Over 150 years have passed since the Civil War took place. This notable war was a large fight between the Union (the north) and the Confederates (the South). Even though the conflict between the North and the South does not entirely exist today, the Civil War still affects America. Many history classes still extensively cover the Civil War, what happened, and why it took place. As political conflicts arise in the States, it is important to stay well-informed on the subject of the Civil War. Anyone can brush up on their history lesson, or learn more about the Civil War by consulting a book. Not all history lessons discuss the Civil War in the same way.
What are the Best Civil War Books to read?
The North and South likely have differing perspectives on it. By researching the topic on one’s own, they can fully understand what happened, and decide what their opinion is on their own.
Best Civil War Books: Our Top 20 Picks
Here are some of the best civil war books that you can consider to expand your knowledge on the subject:
1. Battle Cry of Freedom
There are two sides to every story. Sure, sometimes the “good side” appears to be obvious, but history books have to state facts, not opinions. Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. Mcpherson doesn’t just discuss the war; it discusses the events that led to the Civil War. Mcpherson tells both sides of the story, and he starts 50 years before the Civil War. There is incredible insight in this book that provides a refreshing take on the Civil War. Both the North and the South are discussed in the contents of this book. Some of the most important valuable ideas discussed in this book are: the Dred Scott Decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the raid on Harpers ferry, and the strategies that led to battle. Valuable information about the Civil War era can be read in this book.
- Authors: James M. McPherson (Author)
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st Edition (December 11, 2003)
- Pages: 909 pages
2. Civil War Volumes
The Civil War is one of the most notorious American wars. Civil War Volumes by Shelby Foote is a three book box set that discusses the history of the civil war, and what it was. The books in this volume are: Fort Sumter to Perryville, Fredericksburg to Meridian, and Red River to Appomattox. These books are great teaching about the Civil War, and covering all bases. There is no bias in this book. They are straight to the facts. Foote explains the Civil war in a way that is easy to understand and acknowledge. This is one of the most important wars in history, so everyone should have a basic understanding of it. By reading these books, readers will become civil war experts. Everyone can gain some insight into the Civil War by reading this volume set.
- Authors: Shelby Foote (Author)
- Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books Ed Edition (November 12, 1986)
- Pages: 3 pages
3. The Civil War: A Visual History
Learning is made more fun with visuals. The Civil War: A Visual History by DK was released in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This is an easy read because of all the visuals and examples included in it, in addition to the text. DK provides many learning resources in this book, like: timelines, first person stories from soldiers and witnesses, and stories from military leaders. Every element of the Civil War is included in this book. Questions about transportation, wounded soldiers, the economy, and more are answered in this book. War is not just about the people fighting on the front line. It affects everyone. This book discusses all that came with the Civil war, the impact it had on the American people, and how it has shaped life in the States today.
- Authors: DK (Author)
- Publisher: DK (March 21, 2011)
- Pages: 360 pages
4. War that Forged a Nation
One of the wars that has most affected the United States of America is that of the Civil WAr. War that Forged a Nation by James M McPherson discusses the history of the civil war, and how its roots are still embedded in the world today. This war continues to resonant all over the world. What caused the war? What were the consequences of the war? Why does it continue to be one of the most important events in American history? These questions are addressed in this book. There are many analytical essays in this book that discuss and critique this history, and the impact it left on the world. McPherson has many books on history and the Civil War era. Because of this, this book is well-researched and comprehensible.
- Authors: James M. McPherson (Author)
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint Edition (September 1, 2017)
- Pages: 240 pages
5. The Civil War: An Illustrated History
The Civil War: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ric Burns, and Ken Burns takes history to a whole new level. The information in this book is taught through text and lots of pictures. The book serves a companion to its PBS series counterpart. There is information and illustrations paired with a number of events in this book. Some of these events are: the Battles of Shiloh, first shots at Fort Sumter, the Siege of Vicksburg, Sherman’s march to the sea, and more. There are portraits of notable war figures: President Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, and more. The Civil War is told through images in this book. This is a great read for those in middle school and high school. The book is well-organized, visually pleasing, and easy to understand.
