Thursday, March 8, 2012

What Civil War Book Most Influenced You?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I speak often about the many Civil War books that I have found compelling over the years. Of course, there is Bruce Catton's body of work - my introduction to Civil War history, and David Blight's Race and Reunion - the very best book I have ever read that I disagree with. I keep these books on my short list for a variety of reasons.

But if there is one book that most influenced my thinking - at least when it comes to Confederate nationalism, Confederate identity, and how the Confederate States of America finally succumbed to defeat, I would have to give the nod to Gary W. Gallagher's Confederate War.

Before I thoroughly engaged this book, I considered Confederate defeat in terms of internal divisions. Popular national support (or lack thereof - for a multitude of reasons), popular connections to the institution of slavery, and the disconnect between civilian and military leadership all seemed problematic enough to suggest that maybe...just maybe the Rebels did themselves in.

Gallagher's book did not change my mind on the spot - but it got me thinking about the Confederate cause and how the Confederate people persevered for four years despite these things. Further investigation convinced me that the Rebels had internal troubles to spare, but were profoundly committed to independence and a slave-holding republic and were willing to sacrifice nearly everything to get it. You don't need to take my word for it - just read the book...have a look at the evidence in comparison to other works discussing Confederate defeat (Robinson's Bitter Fruits of Bondage would be a good start) and decide for yourself.

And in case you were wondering about my current thoughts on Confederate defeat - I am going to have to go with George Pickett: I am pretty sure the Union army had something to do with it.




  1. Eric Foner's Reconstruction-it made aware of African American agency during and after the war and opened me up to new meanings of the post war period.

  2. 25 top books on Civil War list

  3. Earl Hess "Union Soldiers Enduring the Experience of Battle" I just reread it, I assigned it to a graduate class a realized how much it influenced me.

    James McPherson, "Battle Cry of Freedom," but I remembered that one.

  4. Shelby Foote's 3-volume trilogy was a great Christmas present and one of the first Civil War books I read on my own, i.e. not as an assignment for school, and it really added to my interest in reading about the Civil War. That was probably about 15 or so years ago when I read them.

    More recently, "Creating a Confederate Kentucky" by Anne Marshall really opened my eyes on multiple subject. It provided me a viewpoint of how studying civil war memory can be an interesting approach (and yes, I did find a recommendation for the book on Kevin Levin's blog). I had particularly dismissed any value in works of fiction, but her book showed how such work could both reflect and shape memory and image. I'm still not a huge reader of fiction, but I respect it more and have had a couple of recent experiences with it that may lead me in that direction more often. Her book also provided me a better of understanding of how (and why) Kentucky "seceded after the Civil War" and how time and people "created a Confederate (image of) Kentucky." The concept of slaveholders supporting the Union as the best way of protecting slavery also caught my attention as I had Eastern Kentucky ancestors at the time who owned slaves and, from what I can tell, likely supported the Union, so that perspective hit home pretty strongly.

  5. Though fiction, the most "influential" book for me was Killer Angels. Wonderful read, but it really opened my world to the Civil War and I've been hooked ever since and love going to the battlefields. I would have to say Battle Cry For Freedom is the best I have read, but I have so much more to read. I have yet to delve into the works of Foote and Catton. So, until I read the rest of the wonderful work on this epic period in our history, that may change.

  6. (1) Many things led up to the war, but the south's ssiesecon is the direct cause. Obviously, the war ended slavery but it also ended the concept of federalism.(2) Most of the union soldiers were fighting to preserve the union. They certainly were not fighting to free any slaves.(3) The confederate soldiers were fighting for their independence. They saw their fight as something similar to the American revolution.(4) There will always be an argument between the power of the federal government versus the power and rights of the individual states.