most beloved presidents and his unlikely rise to power as a lawyer, politician, and president during some of our country's most turbulent times.
The book follows Lincoln from his birth in 1809 to his death on April 15th, 1865, with extensive detail about all aspects of this man's life: his family, friends, and colleagues; the various positions he held, including that of postmaster general; the events that shaped America during those years such as slavery, secession from Union and Civil War; as well as more personal moments such as when he met Mary Todd or when their son Willie died at age 11 after a long illness.
This is one of the most in-depth of the best civil war books focusing specifically on President Lincoln.
Written by: Jean H. Baker
Published: December 31st, 1987
Mary Todd Lincoln is one of the most enigmatic first ladies in American history. She was known for her mood swings, extravagant spending habits, and her love of fashion. This book by Jean H. Baker covers Mary's entire life from childhood to death, focusing on her time as First Lady during the Civil War. It examines how she coped with being married to Abraham Lincoln, who was away from home much of the time serving his country as president, and what it meant for her when he died at age 56 in 1865.
The author looks at how Mary dealt with money problems after losing all their savings because of unsuccessful investments made by an unscrupulous stockbroker who stole money from them; also examined accusations that she had several affairs. Some have said that the portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln in this book is quite harsh, but others disagree and believe it is spot-on correct.
Written by: Karen Abbott
Published: September 2nd, 2014
In her book, Abbott discusses four women who went undercover during the Civil War. These brave women risked their lives to spy on orders from Union and Confederate generals. Some of these women were in high society and used that to talk to the generals and send the information to the Confederacy, while another signed up to fight by pretending to be a man.
In addition, she shares how these spies could gain information from behind enemy lines and what happened when either side finally caught them. If you are interested in learning about this intriguing period in our nation's history or just want a glimpse into some of the struggles that women faced back then and how they could use their skills to help their side win the war, this is a must-read.
Written by: Thomas B. Allen
Published: October 10th, 2006
During the Civil War, slaves and free blacks risked their lives to spy for the Union. Thomas B. Allen's book provides a detailed account of these daring individuals who played an essential role in the war. These brave spies provided intelligence about Confederate troops' movements, strategy, and weaponry critical to winning key battles on behalf of the Union army. An example is Harriet Tubman, who had helped build the Underground Railroad and then decided to be a spy to help the North.
They also helped establish safe routes for military supply lines across the enemy territory by providing information about Confederate positions at various points along those routes. The contributions made by these courageous individuals were invaluable during this period. This book includes maps and images to bring these fantastic stories to life.
Written by: Edwin C. Bearss
Published: May 18th, 2010
Edwin Bearss is one of the most respected writers regarding the Civil War and has written over 40 books throughout his life. He has spent his life studying and teaching about the essential American war to date. His knowledge of all things Civil War is unmatched, which makes him an excellent source for this article on Vicksburg and Gettysburg, two battles that changed the course of our history.
Readers will be mesmerized by Edwin's passion for both these campaigns, as well as his extensive knowledge on how they were fought, why they mattered so much at the time, and what their legacies are today. Even if readers aren't familiar with Vicksburg or Gettysburg or an expert, you will still learn something new when you read this book.
Written by: Horace Porter
Published: December 12th, 1988
Horace Porter wrote this book as he worked with Ulysses S. Grant throughout their years together. This includes numerous battles, meetings with leaders such as the South's General Robert E. Lee.
During this long friendship, Porter took copious notes and was able to show Grant in a personal and up-close viewpoint that others did not have. Some of these include his most significant victories at war and some of his worst decisions such as the assault at Cold Harbor. After the war, Porter shows more about Grant's everyday life at home, how he worked with others, and what drove him to become the incredible man that he did.
Written by: Stephen W. Sears
Published: December 31st, 1996
In this book, Stephen W. Sears provides a detailed history of the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, one of the major engagements in the American Civil War. The battle is known for being Gen. Robert E Lee's most significant victory, and its influence on military tactics is still used today. As he discusses both sides' strategies and their consequences, Sears does not avoid portraying the tragedy of many soldiers who fought bravely at Chancellorsville.
This book provides an excellent read to anyone interested in learning about one of America's most famous battles or those looking to learn more about military strategy during this period.
Written by: S.C. Gwynne
Published: October 29th, 2019
In The Final Year of the American Civil War, author and historian S.C. Gwynne tells about what happened in 1864 and 1865, the final two years of the war between North and South. It was a time both of great tragedy and bold action for all involved; it was also a time when we saw how far some would go to win this war that had already killed so many Americans on both sides.
