100 books like Contested Borderland

By Brian D. McKnight,

Here are 100 books that Contested Borderland fans have personally recommended if you like Contested Borderland. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border

Brad Asher Author Of The Most Hated Man in Kentucky: The Lost Cause and the Legacy of Union General Stephen Burbridge

From my list on the Civil War and the Lost Cause in Kentucky.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian based in Louisville, Kentucky. When I moved here two decades ago, I could tell the vibe was different than other places I had been. Southern—but not like Tennessee. Midwestern—but not like Illinois. So I started reading, and eventually writing, about the state’s history. I have a Ph.D. in United States history so I lean toward academic books. I like authors who dig into the primary sources of history and then come out and make an argument about the evidence that they uncovered. I also lean toward social and cultural history—rather than military history—of the Civil War.

Brad's book list on the Civil War and the Lost Cause in Kentucky

Brad Asher Why did Brad love this book?

To outsiders, Kentucky is clearly part of the South. For those of us who live here—especially those who know a little about the state’s history—it can be a little more nebulous. Phillips’ book helps explain why. Kentucky had a lot in common with its fellow states of the first West like Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, and those northern states could be a lot more “southern” than commonly understood. Phillips’s book shows how the Civil War remade those regional boundaries, turning the Ohio River into a line of separation between “North” and “South.”

By Christopher Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rivers Ran Backward as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Most Americans believe that the Ohio River was a clearly defined and static demographic and political boundary between North and South, an extension of the Mason-Dixon Line. Once settled, the new states west of the Appalachians - the slave states of Kentucky and Missouri and of the free states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas - formed a fixed boundary between freedom and slavery, extending the border that inevitably produced the war. None of this is true,
except perhaps the outcome of war. But the centrality of the Civil War and its outcome in the making of these tropes is…


Book cover of Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri

Brad Asher Author Of The Most Hated Man in Kentucky: The Lost Cause and the Legacy of Union General Stephen Burbridge

From my list on the Civil War and the Lost Cause in Kentucky.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian based in Louisville, Kentucky. When I moved here two decades ago, I could tell the vibe was different than other places I had been. Southern—but not like Tennessee. Midwestern—but not like Illinois. So I started reading, and eventually writing, about the state’s history. I have a Ph.D. in United States history so I lean toward academic books. I like authors who dig into the primary sources of history and then come out and make an argument about the evidence that they uncovered. I also lean toward social and cultural history—rather than military history—of the Civil War.

Brad's book list on the Civil War and the Lost Cause in Kentucky

Brad Asher Why did Brad love this book?

This book reminded me of the deep parallels in the histories of Missouri and Kentucky. I don’t tend to associate Kentucky with Missouri, but Astor’s book really drives home why that is wrongheaded. Both were border states and, during the war, both suffered guerrilla insurgencies, had divided populations, and ended up supporting the pro-Confederate Lost Cause vision of the war. And when so much writing on Kentucky’s history is focused on its white inhabitants, Astor restores agency to its African American residents, showing how they resisted slavery and then, after emancipation, created their own institutions to contest for racial equality in the face of fierce opposition.

By Aaron Astor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Rebels on the Border offers a remarkably compelling and significant study of the Civil War South's highly contested and bloodiest border states: Kentucky and Missouri. By far the most complex examination to date, the book sharply focuses on the ""borderland"" between the free North and the Confederate South. As a result, Rebels on the Border deepens and enhances understanding of the sectional conflict, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.

After slaves in central Kentucky and Missouri gained their emancipation, author Aaron Astor contends, they transformed informal kin and social networks of resistance against slavery into more formalized processes of electoral participation…


Book cover of Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880

Brad Asher Author Of The Most Hated Man in Kentucky: The Lost Cause and the Legacy of Union General Stephen Burbridge

From my list on the Civil War and the Lost Cause in Kentucky.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian based in Louisville, Kentucky. When I moved here two decades ago, I could tell the vibe was different than other places I had been. Southern—but not like Tennessee. Midwestern—but not like Illinois. So I started reading, and eventually writing, about the state’s history. I have a Ph.D. in United States history so I lean toward academic books. I like authors who dig into the primary sources of history and then come out and make an argument about the evidence that they uncovered. I also lean toward social and cultural history—rather than military history—of the Civil War.