- Authors: Geoffrey C. Ward (Author), Ric Burns (Author), Ken Burns (Author)
- Publisher: Knopf; Illustrated Edition (September 5, 1990)
- Pages: 425 pages
6. Everything You Were Taught about the Civil War Is Wrong, Ask a Southerner!
The Civil War was notably a war fought between the American North and the American South. Everything You Were Taught about the Civil War is Wrong, Ask a Southerner! By Lochlainn Seabrook is a book that explores the South’s side of the Civil War. Facts that have been spread about the Civil War are debunked in this book from the southern perspective. While this book aims to give insight to the side of the war that was “bad” and “lost,” it’s not backed by much research or credentials. It is simply opinion and theories. This book has some interesting insight and views, but it is quite biased. This is not considered a history book because it is based on opinions, not facts.
- Authors: Lochlainn Seabrook (Author)
- Publisher: Sea Raven Press; 1st Edition unabridged, 7th printing (November 9, 2010)
- Pages: 266 pages
7. The Coming Civil War
There has already been one Civil War… but what if another one is to come? The Coming Civil War by Tom Kawczynski is a book that describes that war that is to come in America. The United States is divided right now. There are two political sides that are in constant battle. Compromise seems unlikely. Kawcyznski warns of an impending war. He explains just why this could happen, and the factors that play into it. Some of the biggest topics in this book are: the players shaping this potential war, the reasons for the fight, who will be on each side, and how it will affect each individual and their family personally. This book has a lot of great perspectives on what is occuring in the United States right now, and what is likely to happen in the future if the conflict cannot be resolved.
- Authors: Tom Kawczynski (Author)
- Publisher: Independently published (August 28, 2018)
- Pages: 395 pages
8. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War (A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era)
Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War( A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era) by Charles B. Dew is a book that discusses topics about the Civil War that are still being debated by historians. The focus on this book is on the secession of the southern states from the union. In addition to discussing the succession, this book has heavily focused on the racist factors that contributed to the Civil War and its outcome. While this book is heavily researched and based on facts, it is also a lot of opinion and criticism. Dew inserts his voice occasionally to share his thoughts, and sum up large speeches and battles. That being said, this is a great book on the Civil War for high schoolers and anyone else interested in it.
- Authors: Charles B. Dew (Author)
- Publisher: University of Virginia Press; Fifteenth Anniversary Edition (January 12, 2017)
- Pages: 168 pages
9. Atlas of the Civil War: A Complete Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle
Some of the greatest pieces of history come in the form of a map. Atlas of the Civil War: A Complete Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle analyzes the Civil War by looking at the land that was used during the war. The maps listed in this atlas are home to a number of notable events from the Civil War. They trace the battles of the war, the political turmoil, and some of the most violent outbreaks of the war. There are archival maps from the time of the war, as well as new ones that map out what is at these locations today, compared to what was there during the Civil War era. This is an interesting take on a history book. It’s easy to read because it’s engaging, well-organized, and unique.
- Authors: Stephen Hyslop (Author), Neil Kagan (Editor), Harris Andrews (Introduction)
- Publisher: National Geographic; First Edition (October 20, 2009)
- Pages: 256 pages
10. Eyewitness to the Civil War: The Complete History from Secession to Reconstruction
There is more to the Civil War than battle, carnage, and the Gettysburg Address. The Civil War had many notable events. Some of the most notable events of this war are discussed in Eyewitness to the Civil War: The Complete History from Secession to Reconstruction by Steve Hyslop. This book digs deeper into the world of the Civil War. The text has narratives from eyewitness accounts that are both dramatic and intriguing. There are fun illustrations in this book, from rare photographs, detailed maps, and timelines. There are many portraits, photographs, and artifacts. There are first-person accounts of what war was like for the everyday people, as well as soldiers. This is a well-organized book that makes learning about the Civil War fun, easy, and simple to teach.
