The best military history books about the Civil War and the soldiers who fought

Who am I?

I have been reading, researching, writing, and teaching Civil War military history for nearly thirty years. I first became interested in soldiers and their experiences as a teen, and went on to earn a PhD in American History at the University of Georgia. I’ve always been fascinated by the anti-hero, and the ways in which everyday people coped (or failed to cope) with this violent conflict. I am currently writing a book about regiments accused of cowardice and how those searing allegations cast a shadow over their military record. From 2010-2015, I served as editor of the scholarly journal Civil War History, and I was recently elected President of the Society for Civil War Historians (2022-2024).


I wrote...

A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

By Lesley J. Gordon,

Book cover of A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

What is my book about?

A Broken Regiment recounts the tragic history of one of the Civil War's most ill-fated Union military units. Organized in the late summer of 1862, the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was unprepared for battle a month later, when it entered the fight at Antietam. The results were catastrophic: nearly a quarter of the men were killed or wounded, and Connecticut's 16th panicked and fled the field. In the years that followed, the regiment participated in minor skirmishes before surrendering en masse in North Carolina in 1864. 

The struggles of the 16th led survivors to reflect on the true nature of their military experience during and after the war, and questions of cowardice and courage, patriotism and purpose, were often foremost in their thoughts.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Hood's Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy's Most Celebrated Unit

Lesley J. Gordon Why did I love this book?

Ural tackles a unit history, but this time a brigade and one of the most famous ones: Hood’s Texans. She showcases not just why and how they became renowned for their fighting effectiveness, but how these men—white southerners—were unapologetic in their support of slavery and the Confederacy. It is “new military history” at its best—combining astute military analysis with social and cultural understandings of the people and the times in which they lived.

By Susannah J. Ural,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hood's Texas Brigade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most effective units to fight on either side of the Civil War, the Texas Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia served under Robert E. Lee from the Seven Days Battles in 1862 to the surrender at Appomattox in 1865. In Hood's Texas Brigade, Susannah J. Ural presents a nontraditional unit history that traces the experiences of these soldiers and their families to gauge the war's effect on them and to understand their role in the white South's struggle for independence.

According to Ural, several factors contributed to the Texas Brigade's extraordinary success: the unit's strong self-identity…


Book cover of Fredericksburg!

Lesley J. Gordon Why did I love this book?

Battle histories as a genre have generally remained traditional and narrative-based. But Rable’s award-winning book sought to break the mold—offering not just a comprehensive study of this Federal debacle, but a discussion of its greater significance. Rable notes the timing of the battle, in December 1862, correlated with intensifying debates over emancipation and the Union enlistment of black troops. As a study of command, too, Rable’s book is masterful. He examines the close relationships between Robert E. Lee and his lieutenants, and those on the Union side which were deteriorating. The Union commander, Ambrose Burnside, was adored by his men, but he proved disastrous as an army commander.

By George C. Rable,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fredericksburg! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the battle of Gettysburg, as Union troops along Cemetery Ridge rebuffed Pickett's Charge, they were heard to shout, ""Give them Fredericksburg!"" Their cries reverberated from a clash that, although fought some six months earlier, clearly loomed large in the minds of Civil War soldiers.

Fought on December 13, 1862, the battle of Fredericksburg ended in a stunning defeat for the Union. Confederate general Robert E. Lee suffered roughly 5,000 casualties but inflicted more than twice that many losses--nearly 13,000--on his opponent, General Ambrose Burnside. As news of the Union loss traveled north, it spread a wave of public despair…


Book cover of Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War

Lesley J. Gordon Why did I love this book?

This book, first published in 1987, was (and is) harshly attacked by some scholars including James McPherson who blasted the book for its overreliance on postwar, published sources. Yet Linderman’s central thesis, that war negatively affected Civil War soldiers and for some, alienated them from families and communities at home, remains valid. It is not true that all Civil War soldiers were negatively affected by war, but many were, and Linderman was one of the first to challenge the mythology of the all-heroic and stoic Civil War soldier. For a book that makes you think differently about the war and the mythologies that continue to linger about it, I’d still go back to Linderman.