Brad's book list on the Civil War and the Lost Cause in Kentucky

Brad Asher Why did Brad love this book?

I have long been interested in the history of US religion but a lot of religious history can be, well, boring. Harlow’s book is not. People interested in the Civil War often forget about the role religious belief played in the lives of 19th-century Americans, preferring to focus on military strategy or the politics of emancipation and Reconstruction. Harlow’s book foregrounds religion and shows how pro-slavery theology united Kentuckians even as they split over the war. And how that same theology helps explain why they turned their back on their wartime Unionism and embraced the Lost Cause version of events.

By Luke E. Harlow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book sheds new light on the role of religion in the nineteenth-century slavery debates. Luke E. Harlow argues that the ongoing conflict over the meaning of Christian 'orthodoxy' constrained the political and cultural horizons available for defenders and opponents of American slavery. The central locus of these debates was Kentucky, a border slave state with a long-standing antislavery presence. Although white Kentuckians famously cast themselves as moderates in the period and remained with the Union during the Civil War, their religious values showed no moderation on the slavery question. When the war ultimately brought emancipation, white Kentuckians found themselves…


Book cover of Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State

Brad Asher Author Of The Most Hated Man in Kentucky: The Lost Cause and the Legacy of Union General Stephen Burbridge

From my list on the Civil War and the Lost Cause in Kentucky.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian based in Louisville, Kentucky. When I moved here two decades ago, I could tell the vibe was different than other places I had been. Southern—but not like Tennessee. Midwestern—but not like Illinois. So I started reading, and eventually writing, about the state’s history. I have a Ph.D. in United States history so I lean toward academic books. I like authors who dig into the primary sources of history and then come out and make an argument about the evidence that they uncovered. I also lean toward social and cultural history—rather than military history—of the Civil War.

Brad's book list on the Civil War and the Lost Cause in Kentucky

Brad Asher Why did Brad love this book?

When I moved to Kentucky many years ago, the large Confederate memorial on a downtown street was a puzzle to me because I knew that Kentucky had been a Union state. As one historian said many years ago, “Kentucky seceded after the war was over.” Marshall’s book walks us through that process. She covers everything from politics to postwar violence to children’s literature to the resistance efforts of Kentucky’s African Americans as she explains why those Confederate memorials and monuments went up all around the state. 

By Anne E. Marshall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Creating a Confederate Kentucky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Historian E. Merton Coulter famously said that Kentucky ""waited until after the war was over to secede from the Union."" In this fresh study, Anne E. Marshall traces the development of a Confederate identity in Kentucky between 1865 and 1925 that belied the fact that Kentucky never left the Union and that more Kentuckians fought for the North than for the South. Following the Civil War, the people of Kentucky appeared to forget their Union loyalties, embracing the Democratic politics, racial violence, and Jim Crow laws associated with formerly Confederate states. Although, on the surface, white Confederate memory appeared to…


Book cover of Desertion During the Civil War

Lesley J. Gordon Author Of A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

From my list on the Civil War and the soldiers who fought in it.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been reading, researching, writing, and teaching Civil War military history for nearly thirty years. I first became interested in soldiers and their experiences as a teen, and went on to earn a PhD in American History at the University of Georgia. I’ve always been fascinated by the anti-hero, and the ways in which everyday people coped (or failed to cope) with this violent conflict. I am currently writing a book about regiments accused of cowardice and how those searing allegations cast a shadow over their military record. From 2010-2015, I served as editor of the scholarly journal Civil War History, and I was recently elected President of the Society for Civil War Historians (2022-2024).

Lesley's book list on the Civil War and the soldiers who fought in it

Lesley J. Gordon Why did Lesley love this book?

Despite this book’s age—almost a century in print—it still stands as a seminal work on an important topic: desertion and its devastating effects on both armies. Lonn was born in 1879 in Indiana, and earned her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the few female historians at the time to do so. She was not immune to the racism of her day nor the cloying ideology of the Lost Cause, yet she told her readers she wanted to understand “the ugly and sordid sides of war.” Her book offers readers a wealth of information and insight to better understand the myriad of reasons why soldiers deserted.

