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.