- Authors: Steve Hyslop (Author)
- Publisher: National Geographic; Illustrated Edition (November 21, 2006)
- Pages: 416 pages
11. The Civil War (American Heritage Books)
The Civil War has had a lot of impact on the history of the United States, and is the present day United States. The Civil War (American Heritage Books) by Bruce Catton discusses the Civil War and how the division between the North and the South came to be. The political activities that led up to the Civil War and the South’s secession are heavily analyzed. It also considers the diplomatic efforts that other countries contributed to the Civil War. There were many aspects to the war outside of battle that are researched and discussed in this text. Catton does a great job of covering all bases, and sharing all sides to the Civil War in an impartial way.
- Authors: Bruce Catton (Author)
- Publisher: Mariner Books; Illustrated Edition (December 14, 2004)
- Pages: 400 pages
12. Mary Chesnut’s Civil War
Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear a first-hand perspective on the Civil War? Well, with the help of Mary Chesnut, anyone can. Mary Chesnut’s Civil War by Mary Chesnut is a diary that documents Chesnut’s life in the Civil War. Chesnut did not know what the outcome of the war was going to be. Like everyone else, she was scared and worried. She struggled during the war, and was always eager to hear information. Her experience is one that is blunt and easy to follow. She was not a war hero or a soldier. She did not invent an important weapon, or make essential war decisions. Chesnut was the everyday person during the Civil War. If another war was to happen, that’s the role many would be stuck in. This is a great perspective of the Civil War from the eyes of someone who lived it, but couldn’t do anything to get out of it.
- Authors: Mary Chesnut (Author), C. Vann Woodward (Editor)
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st Edition (January 1, 1981)
- Pages: 886 pages
13. Civil War Battlefields: Walking the Trails of History
There is history everywhere one goes. Civil War Battlefields: Walking the Trails of History by David T. Gilbert explores the trails of the Civil War. There are many beautiful, history-packed places that can be visited in memory of the Civil War. Gilbert takes readers to over 30 battlefields from the Civil War. At these battlefields, Gilbert discusses key sites, monuments, and what happened at each one. Some of the battlefields included in this book are: Gettysburg, Shiloh, Anitetam, Chancellorsville, and more. By reading this book, people will learn about the Civil War through places, instead of pages. They’ll be better able to identify with the war and truly understand the horror and heartbreak of what happened by getting to know the battlefields, who fought at them, and what they fought for.
- Authors: David T. Gilbert (Author), Jeff Shaara (Foreword), Civil War Trust (Contributor)
- Publisher: Rizzoli (March 14, 2017)
- Pages: 336 pages
14. The Complete Civil War Road Trip Guide: More than 500 Sites from Gettysburg to Vicksburg
It seems that there is a road trip for everything. There are fun road trips, like traveling Route 66 or to the Grand Canyon. And then there are historical road trips. One of these historical road trips is the Civil War road trip. This road trip is actually fairly popular because The Complete Civil War Road Trip Guide: More than 500 Sites from Gettysburg to Vicksburg by Michael Weeks is on its second edition. This has almost 450 sites from the Civil War. Readers will travel all over the United States checking out the sites listed in this book. Following the route of this trip is a great way to have a vacation, while also learning history and embracing the memory of the Civil War. This is a wonderful book for historians and travel buffs alike.
- Authors: Michael Weeks (Author)
- Publisher: Countryman Press; Second Edition (March 14, 2016)
- Pages: 688 pages
15. Weird Civil War: Your Travel Guide to the Ghostly Legends and Best-Kept Secrets of the American Civil War
The Civil War can be described in many words: heroic, gruesome, terrifying, awful, and important, freeing. A word that isn’t commonly associated with the Civil War… is weird. Yet, that’s exactly how it is described in Weird Civil War: Your Travel Guide to the Ghostly Legends and Best-Kept Secrets of the American Civil War by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran. The book focuses on the stranger parts of the Civil War. It explores spooky stories from the Civil War, fun facts, absurd characters from the past, and tales that will put readers on the edge of their seats. This is a fun way to learn about the Civil War, but it’s also strange. The reports in this book are divided by state instead of battle. With the exception of a couple of states, every side of the story is told in this Civil War era book.