The story is full of unforgettable characters like Ulysses Grant, George Meade, William Sherman, Philip Sheridan, Jubal Early, Robert E Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and Clara Barton. This book is a non-biased look into the history and the accomplishments and failures of each character.
Written by: Chris DeRose
Published: June 17th, 2014
The Presidents' War: Six American Presidents and the Civil War by Chris DeRose is an in-depth look at six U.S. presidents who the Civil War greatly influenced whether they served during it or not. These six men are Abraham Lincoln, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford Hayes, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley; each of them had a unique relationship with America's bloodiest war that has shaped our nation to this day.
This book goes into great detail about how these men dealt with their wars both on personal levels and politically speaking through their White House terms. The Presidents’ War is filled with facts that will surprise even avid history buffs while providing new insights into some of the lesser-known personalities of these men.
Written by: Allen C. Guelzo
Published: May 14th, 2013
The author, Allen C. Guelzo, is a historian and professor of history at Gettysburg College. His book provides an in-depth look into the events that led up to the battle of Gettysburg and the aftermath. The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most pivotal battles for both Confederate and Union forces during the Civil War, with over 50,000 casualties on each side combined.
However, this book is unique because it delves into what a soldier dealt with during this battle, how they survived, and more. Unlike so many other Civil War books, this one lets us examine the reality these men faced to understand better our nation's history and what it took to win a war that spanned four years from 1861- 1865.
Written by: James L. Swanson
Published: September 28th, 2010
James Swanson's new book, The Chasing of Jefferson Davis, is a thrilling account of the capture of Jefferson Davis. From his escape from Richmond on April 2nd to his capture five days later, this book provides an exciting look into history. The chase for Jefferson Davis spanned many states and included many different characters.
This book tells their stories in great detail while also telling the story of Lincoln's assassination and funeral procession across America. This new edition has been updated with recent discoveries about the fate of Lincoln's bodyguard, who died during the attack at Ford Theater, and information regarding some artifacts that have recently been found related to Lincoln's assassination.
Written by: Richard Snow
Published: November 1st, 2016
It's been 150 years since the Confederate navy sunk a Union ship in a brutal battle off of Merrimack in New Hampshire. This is a story about that day and what it meant to our history. The Battle of Ironclads at Hampton Roads was one of the most significant naval battles in American history. The confrontation between the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia revolutionized maritime warfare forever.
It marked America's entrance into an industrial age with iron ships, powered by steam engines and guns loaded on revolving turrets instead of broadside casemate batteries. Mr. Snow uses diagrams, maps, and more to help show how this battle changed naval warfare forever.
Written by: David W. Blight
Published: February 9th, 2001
Race and Reunion explore the Civil War in America's memory by suppressing African American history, glorifying war heroes like Robert E. Lee (despite his disdain for abolition), and how it has been remembered differently across generations.
Author David W. Blight argues that the Confederacy lost the battle on the battlefield but won in public memory when they told their story - that slavery was an economic necessity that protected white women from black men - to northern audiences who would never have heard otherwise. The book traces these stories through Reconstruction, World War II, and more.
Written by: Stephen W. Sears
Published: June 24th 2003
Stephen W. Sears is a Pulitzer Prize finalist author who has written several books on the Civil War, including Gettysburg. In this book, he takes an in-depth look at the three-day battle and how it changed the course of American history forever.
He delves into the leaders and their tactics, for better or worse, during this battle. Even if you are a casual reader or a serious student of history, this book will take you deep into the hearts and minds of those who fought for what they believed was right.
Written by: Eric Foner
Published: January 19th, 2015
The underground railroad is one of the most important and least-known stories in American history. The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th century enslaved African Americans to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists, abolitionist groups, Quakers, anti-slavery activists, many of who were wealthy white people that believed slavery should be abolished.
This book tells this story in full detail using letters written by slaves who escaped on this railway system. However, even after the Civil War ended, there was still a powerful movement to keep black people from moving forward into society and having true equality. This is one of the best Civil War books that shows how, even when a group of people supposedly win a war, it may continue for decades and decades afterward.
Written by: DeAnne Blanton, Lauren M. Cook
Published: September 1st, 2002
Women played a prominent role in the Civil War, both on and off the battlefield. Most women were nurses or worked as laundresses; however, some fought alongside their husbands and brothers. However, must lesser known are the women who fought in the war. Many of them dressed up in uniforms that men wore and hid their identity through it.
In They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by DeAnne Blanton, you'll get to know these brave women that served our country during this dark time. This book is an excellent read for those interested in learning more about how women contributed to this war.