The best books about American battlefields

Who am I?

I remember well my first visit to Gettysburg on a high school trip. I had trouble expressing what I felt until I read the words of a battlefield guide who said that he often sensed a “brooding omnipresence.” I have often felt such presences across the historic landscape in the U.S. and elsewhere. I am now Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University, and former editor of the Journal Of American History. I have also written Preserving Memory: The Struggle To Create America’s Holocaust Museum; The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City In American Memory, and co-edited American Sacred Space; History Wars: The Enola Gay And Other Battles For The American Past; and Landscapes Of 9/11: A Photographer’s Journey.


I wrote...

Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

By Edward T. Linenthal,

Book cover of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields

What is my book about?

This book is about processes of veneration, defilement, and redefinition at Lexington and Concord, the Alamo, Gettysburg, the Little Bighorn, and Pearl Harbor. These “biographies” help us appreciate these sites as both ceremonial centers and civil spaces where Americans of various ideological persuasions come to struggle over the nature of heroism, the meaning of war, the significance of martial sacrifice, and the importance of preserving and expanding the patriotic landscape.

This second edition contains a 30-page epilogue that offers updated material—as of 1993--on each site, perhaps most significantly a detailed account of the 50th anniversary ceremonies at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek

Edward T. Linenthal Why did I love this book?

There are so many superb biographies of American sacred sites—battlefields among them—it is very hard to select just one! Historian Ari Kelman’s book comes first to mind. It immerses readers into the dramatic struggles among stakeholders: Native American communities, landowners, the National Park Service, to situate correctly the site and the history of this horrific event. Kelman’s story illustrates eloquently how the American historic landscape can successfully portray even our nation’s “indigestible” histories.

By Ari Kelman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Misplaced Massacre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the early morning of November 29, 1864, with the fate of the Union still uncertain, part of the First Colorado and nearly all of the Third Colorado volunteer regiments, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, surprised hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho people camped on the banks of Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado Territory. More than 150 Native Americans were slaughtered, the vast majority of them women, children, and the elderly, making it one of the most infamous cases of state-sponsored violence in U.S. history. A Misplaced Massacre examines the ways in which generations of Americans have struggled to come to…


Book cover of Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy

Edward T. Linenthal Why did I love this book?

Foote’s book engages the biographies of some battlefields, but I also list it because it goes beyond to include in his examination of the historic landscape sites of natural disasters, murder sites, and sites of terrorism. I find most helpful Foote’s categories: sanctification, designation, rectification, and obliteration. A marvelous, distinctive book.

By Kenneth E. Foote,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Shadowed Ground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shadowed Ground explores how and why Americans have memorialized-or not-the sites of tragic and violent events spanning three centuries of history and every region of the country. For this revised edition, Kenneth Foote has written a new concluding chapter that looks at the evolving responses to recent acts of violence and terror, including the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine High School massacre, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11.


Book cover of Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies

Edward T. Linenthal Why did I love this book?

Levinson’s book does not focus on traditional battle sites. Rather, it thoughtfully introduces readers to battles that take place over clashing expressions of public memory, particularly memorial controversies, including clashes over name changes and monument removal. I think readers will appreciate his thoughtful treatment of the vexing issues that have swirled around the appropriate location of Confederate memorials. Well before the recent push to remove such memorials from public space, Levinson offered readers various options for dealing with such volatile issues. His book is an insightful and timely guide into the battlefields of public memory.

By Sanford Levinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Written in Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is it "Stalinist" for a formerly communist country to tear down a statue of Stalin? Should the Confederate flag be allowed to fly over the South Carolina state capitol? Is it possible for America to honor General Custer and the Sioux Nation, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln? Indeed, can a liberal, multicultural society memorialize anyone at all, or is it committed to a strict neutrality about the quality of the lives led by its citizens?

In Written in Stone, legal scholar Sanford Levinson considers the tangled responses of ever-changing societies to the monuments and commemorations created by past regimes or…


Book cover of Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory

Edward T. Linenthal Why did I love this book?

Photographer Andrew Lichtenstein and historian Alex Lichtenstein offer readers compelling visual expression of the instability of public memory. The authors ask who and what gets remembered and forgotten, and where and how? What is consigned to oblivion and why? What do such choices reveal about what national stories we prize and those we find uncomfortable, even indigestible? The powerful photographs suggest how volatile historic sites can be marked by absence as well as presence.

By Andrew Lichtenstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marked, Unmarked, Remembered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Wounded Knee to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and from the Upper Big Branch mine disaster to the Trail of Tears, Marked, Unmarked, Remembered presents photographs of significant sites from US history, posing unsettling questions about the contested memory of traumatic episodes from the nation's past. Focusing especially on landscapes related to African American, Native American, and labor history, Marked, Unmarked, Remembered reveals new vistas of officially commemorated sites, sites that are neglected or obscured, and sites that serve as a gathering place for active rituals of organized memory.

These powerful photographs by award-winning photojournalist Andrew Lichtenstein are interspersed with…


Book cover of The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War

Edward T. Linenthal Why did I love this book?

Historian Mark M. Smith is one of the pioneers of the truly exciting field of sensory history. Smith’s book is a model for how the next generations of historians can expand our understanding of the power and spectacle of war through a focus on all the senses. Smith’s chapters pick a particular sense at a particular Civil War site—my favorite is “Cornelia Hancock’s Sense of Smell,” which helps us appreciate how the assaults of transgressive smells lasted far beyond the three days of combat at Gettysburg.  Each chapter is carefully crafted to illustrate how an assault of the senses threatened the stability of what registered as “civilization” for the Civil War generation. After reading several of Smith’s books, I found myself much more attentive to the sensory dimension of any historical experience. Early in my tenure as editor of the Journal Of American History, I asked Smith to be a guest editor for a special section of a JAH issue, “The Senses in American History,” that remains a favorite of mine.

By Mark M. Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Historical accounts of major events have almost always relied upon what those who were there witnessed. Nowhere is this truer than in the nerve-shattering chaos of warfare, where sight seems to confer objective truth and acts as the basis of reconstruction. In The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege, historian Mark M. Smith considers how all five senses, including sight, shaped the experience of the Civil War and thus its memory, exploring its full sensory
impact on everyone from the soldiers on the field to the civilians waiting at home.

From the eardrum-shattering barrage of shells announcing the outbreak…


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Book cover of Homes by Byrd: The Art & Architecture of Robert Byrd and His Son, Gary

Chris Lukather Author Of Homes by Byrd: The Art & Architecture of Robert Byrd and His Son, Gary

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What is this book about?

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