The best books on the American Civil War in the western theater

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated by the American Civil War since I was 8 years old. I have been a serious student of the subject since my college years, where I majored in American History. I have played and designed boardgames concerning battles of the war, including a number of games on battles in the Western Theater, I have been a living historian and reenactor, and now, an author-published by both academic and popular presses. The battle of Chickamauga became a serious interest as early as 1979.

I wrote...

Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign

By David Powell,

Book cover of Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign

What is my book about?

Third in a new series of campaign studies that take a different approach toward military history, The Maps of Chickamauga explores this largely misunderstood battle through the use of 120 full-color maps, graphically illustrating the complex tangle of combat’s ebb and flow that makes the titanic bloodshed of Chickamauga one of the most confusing actions of the American Civil War. Track individual regiments through their engagements at fifteen to twenty-minute intervals or explore each army in motion as brigades and divisions maneuver and deploy to face the enemy. The Maps of Chickamauga allows readers to fully grasp the action at any level of interest.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865

David Powell Why did I love this book?

Thomas L. Connelly’s seminal final volume of his history of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, first published in 1971, remains one of the best works of Civil War history, not just of the Western Theater. Connelly’s writing helped to shift the historical focus from the Eastern Theater, where Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia dominated the conversation for more than a century. While the west was not totally neglected, it was clearly an afterthought.

Connelly’s work focused on the long, unfortunate history of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, a command which rarely tasted victory, and was saddled with a host of incompetent leadership from the top down. The long-running dysfunction between army commander Braxton Bragg and senior corps commander Leonidas Polk created chaos on and off the battlefield, eventually leading to Bragg’s replacement and (for a time) Polk’s banishment. Connelly examined and explained this and other command relationships in a way previously unknown, and revealed much of the inner workings of the Confederacy’s second most important field command. Well written and ambitious in scope, aimed at mirroring D. S. Freeman’s iconic Lee’s Lieutenants (a three-volume history of the Army of Northern Virginia), Connelly should be the starting point for any student of the Civil War in the trans-Appalachian west.

By Thomas Lawerence Connelly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Fletcher Pratt Award and the Jefferson Davis Award
A companion volume to Army of the Heartland

Near the end of 1862 the Army of Tennessee began a long and frustrating struggle against overwhelming obstacles and ultimate defeat. Federal strength was growing, and after the Confederate surrender at Vicksburg, the total Union effort became concentrated against the Army of Tennessee. In the face of these external military problems, the army was also plagued with internal conflict, continuing command discord, and political intrigue.

In Autumn of Glory, the final volume of Thomas Lawrence Connelly's definitive history of one of…

Book cover of Days of Glory: The Army of the Cumberland, 1861–1867

David Powell Why did I love this book?

Larry J. Daniel’s history of the Federal Army of the Cumberland—the Army of Tennessee’s main opponent for much of the war—provides a thorough, insightful examination of that army; the first since the 19th Century. The Army of the Cumberland (first known as the Army of the Ohio) was named for the Cumberland River, which drainage became the army’s area of operations for much of the first half of the war. Commanded successively by Don Carlos Buell, William Starke Rosecrans, and finally, George H. Thomas, the Army of the Cumberland has received far less attention in Civil War than its two rivals, the Armies of the Potomac (in Virginia) and the Army of the Tennessee (in Mississippi.) Daniel’s work addresses that imbalance, and in doing so, brings the army’s officers and men to life.

George Thomas was, like Robert E. Lee, a Virginian; unlike Lee, he chose to remain in the regular army and fight for the Union. Famously reserved, Thomas left no voluminous record upon which to draw, and after his death in 1870, his wife destroyed his correspondence. As a result, unlike William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, who did leave immensely popular memoirs, Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland became overshadowed. Daniel’s very welcome history of the Army of the Cumberland makes for a crucial counterpoint to Thomas L. Connelly.

By Larry J. Daniel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A potent fighting force that changed the course of the Civil War, the Army of the Cumberland was the North's second-most-powerful army, surpassed in size only by the Army of the Potomac. The Cumberland army engaged the enemy across five times more territory with one-third to one-half fewer men than the Army of the Potomac, and yet its achievements in the western theater rivaled those of the larger eastern army. In Days of Glory, Larry J. Daniel brings his analytic and descriptive skills to bear on the Cumberlanders as he explores the dynamics of discord, political infighting, and feeble leadership…

Book cover of Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg

David Powell Why did I love this book?

