The best historical novels about the American Civil War: what historians don’t tell you

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve experimented with many careers during my adult life. I’ve been a nanny, high school Latin teacher, noontime talk-show hostess, computer instructor, college history professor, and president of a four-state charitable organization. But nothing has so occupied my passion as exploring and writing stories about America’s Civil War. Becoming an author was a career choice I made after I retired at the age of 65. I began with a small collection of letters written by my great uncle shortly before his death on a Civil War battlefield. My continuing inspiration comes from the enthusiasm of my readers who want to learn more than their history books offer. 


I wrote...

Damned Yankee

By Carolyn P. Schriber,

Book cover of Damned Yankee

What is my book about?

Susan was the heir to a cotton plantation in South Carolina. Jonathan was a history teacher from Boston. Their marriage was balanced and happy; their family of seven children thrived. But when the first shots of the Civil War echoed across Charleston, he lost his job because he was a “Damned Yankee.” The older children were swept into the fever of the war itself; the younger ones shivered in fear and held hands under the table. Would the Grenvilles be able to rise above the conflict, or would the war drive a stake through the heart of their devotion to one another?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Invention of Wings

Carolyn P. Schriber Why did I love this book?

Forget the stereotypes—the images we learned in school about slaves and their owners. Sarah Grimke is best known as a dedicated Northern abolitionist, despite her South Carolina upbringing. Few of her admirers would suspect that Sarah received her first slave as a present on her eleventh birthday. The slave girl, Hetty, was called “Handful” because she was too bright and energetic to be obedient. The two grew up together as fast friends, forever linked despite their differences. They tell their stories in alternating chapters, a literary device that highlights their contrasting experiences and attitudes. Together they have much to teach us about the contradictions that governed their lives—how a slave could feel free while her owner was a prisoner forever bound to family traditions and local culture. 

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Why should I read it?

7 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…


Book cover of Lincoln in the Bardo

Carolyn P. Schriber Why did I love this book?

If you’ve ever looked at a picture of Abraham Lincoln and wondered why he looked so sad, you may find your answer here. He faced an almost insurmountable challenge and mourned the potentially fatal division of his country, it is true. But the death of his young son compounded that grief. Before reading this book, I had never heard of a ‘Bardo,’ and I’m still not convinced of its existence, except as a psychological state. But as a bereaved parent myself, I could understand Lincoln’s need to hold onto the memory of his dead son a little while longer. If you want to know what makes a man strong, you must first learn what can break his heart.

By George Saunders,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Lincoln in the Bardo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017 A STORY OF LOVE AFTER DEATH 'A masterpiece' Zadie Smith 'Extraordinary' Daily Mail 'Breathtaking' Observer 'A tour de force' The Sunday Times The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns…


Book cover of March

Carolyn P. Schriber Why did I love this book?

The fictional character of March is no more the real Bronson Alcott than Little Women’s character of Jo is the real Louisa Mae Alcott. Brooks uses Mr. March to show what war can do to a self-satisfied idealist and to his oblivious family. March does not believe in war and will not serve as a soldier. Instead, he supports the northern cause by taking on such roles as that of an itinerant peddler, a chaplain, a teacher, a doctor, and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Nevertheless, he is wounded, both physically and mentally, by the violence and failures of his wartime experiences. Although he survives, he—and therefore his family—must forever change. The lessons they learn are as valid today as they were in the Civil War. 

By Geraldine Brooks,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked March as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the acclaimed YEAR OF WONDERS, a historical novel and love story set during a time of catastrophe, on the front lines of the American Civil War. Set during the American Civil War, MARCH tells the story of John March, known to us as the father away from his family of girls in LITTLE WOMEN, Louisa May Alcott's classic American novel. In Brooks' telling, March emerges as an abolitionist and idealistic chaplain on the front lines of a war that tests his faith in himself and in the Union cause when he learns that his side, too,…


Book cover of The Widow of the South

Carolyn P. Schriber Why did I love this book?

Beyond the usual five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—a sixth stage of heavy responsibility may develop when someone dies in the service of a great cause. As the Battle of Franklin played out in the yard of her Carnton Plantation, Carrie MccGavock felt that sense of obligation to the 9000 soldiers who died in that battle. It is in that sense that Carrie called herself the “Widow of the South.” She disinterred over 1000 anonymous bodies, identified them, reburied them in her own cemetery, and sought to give their families a sense of closure. This moving novel, based on a true story, reminds us that the Civil War was more than maps and casualty statistics. It is a story of heartbreak and devotion.

By Robert Hicks,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Widow of the South as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tennessee, 1864. On a late autumn day, near a little town called Franklin, 10,000 men will soon lie dead or dying in a battle that will change many lives for ever. None will be more changed than Carrie McGavock, who finds her home taken over by the Confederate army and turned into a field hospital. Taking charge, she finds the courage to face up to the horrors around her and, in doing so, finds a cause.

Out on the battlefield, a tired young Southern soldier drops his guns and charges forward into Yankee territory, holding only the flag of his…


Book cover of Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War

Carolyn P. Schriber Why did I love this book?

The death toll of the Civil War was horrendous, the list of the wounded? Endless. Medical schools did not exist; doctor trained their assistants. There were no emergency rooms, no hospitals, no triage, and certainly no female nurses to care for those bleeding male bodies. In many respects, the medical profession was born on Civil War battlefields with the brave women who ventured among the dead and dying to staunch the flow of blood. So, who were the women who emerged from their sheltered lives to care for wounded soldiers in the Northern army? I wrote about one of them—Nellie Chase—but I thought she was an exception. These stories of the women who joined the Northern war effort expanded my knowledge beyond my wildest expectations.

By Pamela D. Toler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heroines of Mercy Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A look at the lives of the real nurses depicted in the PBS show Mercy Street.

Heroines of Mercy Street tells the true stories of the nurses at Mansion House, the Alexandria, Virginia, mansion turned war-time hospital and setting for the PBS drama Mercy Street. Among the Union soldiers, doctors, wounded men from both sides, freed slaves, politicians, speculators, and spies who passed through the hospital in the crossroads of the Civil War, were nurses who gave their time freely and willingly to save lives and aid the wounded. These women saw casualties on a scale Americans had never seen…


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The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

Book cover of The Woman at the Wheel

Penny Haw Author Of The Invincible Miss Cust

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Dog walker Dreamer Runner Reader

Penny's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cäcilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love—with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his plans, a dicey move since they alone believe in the machine. When Carl's partners threaten to withdraw their support, he's ready to cut ties. Bertha knows the decision would ruin everything. Ignoring the cynics, she takes matters into her own hands, secretly planning a scheme that will either hasten the family's passage to absolute derision or prove their genius. What Bertha doesn't know is that Carl is on the cusp of making a deal with their nemesis. She's not only risking her marriage and their life's work, but is also up against the patriarchy, Carl's own self-doubt, and the clock.

Like so many other women, Bertha lived largely in her husband's shadow, but her contributions are now celebrated in this inspiring story of perseverance, resilience, and love.

The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

What is this book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cacilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love-with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his…


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