- Authors: Mark Sceurman (Author), Mark Moran (Author)
- Publisher: Sterling; Illustrated Edition (April 21, 2015)
- Pages: 208 pages
16. Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War
Graphic novels are interesting because they tell a story through interesting illustrations. Battles Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War by John-Fetter Vorm and Ari Kelman is a particularly special graphic novel because it is also a history book. Kelman is an award winning historian, where Fetter-Vorm is a successful graphic novelist. They joined together to create this unique history book. The history of the Civil War is told through a number of illustrations and objects. Some of these objects are: casts of soldiers, farmers, tattered flags, slaves, well-known characters from the Civil War, opera glasses, and so much more. The visualization in this book makes it easy to read. Readers will want to keep reading to both see what happens, and see more wonderful drawings. This is a wonderful book for those who love history, and for those who love art.
- Authors: Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (Author, Illustrator), Ari Kelman (Author)
- Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition (May 5, 2015)
- Pages: 224 pages
17. The American War: A History of the Civil War Era
The American War: A History of the Civil War Era by Gary W. Gallagher and Joan Waugh is a great book for students taking a class on the Civil War era, or for educators who are teaching about the Civil War era. The authors are renowned historians who discuss the Civil War based on their research and factual findings. There is not a bias in this book. Gallagher and Waugh tell it how it is. They discuss the Civil War from the perspectives of soldiers, civilians, leaders, and more. From this book, readers will learn about the major events from the war, as well as how it shaped the past, is shaping the present, and how it will shape the future. This is an insightful book that is easy to understand. It isn’t too boring, either. The content in this book is interesting and it offers a refreshing take on the Civil War era.
- Authors: Gary W. Gallagher (Author), Joan Waugh (Author)
- Publisher: Flip Learning; 1st Edition (March 14, 2016)
- Pages: 304 pages
18. The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection
It’s easy to zone on a specific group or person when learning about war. With the Civil War, those groups were the North and the South. The history books recount battles and wounded soldiers. They discuss generals, war leaders, and the President. The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection by William E. Gienapp is a collection of stories and experiences from the Civil War. This book does not focus on the “main” parts of the war. It delves into the stories that aren’t often told. There is coverage from the experiences of: women, African Americans, non-elites, and many more. This broadens the understanding of the Civil War and how it truly impacted many people, far and wide. The book is well-organized, easy to understand, and unique compared to other history books on the subject.
- Authors: William E. Gienapp (Editor)
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st Edition (February 7, 2001)
- Pages: 464 pages
19. The American Civil War
No American can go without hearing at least something about the Civil War. It was an important part of history in the United States, and it has largely affected the way the world lives today. The American Civil War by George W. Gallagher and The Great Courses recounts exactly what went down between the years 1861-1865 (the war years). This book isn’t necessarily a book persay, but rather a book made up of lectures. Some of the greatest historians have lent their lectures to this book. Those who read will learn about both sides of the war, what the war was like, and any other detail they need to know. There are analyses of strategies in this book, and in-depth research that surpasses that of other history books. This text is like attending 40 different classes on the Civil War, except they are wrapped up in a book.
- Publisher: Osprey Publishing (July 1, 2002)
20. Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians
Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians by Gary W. Gallagher, J. Matthew Gallman, and Will Gallagher is a book that shows instead of telling. The book consists of essays that are paired with beautiful photographs. The photographs tell the story with the text. The essays are written by various historians with their own great perspectives. In addition to the essays and photographs, there are also meditations for a number of places associated with the Civil War. These places are: Devil’s Den in Gettysburg, the state of William T. Sherman in Central Park, Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, and more. This text is easy to read, interesting, and visually appealing.
- Authors: Gary W. Gallagher (Editor), J. Matthew Gallman (Editor), Will Gallagher (Photographer)
- Publisher: University of North Carolina Press; Illustrated Edition (March 25, 2019)
- Pages: 216 pages
Choosing the Best Civil War Books
History is important for many reasons. Sometimes history is important to know to understand the present. Sometimes it’s important to know simply because it’s valuable. Other times it’s important to know so the same mistakes aren’t made. Whatever the case, the Civil War is a valuable historical event that everyone should know about. These books are a worthwhile read simply because every American should know why the Civil War occurred.