By Gerald Linderman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Embattled Courage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Linderman traces each soldier's path from the exhilaration of enlistment to the disillusionment of battle to postwar alienation. He provides a rare glimpse of the personal battle that raged within soldiers then and now.


Book cover of Desertion During the Civil War

Lesley J. Gordon Why did I love this book?

Despite this book’s age—almost a century in print—it still stands as a seminal work on an important topic: desertion and its devastating effects on both armies. Lonn was born in 1879 in Indiana, and earned her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the few female historians at the time to do so. She was not immune to the racism of her day nor the cloying ideology of the Lost Cause, yet she told her readers she wanted to understand “the ugly and sordid sides of war.” Her book offers readers a wealth of information and insight to better understand the myriad of reasons why soldiers deserted.

By Dr. Ella Lonn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Desertion During the Civil War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Desertion during the Civil War, originally published in 1928, remains the only book-length treatment of its subject. Ella Lonn examines the causes and consequences of desertion from both the Northern and Southern armies. Drawing on official war records, she notes that one in seven enlisted Union soldiers and one in nine Confederate soldiers deserted.

Lonn discusses many reasons for desertion common to both armies, among them lack of such necessities as food, clothing, and equipment; weariness and discouragement; noncommitment and resentment of coercion; and worry about loved ones at home. Some Confederate deserters turned outlaw, joining ruffian bands in the…


Book cover of On the Altar of Freedom: A Black Soldier's Civil War Letters from the Front

Lesley J. Gordon Why did I love this book?

There are many published letters and diaries of Civil War soldiers, but far fewer from black men. This collection, penned by James Henry Gooding, a member of the famed 54th Massachusetts regiment, highlights the military service of a black man, born into slavery but later freed, educated, and keenly observant of the world around him. He enlisted in February 1863, recording his experiences in letters first published in the New Bedford Mercury. Here, they are assembled with insightful editing, illustrations, and an appendix featuring Gooding’s efforts to obtain equal pay for black troops. In September 1863, Gooding wrote President Lincoln, asking pointedly: “Are we Soldiers, or are We Labourers?” Gooding was later captured in battle and sent to Andersonville Prison where he died. His story and his words are invaluable windows into this tumultuous time.

By James Henry Gooding,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Altar of Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The letters featured in this book were sent by Corporal James Henry Gooding, a member of Company C., of the 54th Massachusetts regiment. They were sent to the New Bedford (Massachusetts) ""Mercury"" and published. He was described as a ""truthful and intelligent correspondent, and a good soldier"".


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Book cover of The Constant Tower

Carole McDonnell Author Of Wind Follower

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Who am I?

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What is my book about?

This is a multicultural epic fantasy with a diverse cast of characters. Sickly fifteen-year-old Prince Psal, the son of warrior-king Nahas, should have been named Crown Prince of all Wheel Clan lands. But his clan disdains the disabled.

When the mysterious self-moving towers that keep humans safe from the Creator's ancient curse rebel, Psal attempts to find the Constant Tower and break the power of the third moon. Psal must risk losing the little respect his father has for him and face the dangers of the unmaking night to find the Constant Tower and save all of humanity.

The Constant Tower

By Carole McDonnell,

What is this book about?

Sickly fifteen year old Prince Psal, the son of the nature-blessed warrior-king Nahas, should have been named Crown Prince of all Wheel Clan lands. A priest-physician like his friend Ephan, Psal lacks a warrior's heart, yet he desires to earn Nahas's respect and become a clan chief. If he cannot do this, he must escape his clan altogether. But his love for Cassia, the daughter of his father's enemy, and his own weaknesses work against him. When war comes, Psal defends Ktwala and her daughter Mahari, wronged by Nahas, and speaks out against the atrocities his clan commits, further jeopardizing…


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Interested in the American Civil War, Texas, and courage?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the American Civil War, Texas, and courage.

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