The best books on Civil War soldiers and home life experiences

Who am I?

Steve Magnusen is an officer in the Indianapolis Civil War Roundtable and holds associate membership in three other roundtables in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana. He enjoyed a nationally recognized engineering and public works administration career in north suburban Chicago after receiving his degree from Purdue University. He has led several professional and non-profit organizations and served fifteen years as an infantry and armor officer in the US Army Reserve.


I wrote...

To My Best Girl: Courage, Honor, and Love in the Civil War: The Inspiring Life Stories of Rufus Dawes and Mary Gates

By Steve Magnusen,

Book cover of To My Best Girl: Courage, Honor, and Love in the Civil War: The Inspiring Life Stories of Rufus Dawes and Mary Gates

What is my book about?

History is about the stories of real people and their actions and experiences during impactful events. To My Best Girl focuses on the true drama involving two young people caught up in the brutal American Civil War - Rufus Dawes and Mary Gates. Battlefield action, daily life in an elite combat unit, parallel drama occurring at home, and trials of family and friends - all combine in a timeline narrative spanning thirty years, but primarily involving the desperate days of the war. Many authentic original letters and diaries are quoted throughout, and are also utilized to create dialog that is realistic and accurate.

To My Best Girl has been awarded the publisher’s “Award of Literary Excellence”, and was selected as a Finalist for the Independent Author Network “Book of the Year Award for History – Fiction in 2019”.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

By Rufus R. Dawes,

Book cover of Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

Why this book?

This memoir has long been considered a classic, referenced by scores of Civil War authors over many decades. The editor of the 1961 edition, historian and author Alan T. Nolan, noted the following: “Its excellence is the product of three factors: the character and abilities of the author; the historical techniques and the materials which he used, and the events in which he and his regiment participated. These factors – author, technique and events – combine to make the book a superb document of its kind.

Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

By Rufus R. Dawes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book has been considered by academicians and scholars of great significance and value to literature. This forms a part of the knowledge base for future generations. We have represented this book in the same form as it was first published. Hence any marks seen are left intentionally to preserve its true nature.


The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville

By Shelby Foote,

Book cover of The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville

Why this book?

This sweeping, multi-volume history is a thoroughly researched and readable recording of the Civil War. Written as a narrative, Foote uses his informal writing style to tell the complete history from the perspective of the participants – both north and south – while involving every aspect - the military, political, diplomatic, and home fronts. In my opinion, it is the best overall account of the conflict.

The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville

By Shelby Foote,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Civil War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This first volume of Shelby Foote's classic narrative of the Civil War opens with Jefferson Davis’s farewell to the United Senate and ends on the bloody battlefields of Antietam and Perryville, as the full, horrible scope of America’s great war becomes clear. Exhaustively researched and masterfully written, Foote’s epic account of the Civil War unfolds like a classic novel. 
 
Includes maps throughout.
 
"Here, for a certainty, is one of the great historical narratives…a unique and brilliant achievement, one that must be firmly placed in the ranks of the masters."—Van Allen Bradley, Chicago Daily News

"A stunning book full of color,…


Co. Aytch: Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment Or, a Side Show of the Big Show

By Sam R. Watkins,

Book cover of Co. Aytch: Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment Or, a Side Show of the Big Show

Why this book?

“High Private” Sam Watkins wrote his memoir from memory eighteen years after the war. His account of life and death as a rebel soldier is gripping, shocking, and tragic, yet often humorous. He dutifully followed orders, was dedicated to his cause, saw many friends killed close by, and killed enemy soldiers close up – young men in a different uniform much like himself. His attitude and prejudices reflect those of the average Confederate enlisted man. The reader experiences in intimate detail the often-desperate life of the common soldier.

Co. Aytch: Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment Or, a Side Show of the Big Show

By Sam R. Watkins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Of the 120 men who enlisted in "Company H" (Or Co. Aytch as he calls it) in 1861, Sam Watkins was one of only seven alive when General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina on April, 1865. Of the 1,200 men who fought in the First Tennessee, only 65 were left to be paroled on that day. "Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War" is heralded by many historians as one of the best war memoirs written by a common soldier of the field. Sam R. Watkin's writing style…


The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

By Michael Shaara,

Book cover of The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

Why this book?

This historical fiction work won a Pulitzer Prize and caught the interest of the average reader, thus promoting Civil War history more effectively than many other scholarly works. The author uses the three-day battle of Gettysburg to relate the causes of the war and the motivations that led old friends to face each other on the battlefield. Each day is told from the perspectives of Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet for the Confederacy, and Joshua Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union. It is filled with the author’s sense of emotion-laden decisions made by these officers as they went into battle.

The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

By Michael Shaara,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Killer Angels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“My favorite historical novel . . . a superb re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg, but its real importance is its insight into what the war was about, and what it meant.”—James M. McPherson
 
In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty…


The Iron Brigade: A Military History

By Alan T. Nolan,

Book cover of The Iron Brigade: A Military History

Why this book?

Named one of the “Top 100 Civil War Books” by the Centennial Commission, this records the history of the most famous Union unit of the war. Nolan uses many first-person accounts to ensure accuracy; Service with The Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers being predominant. This book first inspired my interest in studying the Civil War, and sparked my special admiration for Rufus Dawes, eventually leading to the creation of my own book, To My Best Girl – Courage, Honor and Love in the Civil War: The Inspiring Life Stories of Rufus Dawes and Mary Gates.

The Iron Brigade: A Military History

By Alan T. Nolan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Iron Brigade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I am immensely impressed . . . this particular Brigade needed a book of its own and now it has one which is definitely first-rate. . . . A fine book." -Bruce Catton

"One of the '100 best books ever written on the Civil War.'" -Civil War Times Illustrated

" . . . remains one of the best unit histories of the Union Army during the Civil War." -Southern Historian

". . . The Iron Brigade is the title for anyone desiring complete information on this military unit . . ." -Spring Creek Packet, Chuck Hamsa

This is the story…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the American Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman, and the Battle of Gettysburg?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the American Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman, and the Battle of Gettysburg.

The American Civil War Explore 233 books about the American Civil War
William Tecumseh Sherman Explore 15 books about William Tecumseh Sherman
The Battle Of Gettysburg Explore 8 books about the Battle of Gettysburg

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Battle Cry of Freedom, Shenandoah 1862, and Cold Mountain if you like this list.