The best books on the Battle of Antietam

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Battle of Antietam and why they recommend each book.

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Landscape Turned Red

By Stephen W. Sears,

Book cover of Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam

The American Civil War was a war and war means fighting and fighting means battles so it is no wonder that the vast bulk of Civil War histories are battle studies. The best ones fold in events and personalities beyond the reach of individual battlefields to provide a gestalt view of the era as a whole and Sears’ book is, indeed, one of the best. Much depended on Antietam—from the ongoing character of the conflict to Lincoln being emboldened enough to issue the mighty Emancipation Proclamation—and Sears deftly guides his narrative through the astonishing turns of fate and chance that resulted in a narrow Union victory General McClellan called his “masterpiece of art” (spoiler: it wasn’t).


Who am I?

I came to Civil War studies fairly late in life but still relatively callow, by a route too roundabout to explain. But after reading James McPherson’s, Battle Cry of Freedom (there’s a bonus book!), I found I had a love of every facet of the era. The only thing I’d ever wanted to be was a writer and, as I delved deeper into the vast body of literature on the American Civil War, I finally felt as if I’d found the subject I could pour all my passion into (that and my enduring love of dogs). My novel Wilderness, along with a few novels published in French, was the result.


I wrote...

Wilderness

By Lance Weller,

Book cover of Wilderness

What is my book about?

Thirty years after the Civil War's Battle of the Wilderness left him maimed, Abel Truman has found his way to the edge of the continent, the rugged, majestic coast of Washington State, where he lives alone in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog. Wilderness is the story of Abel, now an old and ailing man, and his heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It's a quest he has little hope of completing but still must undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war.

In its contrasts of light and dark and its attempts to reconcile a horrific war with the great evil it ended, Wilderness tells a story about who we are as human beings, a people, and a nation. 

Mr. Lincoln's Army

By Bruce Catton,

Book cover of Mr. Lincoln's Army

Bruce Catton introduced untold readers from the early 1950s through the 1970s to the Civil War. His Army of the Potomac Trilogy—Mr. Lincoln’s Army (1951), Glory Road (1952), and A Stillness at Appomattox (1953; winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History)—provided a compelling narrative of the most important Union army’s soldiers and officers. Catton excelled at creating incisive biographical portraits of figures such as George B. McClellan and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as at evoking the attitudes and experiences of soldiers in the ranks. The trilogy also seamlessly connected events on the battlefield to politics and social developments, a crucial factor in telling the story of how a democratic republic waged a transformative military conflict.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis

By Gary W. Gallagher,

Book cover of The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis

What is my book about?

This book explores many aspects of the Civil War, including how its memory has evolved over many decades. It places our contemporary understanding of the Civil War, both popular and academic, in conversation with testimony from people in the United States and the Confederacy who experienced and described it. Put another way, the book investigates how mid-19th-century perceptions align with, or deviate from, some of those we now hold regarding the origins, conduct, and aftermath of the war.

Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

By Rufus R. Dawes,

Book cover of Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

This memoir has long been considered a classic, referenced by scores of Civil War authors over many decades. The editor of the 1961 edition, historian and author Alan T. Nolan, noted the following: “Its excellence is the product of three factors: the character and abilities of the author; the historical techniques and the materials which he used, and the events in which he and his regiment participated. These factors – author, technique and events – combine to make the book a superb document of its kind.


Who am I?

Steve Magnusen is an officer in the Indianapolis Civil War Roundtable and holds associate membership in three other roundtables in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana. He enjoyed a nationally recognized engineering and public works administration career in north suburban Chicago after receiving his degree from Purdue University. He has led several professional and non-profit organizations and served fifteen years as an infantry and armor officer in the US Army Reserve.


I wrote...

To My Best Girl: Courage, Honor, and Love in the Civil War: The Inspiring Life Stories of Rufus Dawes and Mary Gates

By Steve Magnusen,

Book cover of To My Best Girl: Courage, Honor, and Love in the Civil War: The Inspiring Life Stories of Rufus Dawes and Mary Gates

What is my book about?

History is about the stories of real people and their actions and experiences during impactful events. To My Best Girl focuses on the true drama involving two young people caught up in the brutal American Civil War - Rufus Dawes and Mary Gates. Battlefield action, daily life in an elite combat unit, parallel drama occurring at home, and trials of family and friends - all combine in a timeline narrative spanning thirty years, but primarily involving the desperate days of the war. Many authentic original letters and diaries are quoted throughout, and are also utilized to create dialog that is realistic and accurate.

To My Best Girl has been awarded the publisher’s “Award of Literary Excellence”, and was selected as a Finalist for the Independent Author Network “Book of the Year Award for History – Fiction in 2019”.

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