By Dr. Ella Lonn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Desertion During the Civil War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Desertion during the Civil War, originally published in 1928, remains the only book-length treatment of its subject. Ella Lonn examines the causes and consequences of desertion from both the Northern and Southern armies. Drawing on official war records, she notes that one in seven enlisted Union soldiers and one in nine Confederate soldiers deserted.

Lonn discusses many reasons for desertion common to both armies, among them lack of such necessities as food, clothing, and equipment; weariness and discouragement; noncommitment and resentment of coercion; and worry about loved ones at home. Some Confederate deserters turned outlaw, joining ruffian bands in the…


Book cover of Tara Revisited: Women, War, & the Plantation Legend

DeAnne Blanton Author Of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

From my list on women in the Civil War.

Why am I passionate about this?

DeAnne Blanton retired from the National Archives in Washington, DC after 31 years of service as a reference archivist specializing in 18th and 19th century U.S. Army records. She was recognized within the National Archives as well as in the historical and genealogical communities as a leading authority on the American Civil War; 19th century women’s history; and the history of American women in the military.

DeAnne's book list on women in the Civil War

DeAnne Blanton Why did DeAnne love this book?

This book completely debunks every romantic Old South and Lost Cause myth. Relying on a plethora of primary sources, especially letters and diaries, Clinton reveals the real and often heartbreaking lives of white plantation women and black enslaved women. Always an engaging writer, Clinton narrates the deep and troubled subject with empathy and a level hand. 

By Catherine Clinton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Combining period photographs and illustrations with documentary sources, this work relates the story of southern women during the American Civil War: the African-American women who struggled for freedom; the nurses who faced gruesome duties; and the women who spied and died for the Confederacy.


Book cover of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

John Poniske Author Of Snakebit: Prelude to War

From my list on reflecting on our current cultural impasse.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was raised in Springfield, Illinois, what is considered Lincoln’s backyard. I grew up fascinated by history, and the Civil War in particular. The trouble was, its racial overtones always bothered me. Later in life, I became a high school history and journalism teacher and turned my interest in historical-based board gaming into a business I called Indulgent Wife Enterprises (because my wife is so incredibly supportive). To date, I have published 30 board games based mostly on American conflicts. When I retired, I began the ambitious project of writing a strongly researched account of the divisions leading up to the Civil War and through to the Reconstruction period that followed. 

John's book list on reflecting on our current cultural impasse

John Poniske Why did John love this book?

Having been raised with a love of history, particularly the Civil War, I have always sought to connect our seemingly irreconcilable differences to that great conflict. Here, I was reminded that our differences stem as much from our failed attempt at Reconstruction following the war as from the war itself.

I can’t believe we came so close to resolving our racial failings only to entrench them. I firmly believe this period in history defines who we are today.

By David W. Blight,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Race and Reunion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Bancroft Prize
Winner of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
Winner of the Merle Curti award
Winner of the Frederick Douglass Prize

No historical event has left as deep an imprint on America's collective memory as the Civil War. In the war's aftermath, Americans had to embrace and cast off a traumatic past. David Blight explores the perilous path of remembering and forgetting, and reveals its tragic costs to race relations and America's national reunion.In 1865, confronted with a ravaged landscape and a torn America, the North and South began a slow and painful process of reconciliation. The…


Book cover of Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War

William Barney Author Of Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy

From my list on an offbeat look at the Confederacy.

Why am I passionate about this?

From a youth devouring the books of Bruce Catton to my formative years as a historian, I’ve been fascinated by the Civil War, especially the thinking and experiences of southerners who lived through the cataclysmic war years. In my teaching and writing, I’ve tried to focus on the lived experiences, the hopes and fears, of southerners who seemingly embraced secession and an independent Southern Confederacy in the expectation of a short, victorious war only to become disenchanted when the war they thought would come to pass turned into a long, bloody stalemate. The books I’ve listed share my passion for the war and open new and often unexpected windows into the Confederate experience.

William's book list on an offbeat look at the Confederacy

William Barney Why did William love this book?

