The best books about life during the American Civil War by those who experienced it

Ronald S. Coddington Author Of African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album
By Ronald S. Coddington

Who am I?

Two boyhood experiences inspired my fascination with the Civil War: a family trip to Gettysburg and purchasing original photographs of soldiers at flea markets. Captivated by the old photos, I became an avid collector of Civil War-era portrait photography. Curiosity about identified individuals in my collection led me on a lifelong journey to tell their stories. In 2001, I started a column, Faces of War, in the Civil War News. Since then, I’ve profiled hundreds of participants in the column, and in six books. In 2013, I became the fourth editor and publisher of Military Images, a quarterly journal that showcases, interprets, and preserves Civil War photography.

I wrote...

African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album

By Ronald S. Coddington,

Book cover of African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album

What is my book about?

Discover real-life accounts of Black men who fought for freedom during the American Civil War. You’ll read short stories of 77 individuals, each revealing details of their lives and military experiences, and illustrated with their original wartime portrait photographs. These non-fiction stories are based on National Archives records, period newspapers, books, and other documents. Many of the men had escaped their enslavers or gained freedom following President Abraham Lincoln’s release of the Emancipation Proclamation. They enlisted in the U.S. military or served in support roles. Those who survived faced a new war of prejudice that continues today. Some rejoined the army as Buffalo Soldiers. These micro-histories are unique entry points into the most perilous period in U.S. history.

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The books I picked & why

Hard Tack and Coffee

By John D. Billings,

Book cover of Hard Tack and Coffee

Why did I love this book?

Hailed by historians as one of the most important memoirs authored by a Civil War veteran, Hard Tack and Coffee tells the story of army life. John D. Billings traces the trail of the citizen soldier from recruitment and enlistment to the trials and tribulations of camp and campaign. Written more than two decades after the end of the conflict, Billings reflects on those tumultuous times with humor as he and his comrades stumbled their way through the varied lessons of the art of war. After he mustered out of a Massachusetts artillery regiment in 1865, Billings went on to become a respected educator.

By John D. Billings,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hard Tack and Coffee as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published more than 100 years ago, Hardtack And Coffee is John Billings’ absorbing first-person account of the everyday life of a U.S. Army soldier during the Civil War.

Billings attended a reunion of Civil War veterans in 1881 that brought together a group of survivors whose memories and stories of the war compelled him to write this account.

It is set in November, 1860.

Lincoln has been elected as President of the United States.

The Democrats split into two factions, divided over the issue of slavery.

As early as October, Southern politicians decide that the state of South Carolina…

Book cover of History of the Twelfth Regiment: New Hampshire Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion

Why did I love this book?

The bonds of comradeship formed by volunteer soldiers during the Civil War lasted a lifetime for those who survived its bloody campaigns. Most regiments held annual reunions, during which the veterans rekindled friendships and remembered their service. Many collected reminiscences in book form, and these regimental histories are treasure troves of personal accounts. One of the most outstanding of this genre is the History of the Twelfth Regiment, a narrative of the men and officers who served in the 12th New Hampshire Infantry. Author Asa Bartlett, a beloved officer, humanizes the service of these Granite State volunteers.

By Asa W. Bartlett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked History of the Twelfth Regiment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been…

Book cover of Out of the Briars: an Autobiography and Sketch of the Twenty-ninth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers

Why did I love this book?

When civil war threatened to destroy the American form of government and the liberty and freedom it represented, Alexander Herritage Newton rallied to the cause. “My bosom burst with the fire of patriotism for the salvation of my country and my people.” His people were millions of enslaved Black families who had toiled for generations in service of the white majority population. Early in the war, Newton was not allowed to serve because of the color of his skin. But as the laws changed, he joined the 29th Connecticut Infantry. He tells the story of his journey in a vivid autobiography, Out of the Briars.

By A.H. (Alexander Herritage) Newton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A fascinating history of a single regiment in the chaos and horror that was the American Civil War. A must read for any fans of military history.

Hospital Sketches

By Louisa May Alcott,

Book cover of Hospital Sketches

Why did I love this book?

Early in the war, writer Louisa May Alcott journeyed to the nation’s capital to care for sick and wounded soldiers. Over a period of six weeks, she experienced firsthand the rigors of life in crowded hospital wards as a nurse to men suffering from disease and wounds. She recorded her observations in a series of accounts printed in a Boston newspaper. These writings formed the basis of Hospital Sketches. Published a month after the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, when the outcome of the war remained uncertain, Alcott’s words encouraged other women to support the U.S. war effort, and remind us today of the critical role of nurses in times of conflict.

By Louisa May Alcott,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Hospital Sketches as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Complete and unabridged paperback edition.

Collection of short stories.

First published in 1863.

Book cover of Tales of Soldiers and Civilians

Why did I love this book?

Battle-hardened and wounded veteran Ambrose Bierce recounted his army experiences in a series of grim short stories that reveal the horrors of the Civil War. In graphic detail, he paints a disturbing and twisted picture of the conflict. His writings stand in stark contrast to reminiscences by other veterans in the twilight of life who reflected on their participation in the battles and campaigns with pride and esprit de corps. A collection of these fictional writings by “Bitter Bierce” first published as Tales of Soldiers and Civilians explores the dark side of the Civil War—and human nature—with a unique brand of wit and satire.

By Ambrose Bierce,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tales of Soldiers and Civilians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Tales of Soldiers and Civilians and Other Stories, humor and horror paint a bleak picture of war, marked by violence, isolation and looming madness. Despite the subject matter, the macabre tone is balanced by the author's satirical prose and signature levity.

Tales of Soldiers and Civilians and Other Stories is a literary collection from writer and veteran Ambrose Bierce. The leading title focuses on the realities of battle and various conflicts in the field. Stories such as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "One of the Missing" and "Chickamauga," are heavily influenced by the American Civil War. Others focus…

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