The best books about little-known Civil War era history

Who am I?

Diane C. McPhail is the award-winning author of The Abolitionist’s Daughter, her debut novel based on family history and little-known impediments to Southern Abolitionism and anti-slavery. Her yet-to-be-titled second novel, a historical 1900 Chicago & New Orleans psychological mystery, is due for release in the spring of 2022. As an experienced therapist, Diane has a passionate interest in the complex, sometimes conflicting, qualities of character and culture, and how those intricacies complicate the plot. Diane holds an M.F.A., M.A., and Doctor of Ministry.


I wrote...

The Abolitionist's Daughter

By Diane C. McPhail,

Book cover of The Abolitionist's Daughter

What is my book about?

In her sweeping debut, Diane C. McPhail offers a powerful, profoundly emotional novel that explores a little-known aspect of Civil War history--Southern Abolitionists--and the timeless struggle to do right even amidst bitter conflict.

On a Mississippi morning in 1859, Emily Matthews begs her father to save a slave, Nathan, about to be auctioned away from his family. Judge Matthews is an abolitionist who runs an illegal school for his slaves, hoping to eventually set them free. One, a woman named Ginny, has become Emily's companion and often her conscience--and understands all too well the hazards an educated slave must face. Yet even Ginny could not predict the tangled, tragic string of events set in motion as Nathan's family arrives at the Matthews farm.

A young doctor, Charles Slate, tends to injured Nathan and begins to court Emily, finally persuading her to become his wife. But their union is disrupted by a fatal clash and a lie that will tear two families apart. As Civil War erupts, Emily, Ginny, and Emily's stoic mother-in-law, Adeline, each face devastating losses. Emily--sheltered all her life--is especially unprepared for the hardships to come. Struggling to survive in this raw, shifting new world, Emily will discover untapped inner strength, an unlikely love, and the courage to confront deep, painful truths.

The books I picked & why

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Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier,

Book cover of Cold Mountain

Why this book?

My own novel, The Abolitionist’s Daughter, has been compared to Frazier’s finely wrought best seller. Not for the trek of the wounded, disillusioned Confederate soldier back to his home in the Blue Ridge, but for the intrepid efforts of two women to survive in a world absent of men at war. Like The Abolitionist’s Daughter, Cold Mountain focuses on the deep inner strength and resilience of women left to till the land and make a life for themselves. In doing so, they discover the shared grief and immense strength in each other. Their unforeseen love stories enhance who they become as women, rather than define them. Cold Mountain is described as “hugely powerful, majestically lovely, and keenly moving.”

Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Cold Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1997, Charles Frazier’s debut novel Cold Mountain made publishing history when it sailed to the top of The New York Times best-seller list for sixty-one weeks, won numerous literary awards, including the National Book Award, and went on to sell over three million copies. Now, the beloved American epic returns, reissued by Grove Press to coincide with the publication of Frazier’s eagerly-anticipated second novel, Thirteen Moons. Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, a Confederate soldier named Inman decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge mountains to Ada, the woman he loves.…


The Kitchen House

By Kathleen Grissom,

Book cover of The Kitchen House

Why this book?

In this bestseller, Grissom offers an intricate view of little-known history. I am intrigued by stories that open a window onto aspects of life in history that, for one reason or another, are unfamiliar. Grissom’s story of an Irish indentured servant struggling to bridge the gap between race and class is just such a revelation. These issues remain timeless and powerful.

The Kitchen House

By Kathleen Grissom,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of the highly anticipated Glory Over Everything, established herself as a remarkable new talent with The Kitchen House, now a contemporary classic. In this gripping novel, a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.

Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook,…


The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Book cover of The Invention of Wings

Why this book?

This riveting novel, inspired by the true stories of the Grimke sisters, women who dedicated themselves to the Abolitionist fervor, specifically Sarah, also fleshes out through fiction the full-bodied reality of the role of women in 1800 culture and the plight of slaves. This is an exquisitely written novel that offers an unswerving view of a terrible aspect of American history, whose repercussions haunt us still. It is a view seen through “women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.”

The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Invention of Wings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees and the forthcoming novel The Book of Longings, a novel about two unforgettable American women.

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

Hetty "Handful" Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke's daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something…


After Alice Fell

By Kim Taylor Blakemore,

Book cover of After Alice Fell

Why this book?

This riveting American Gothic novel, set in 1865, follows a widowed Civil War Army nurse home to New Hampshire after her bloody stint of tending the wounded and sick, only to find that her beloved, but unstable, sister is dead in a fall from the roof of the asylum. The cause is ruled a suicide, but she is not convinced and determines to find the truth at all costs. The period is synchronic with that of The Abolitionist’s Daughter and the depth of research fascinated me. Blakemore’s writing and extensive attention to sensual detail is exceptional. Since I have my own yet-to-be-titled historical mystery due for release in the Spring of 2022, I loved delving into this twisting page-turner with a woman of determination in an equivalent period of history.

After Alice Fell

By Kim Taylor Blakemore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked After Alice Fell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Until she discovers the truth of her sister's death, no one will rest in peace.

New Hampshire, 1865. Marion Abbott is summoned to Brawders House asylum to collect the body of her sister, Alice. She'd been found dead after falling four stories from a steep-pitched roof. Officially: an accident. Confidentially: suicide. But Marion believes a third option: murder.

Returning to her family home to stay with her brother and his second wife, the recently widowed Marion is expected to quiet her feelings of guilt and grief-to let go of the dead and embrace the living. But that's not easy in…


News of the World

By Paulette Jiles,

Book cover of News of the World

Why this book?

Though this National Book Award finalist is focused neither on the Civil War itself nor slavery, I devoured this book, engrossed in its depth and complexity. Set in the Westward Movement in the aftermath of the war’s devastation, Jiles's exquisite writing deals with parallel underlying themes to my own writing: the sometimes intricate conflict between morality and legality, as well as the deep and long-lasting effects of trauma. An intriguing story that explores complex issues that are timeless.

News of the World

By Paulette Jiles,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked News of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust. In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his…


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