Few images of the Confederacy are as enduring as that of the selfless sacrificing and unbounded enthusiasm of southern women for the Confederate cause. This groundbreaking study peels away this mythic image to reveal the conflicted feelings of elite white women as they struggled to cope with a crush of new responsibilities for which they were ill-prepared and longed for the return of their husbands and sons. The letters they sent President Davis and their men in the war registered a growing disillusionment with the Confederacy and a yearning to return to the comfort of their pre-war privileged positions.

By Drew Gilpin Faust,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Confederate men marched off to battle, southern women struggled with the new responsibilities of directing farms and plantations, providing for families, and supervising increasingly restive slaves. Drew Faust offers a compelling picture of the more than half-million women who belonged to the slaveholding families of the Confederacy during this period of acute crisis, when every part of these women's lives became vexed and uncertain.


Book cover of Callow, Brave and True: A Gospel of Civil War Youth

J. Arthur Moore Author Of The Real Boys of the Civil War

From my list on youth who served in the American Civil War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a retired teacher, author, and researcher/presenter focusing on the real boys of the American Civil War. A Ray Bradbury short story in The Saturday Evening Post back in 1963 first sparked my interest. It focused on a drummer and his general at the Battle of Shiloh–a two-page conversation between them. There was no action. A teenager then, I decided I could do better and began what decades later would become my 4-book series, Journey Into Darkness, a story in four parts. In the years that followed, I became a middle-grade teacher, and my students learned about the Civil War by way of their peers.  

J.'s book list on youth who served in the American Civil War

J. Arthur Moore Why did J. love this book?

I love that Jay’s book focused on the youngest to serve, not just in the Union Army but also in the Confederate service. He also delved into a group not mentioned by other researchers, the Home Guard–kids usually 6-12 years of age, most prevalent in the South.  I also had the honor of several years of friendship with Jay Hoar by way of correspondence and phone calls.

I treasure his work as it allowed me to journey with these kids in their life stories and, when possible, to see who they were through their images, though many were from later in life. We exchanged our work, his nonfiction research for my historical fiction.

By Jay S. Hoar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Callow, Brave and True as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Just who were the youngest soldiers, Union or Confederate, of the Civil War? The culmination of 25 years' research, Professor Hoar presents the heroic, and sometimes tragic, aspects of the war, exemplified in the "littlest" Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs. More than 40 concise biographies.


Book cover of The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy

Gary W. Gallagher Author Of The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis

From my list on the Civil War era.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been captivated by the era of the American Civil War since I was ten years old at the beginning of the conflict’s centennial. I have taught at the University of Texas at Austin, Penn State University, and the University of Virginia. I have written, co-written, or edited more than 40 books on the subject. The compelling personalities, dramatic events, and profoundly important issues at stake compel my continuing attention to the war, its antecedents, and its short- and long-term impact. I recommend five classic titles on the Civil War era (one a trilogy, one a two-volume set, and three single volumes) that will reward readers in the third decade of the 21st Century.

Gary's book list on the Civil War era

Gary W. Gallagher Why did Gary love this book?

Bell I. Wiley’s The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (1943) and The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (1952) marked a watershed in scholarship relating to the military history of the Civil War. It is no exaggeration to say that Wiley invented the genre of soldier studies that many decades later witnessed a profusion of works on the topic. The two books, which reflect a close reading of thousands of letters, explore such things as the process of enlistment, motivations to serve and remain in the ranks, what the men ate and wore, how they amused themselves, how they reacted to combat, why and in what numbers they deserted, how they related to people on the home fronts, attitudes toward the enemy, and religious practices. Although subsequent scholarship challenged some of Wiley’s conclusions, all historians who followed in his wake owed…

By Bell Irvin Wiley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life of Johnny Reb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this companion to The Life of Johnny Reb, Bell Irvin Wiley explores the daily lives of the men in blue who fought to save the Union. With the help of many soldiers' letters and diaries, Wiley explains who these men were and why they fought, how they reacted to combat and the strain of prolonged conflict, and what they thought about the land and the people of Dixie. This fascinating social history reveals that while the Yanks and the Rebs fought for very different causes, the men on both sides were very much the same. ""This wonderfully interesting book…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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