The best books to understand the American Civil War from different perspectives

Gerald Gillis Author Of That Deadly Space
By Gerald Gillis

Who am I?

I am a multi-award-winning author with four novels to my credit. Growing up in the South, I have had a lifelong interest in the Civil War. I have visited all of the battlefields depicted in my novel, and I have spoken to military and veterans’ organizations about the war. I have always been amazed at the bravery and sacrifices of the soldiers of both sides who fought on those battlefields, and my novel is my effort to honor those men.

I wrote...

That Deadly Space

By Gerald Gillis,

Book cover of That Deadly Space

What is my book about?

The story of a young Georgia man who joins the Confederate Army as a commissioned officer and sees action in many of the war’s most consequential battles. My protagonist, Conor Rafferty, comes from a non-slaveholding farming family and joins the Confederate army against the wishes of his father. Conor becomes a protégé of Confederate General John B. Gordon, is wounded twice in battle, and by the end of the war attains the rank of colonel. The book is a historical novel, and was awarded a Gold Medal by the Military Writers Society of America.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Fort Sumter to Perryville

Why did I love this book?

If I could recommend one book to provide what would amount to a course on the Civil War, it would be this massive tour de force. This three-volume non-fiction history of the Civil War covers the entire span of the conflict in exacting and vivid detail. Shelby Foote was already a noted novelist and historian when became ever more popular for his appearances on the Ken Burns televised series about the war. Foote adeptly covers the military operations in both the Eastern and Western theaters of operation, with mention of how the politics of both sides factored into the outcomes of battles, and eventually of the war itself. This is a well-researched, historically accurate depiction of a brutal, unrelenting war written very much in the appealing style of a novelist. With over a million words comprising the three volumes, it is an investment of time that, for Civil War enthusiasts, will pay dividends with each turn of the 2,968 pages.

By Shelby Foote,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Fort Sumter to Perryville 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,…

Book cover of Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam

Why did I love this book?

This definitive non-fiction work on the Battle of Antietam, written by one of the Civil War’s most distinguished authors, is my favorite book on the epic Battle of Antietam. Renowned historian Stephen W. Sears displays his considerable talents in describing what became the single bloodiest day in American history on September 17, 1862. Over 23,000 casualties were claimed in a battle that essentially ended in a stalemate with both sides badly diminished and thoroughly exhausted. Sears draws upon letters, diaries, and dispatches to paint a picture of a day of shocking, murderous carnage for the officers and men who fought it out near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was fresh off a victory at Second Manassas, and was met by Union George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. While the result wasn’t conclusive, the Confederates eventually left the field and returned to Virginia without the victory it had sought. Soon thereafter, President Abraham Lincoln would use occasion to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. For any Civil War buff, this book should be required reading.

By Stephen W. Sears,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Landscape Turned Red as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The best account of the Battle of Antietam” from the award-winning, national bestselling author of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville (The New York Times Book Review).

The Civil War battle waged on September 17, 1862, at Antietam Creek, Maryland, was one of the bloodiest in the nation’s history: in this single day, the war claimed nearly 23,000 casualties. In Landscape Turned Red, the renowned historian Stephen Sears draws on a remarkable cache of diaries, dispatches, and letters to recreate the vivid drama of Antietam as experienced not only by its leaders but also by its soldiers, both Union and Confederate. Combining brilliant…

The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara,

Book cover of The Killer Angels

Why did I love this book?

Since I prefer writing historical novels, this book is in many ways the gold standard for that genre in Civil War fiction. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this novel brings the reader to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to experience the pivotal battle of the Civil War on July 1-3, 1863 Over the course of those three days, the ferocity of the engagement claimed 51,000 men of both sides either killed, wounded, or missing. The story includes the perspectives of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, along with Union generals Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford. Michael Shaara, an accomplished storyteller, enables the reader to share in the rigors of the desperate combat, the emotional swings among the commanders as the battle progresses, and the conclusion where the Union army turns back the attacking Confederates during Pickett’s Charge. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would fight on for nearly two years more, but would never again mount an offensive outside the South. This is simply a jewel of a book.

By Michael Shaara,

Why should I read it?

11 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…

Grant Takes Command

By Bruce Catton,

Book cover of Grant Takes Command

Why did I love this book?

I found this non-fiction book a fascinating study, not only in purely military terms but in a classic rags-to-riches example that so exemplifies America at its very finest. The book concerns a man who had experienced only limited success in his early life, and who then emerges from that relative obscurity in the opening months of the Civil War to become the Union commander who defeats the fabled Confederate General Robert E. Lee. He then accepts Lee’s surrender at Appomattox with an offer of generous terms to help reunite the nation. Pulitzer Prize winning author Bruce Catton provides a detailed portrait of Ulysses Simpson Grant, the U.S. Army commander who finally brings victory to President Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause. This is a classic work of military history for the final year and a half of the war. This great book by this great author illustrates how Lincoln found General U.S. Grant, and by doing set the stage for the war to be won.

By Bruce Catton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Grant Takes Command as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Forming the second part in Grant's biography, the sequel to "Grant Moves South" follows his victory at Chattanooga and subsequent promotion to Commander-in-Chief of the Union forces. The book also provides information as to how the Civil War was won and follows Grant as he directs military operations throughout the last year of the war. The author has won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

Book cover of Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier's Life

Why did I love this book?

One of the finest officers in the history of the United States Army, Winfield Scott Hancock was considered by many to have been perhaps the most important figure in the Union victory at Gettysburg. Called “Hancock the Superb” by some of his fellow officers, he served as the Union commander of the 2nd Corps during the Gettysburg battle. He was an inspiring and consequential figure throughout the entirety of the three days of the conflict. In one of the war’s great ironies, Hancock was seriously wounded on the day of Pickett’s charge only yards from where his dear friend, Confederate General Lewis Armistead, had been felled by a rifle bullet as he led his Virginia brigade toward the Union position held by Hancock. General Winfield Scott Hancock was a natural leader whose courage was unquestioned and whose leadership was trusted by both his superior officers and the men under his command. A very good book on one of America’s most illustrious and heroic figures.

By David M. Jordan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Winfield Scott Hancock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

" . . . detailed, well-written and thoroughly documented." -The Journal of Military History

" . . . comprehensive, well-written, and thoroughly researched . . . " -Booklist

" . . . the definitive work on the life of Winfield Scott Hancock . . . " -Blue and Gray

"At last we have a complete life of [Hancock], and it, too, is superb." -The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Jordan's careful attention to detail and excellent use of sources highlight a lively writing style to make a highly readable book." -America's Civil War

"Jordan's study of Hancock is an important contribution to both…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, and Ulysses S. Grant?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, and Ulysses S. Grant.

The American Civil War Explore 277 books about the American Civil War
The Battle Of Gettysburg Explore 11 books about the Battle of Gettysburg
Ulysses S. Grant Explore 18 books about Ulysses S. Grant