The Best Novels About The Civil War

John J. Miller Author Of The First Assassin
By John J. Miller

The Books I Picked & Why

Uncle Tom's Cabin

By Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Why this book?

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war,” Abraham Lincoln supposedly said when he met Stowe. The quote may be apocryphal, but it points to a truth about the 1852 novel that shaped American opinions about the cruelty and injustice of slavery. The writing is a bit melodramatic for modern sensibilities, but it’s hard to beat the scene in which the escaped slave Eliza tries to carry her young son across an icy river for freedom on the other side.


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Civil War Stories

By Ambrose Bierce

Civil War Stories

Why this book?

Okay, it’s a collection of stories rather than a novel. Yet no veteran of the Civil War wrote better fiction about the conflict and its terrors than Bierce. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is one of America’s greatest short stories: A staple of high-school English courses, it has a twist at the end that's worthy of The Twilight Zone and often inspires an immediate second reading. Chickamauga reveals the horror of war from the perspective of a child. Amid these fictions, What I Saw of Shiloh is Bierce’s nonfiction account of the 1862 battle in Tennessee.


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The Red Badge of Courage

By Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage

Why this book?

Crane was born more than six years after the end of the Civil War, yet this gifted writer nevertheless produced its quintessential novel. An exponent of “naturalism”—think of it as “realism,” but meaner—Crane describes the plight of Henry Fleming, a private who flees from battle in fear, becomes wracked by guilt, and seeks redemption.


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Banners at Shenandoah: A Story of Sheridan's Fighting Cavalry

By Bruce Catton

Banners at Shenandoah: A Story of Sheridan's Fighting Cavalry

Why this book?

Catton was one of the Civil War’s great historians, best known for bringing the stories of individual soldiers into otherwise sweeping accounts of the American Iliad. Amid this work, he also wrote this little-known short novel, published in 1955, which today probably would be filed in the “young adult” section of your favorite bookstore. It tells the tale of Bob Hayden, a Michigan boy who lies about his age to join a volunteer company and rises to manhood while serving in Virginia with Gen. “Fighting Phil” Sheridan.


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The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

By Michael Shaara

The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

Why this book?

When I visited the Gettysburg Battlefield for the first time, I mentioned an interest in seeing where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had fought. “There’s more to Gettysburg than Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,” sniffed the tour guide, who apparently had become tired of hearing people like me talk up the heroism Union colonel—a story many of us had learned from the pages of this 1974 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Killer Angels is an engrossing book and, despite the misgivings of my tour guide, remains one of the best ways to learn about the men and the motives behind three tide-turning days in 1863.


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