Though Dr. Timothy B. Smith has since made quite the splash in Civil War historiography, this was his first book, covering the Battle of Champion Hill. On May 16, 1863, two armies collided between the Confederate fortress of Vicksburg and the Mississippi state capital at Jackson. The Federals were led by Ulysses S. Grant; the Rebels, John C. Pemberton. Each army numbered bout 30,000 men. While neither the largest or most famous battle of the war, Champion Hill was, nevertheless, a crucial engagement, for it decided the fate of Vicksburg. Frustrated for months by his inability to capture the fortress, Grant at last settled on a daring strategy to take it from the rear. Pemberton marched out to meet him. They met at Champion Hill.

Smith’s narrative embraces the top-down commander’s view of the battle, the soldiers’ view from the ranks, and the impact the fighting had on the local community. It is one of the finest examples of a modern battle monograph, and the first real study of the engagement. Champion Hill stands as a model of the genre, and should be read by everyone interested in the Civil War, the Western Theater, or modern military history.

By Timothy B. Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Battle of Champion Hill on 16 May 1863 was the decisive land engagement of the Vicksburg Campaign. The fighting took place just twenty miles east of the river city, where the advance of General Ulysses S. Grant's Federal army attacked General John C. Pemberton's hastily gathered Confederates.

The bloody fighting see-sawed back and forth until superior Union leadership broke apart the Southern line, sending Pemberton's army into headlong retreat. The victory on Mississippi's wooded hills sealed the fate of both Vicksburg and her large field army, propelled Grant into the national spotlight, and earned him the command of the…

Book cover of Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862

David Powell Why did I love this book?

Several books have been written about the Battle of Shiloh, fought on April 6 and 7, 1862. This is no surprise, as the battle was one of the very first large-scale engagements of the war, with more than 100,000 combatants and producing 23,000 casualties. That staggering butcher’s bill stunned the nation and created a deep-rooted interest in remembering the contest. A National Cemetery was created in 1866, and Shiloh was one of the five original military parks established by Congress in 1895. The park’s interpretive thrust has shaped the outline of the traditional narrative of the battle ever since.

In the 1960s, Edward Cunningham offered a corrective to that traditional narrative, in an unpublished academic thesis. Discarding long-held, preconceived notions, Cunningham hewed closer to the primary sources to provide a deeply insightful new interpretation of the battle. Unfortunately, he never found a publisher for that thesis—until 2009. Though Cunningham had long since passed from the scene, an editorial team—including Tim Smith, author of Champion Hill—managed to produce an annotated version in 2009. The result is an outstanding new (despite being 40 years old) and thought-provoking interpretation of Shiloh.

By O. Edward Cunningham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The stunning Northern victory at Shiloh in 1942 thrust Union commander Ulysses S. Grant into the national spotlight, claimed the life of Confederate commander Albert S. Johnston, and forever buried the notion that the Civil War would be a short conflict.

Anxious to attack the enemy, Johnston began concentrating Southern forces at Corinth, a major railroad center just below the Tennessee border. His bold plan called for his Army of the Mississippi to march north and destroy General Grant's Army of the Tennessee before it could link up with another Union army on the way to join him.

On the…

Book cover of Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864

David Powell Why did I love this book?

The campaign to capture Atlanta, waged over the summer of 1864, was one of the most decisive events of the entire American Civil War. Historians have argued that Atlanta’s fall, achieved that September, demonstrated to a war-weary North that the Lincoln Administration’s war policies were successful, and that victory was in sight. However, prior to 1992, there was very little coverage of any aspect of the campaign, let alone a narrative history of the full campaign.

Thirty years later, Decision in the West remains the standard work on the Atlanta Campaign. Though Castel’s coverage of individual battles (Resaca, Pickett’s Mill, Kennesaw, Peachtree Creek, the July 22 Battle of Atlanta, etc.) is limited to mostly a command-level discussion of those engagements, his interpretations of the decisions and actions of the three main principals—Sherman for the Federals, Johnston, and Hood for the Confederates—are both fascinating and thought-provoking. The author’s decision to rely on present tense narration is one of the most interesting aspects of the book, ultimately conveying a sense of immediacy not usually present in historical monographs, but it works. For a complete understanding of the war’s course in North Georgia that summer, Castel’s work is essential.

By Albert Castel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Decision in the West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Following a skirmish on June 28, 1864, a truce is called so the North can remove their dead and wounded. For two hours, Yankees and Rebels mingle, with some of the latter even assisting the former in their grisly work. Newspapers are exchanged. Northern coffee is swapped for Southern tobacco. Yanks crowd around two Rebel generals, soliciting and obtaining autographs.
As they part, a Confederate calls to a Yankee, "I hope to miss you, Yank, if I happen to shoot in your direction." "May I, never hit you Johnny if we fight again," comes the reply.

The reprieve is short.…

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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…

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