5 Fascinating Non-fiction Books That Shine a Light on the Civil War

Most of our knowledge of the US Civil War can be traced back to a school classroom. We look at five books that explore the nation’s tribulations in an era long past.

Book Culture Classics Memoirs & Biographies Non-Fiction On This Day Recommendations

Perhaps no other conflict in US history has defined internal division among its people so much so as the Civil War of the 1860s. The war became the ultimate culmination of decades of political controversy regarding the institute of slavery which resulted in the secession of several Southern states under the helm of Jefferson Davis following Abraham Lincoln’s electoral victory.

April 12, 2023, marks the 162nd anniversary of the beginning of America’s bloody civil war. The majority of the information we possess about this major event has been passed down through textbooks and monotonous lectures. For this reason, we’ve chosen to highlight five fantastic books for readers to crack open and delve into the nation’s history in closer detail than ever before.

1. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

Abraham Lincoln portrait, book cover.

Eric Foner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes its readers on a journey across the haphazard waters of conflict that plagued Lincoln’s presidency during the raging civil war. The Fiery Trial provides a detailed biography of the 16th president and Lincoln’s role in navigating the nation while engaging both his allies and opponents on important policies and critical issues.

Considered to be the definitive account of Lincoln’s career, Foner’s book contains over a dozen illustrated pages and maps to provide the reader with additional context and information. For those interested in seeing Lincoln in a new light as a pragmatic yet flawed leader, The Fiery Trial is a fantastic informative choice.

2. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Grant and troops, book cover.

Prior to holding office as the 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant was formerly an American military officer who led his Union troops to victory during the Civil War. As a leading figure on the forefront of the battles, Grant’s personal memoirs have served as an important collection of historical documents detailing his perspective and thoughts. Despite the collection having been a household staple in American households, the memoirs have only recently received an annotated release.

Edited by John F. Marszalek, The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant provides a more personal approach from one of the most pivotal figures alongside Lincoln during the war. Grant’s memoirs continue to impress readers with their historical and political significance, offering valuable firsthand insight into the nation’s moment of crisis.

3. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

Battlefield with slain troops, book cover.

The American Civil War continues to hold the record for the highest number of US-sustained casualties since the nation was founded. With over 520,000 accounted deaths as a result of the fighting, the magnitude of such loss weighed heavily upon the minds of survivors. Drew Faust’s This Republic of Suffering explores these consequences in greater detail by examining the social and cultural changes prompted by the aftermath and how the war affected Americans’ concepts of morality, religion, and violence in general.

Additionally, Faust highlights how the catastrophic loss fueled the nation’s reverence for fallen soldiers in order to preserve their memory, a practice that continues to be a fundamental part of America’s soul. Readers curious to learn more about the war’s fallout, its psychological impact, and the disintegration of slavery should make sure to keep Faust’s book on their radar.

4. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Confederate and Union troops in battle, cannon artillery, book cover.

James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom is considered to be the complete authoritative body of work on the civil war and its major causes in a single volume. McPherson spares no missing details in his thorough account of the military operations, political embroilment, and social movements in the two decades preceding the war as well as every major battle and momentous event during the four years of conflict between the Union and the Confederacy.

As the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, Battle Cry of Freedom is simply a required book to acquire for all book enthusiasts seeking a comprehensive reading experience as well as an opportunity to expand upon their knowledge of US history and its deadliest armed conflict.

5. The Killer Angels

Civil War Soldiers, book cover.

The last entry on this list comes in the form of a historical novel that documents the fateful Battle of Gettysburg, a three-day conflict that took the most lives of any other military operation during the war. Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels transports its audience to the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg to tell the story of two warring sides through the accounts of historical figures who were present at the battle.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece emphasizes the values and beliefs that were at stake by taking on the perspectives of both Confederate and Union troops as well as the events leading up to the three-day skirmish. For readers interested to gain a firsthand look at one of the more infamous military operations during the civil war, picking up Shaara’s work is sure to provide the answers.

If you’re curious to learn about some of the misconceptions surrounding US Presidents, be sure to also check out Bookstr’s complementary article, here.