The best books on the Battle of Gettysburg

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

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Gettysburg

By Allen C. Guelzo,

Book cover of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

Part of the enduring popularity of the Battle of Gettysburg studies, is that the battle offers a true microcosm of the American Civil War—from politics to personalities. A meeting engagement, a desperate struggle, a turning point, and human tragedy on a scale the continent had never seen before, the events of those three days in July still resonant down the years. Guelzo’s book, besides being one of the most recent, offers wonderful descriptions of every facet of the battle with finely-crafted prose and a pacing that will keep readers invested from start to finish.

Gettysburg

By Allen C. Guelzo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History

An Economist Best Book of the Year

A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

The Battle of Gettysburg has been written about at length and thoroughly dissected in terms of strategic importance, but never before has a book taken readers so close to the experience of the individual soldier.

Two-time Lincoln Prize winner Allen C. Guelzo shows us the face, the sights and the sounds of nineteenth-century combat: the stone walls and gunpowder clouds of Pickett’s Charge; the reason that the Army of Northern Virginia could be smelled before it…

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. 

The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara,

Book cover of The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

In Shaara’s telling we learn the intellectual and spiritual grounding by which men lead themselves to give “their last full measure.” If a book of brilliant conversations between a New England academic commanding officer and an uneducated Irish immigrant top sergeant does not explain the choice to you then you may never learn it.  

Perhaps it is most simply put in the title which comes from a conversation between the two men. The professor from Bowdoin College says simply, “Man is an angel.” To wit his British-trained top sergeant responds, “Colonel, darlin’, if man is an angel he is a killer angel.”

The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Killer Angels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“My favorite historical novel . . . a superb re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg, but its real importance is its insight into what the war was about, and what it meant.”—James M. McPherson
 
In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty…

Who am I?

When I was 22, I joined the USMC for the same reason Socrates drank the hemlock. And since being so directly and harshly confronted with my own mortality at such a young age, I’ve not been able to shake the question, what is worth dying for? I study it in myself and I study it in others. We all die; we all know we will. That is boring in its ubiquity. What is fascinating is any choice that a man or woman may make which will cause him or her to give into it one breath early.   


I wrote...

A Panther Crosses Over

By Sam Foster,

Book cover of A Panther Crosses Over

What is my book about?

Following the French and Indian War, white settlers pour over the Appalachians and down the Ohio River.  But native tribes of the Northwest Territory have long inhabited this land—and they are willing to fight to remain. Leading the Shawnee is Tecumseh—courageous, discerning, and capable of assembling fifty thousand warriors to rise together to chase the white settlers back east when he commands. How will warriors from Florida to Canada know when the command has come? For twenty years his answer has been the same: “I will stomp my foot.”

Against Tecumseh stands an equally talented, implacable, and gifted opponent, William Henry Harrison. The decades-long struggle between cultures, and men, comes to a dramatic head at the Battle of Tippecanoe, with history-shaping consequences. 

Pickett's Charge

By George R. Stewart,

Book cover of Pickett's Charge

The subtitle of this book is A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. This puts it well. This is virtually a “real-time” history of one of the most significant battles in American History. It is well documented and the book is very well written. It places the reader in the battle as the fate of the United States hangs in the balance.

Pickett's Charge

By George R. Stewart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pickett's Charge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

The writer part should be obvious. I write books under my own name and as a ghostwriter. But also, like any good writer, I am a reader. The earliest books I recall reading, after Dick and Jane, were books on American history, in particular the American Civil War. When I looked to write on my own, this was the first area I looked into. Write what you know. Write what you like to read.


I wrote...

Grant's Victory: How Ulysses S. Grant Won the Civil War

By Bruce L. Brager,

Book cover of Grant's Victory: How Ulysses S. Grant Won the Civil War

What is my book about?

The war in the east was the most prominent part of the Civil War. The most militarily important segment of the eastern war was the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville through the campaign starting with the May 1964 Battle of the Wilderness. Same location for both battles in Northern Virginia. Same armies. But the South clearly won at Chancellorsville. The North won a strategic victory at the Wilderness, which put in on the road to winning the war a year later.

Why? Robert E. Lee led both battles for the South. The North had a new commander for the second battle, Ulysses S. Grant. My book, the first one to focus on this period, makes the case that Grant made the difference, that his better understanding of a battle within the context of a campaign, made the difference.

The Last Full Measure

By Jeff Shaara,

Book cover of The Last Full Measure

I actually think that Shaara has outdone his father. Both, of course, weave the story around actual historical events, although Shaara Junior’s introduction of fictional characters livens the narrative up. I’ve enjoyed all of Shaara’s books, regardless of their historical setting, but I chose this one because it was a good way for me to learn more about the Civil War post-Gettysburg and also have a really good read.

The Last Full Measure

By Jeff Shaara,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Full Measure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I am a retired professor of anthropology. I was first drawn to archaeology after a high-school presentation by a Classics master on the ruins of Paestum. I have enjoyed exploring the past but have a special passion for Greece. Because of my working-class origin in Liverpool, England, class struggle and the fight for human dignity has been a leitmotif of first my academic and now my fiction writing. My books explore how war inevitably changes the lives of the characters. I have bachelors and graduate degrees from Cambridge University and the University of Calgary. I'm a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities. I hope you enjoy the books on my list!


I wrote...

The Village: A Novel of Wartime Crete

By Philip Duke,

Book cover of The Village: A Novel of Wartime Crete

What is my book about?

The Nazi war machine steamrollers its way through Europe, but an obscure Cretan village stands in its way and says no!

A Cretan village confronts the Nazi juggernaut sweeping across Europe. A village matriarch tries to hold her family together...Her grieving son finds a new life in the Cretan Resistance... A naive English soldier unwillingly finds the warrior in himself...And a fanatical German paratrooper is forced to question everything he thought he believed in. The lives of four ordinary people are irrevocably intertwined and their destinies changed forever as each of them confronts in their own way the horrors of war and its echo down the decades.

The Gleam of Bayonets

By James V. Murfin,

Book cover of The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, September 1862

Murfin’s readable classic account of the battle takes readers deeper into the military movements and fighting action. His detailed maps further enrich readers’ understanding of the “who” and the “how” of Antietam’s battle. Adding considerable numbers of personal soldier stories, Murfin’s work takes readers closer to understanding the common soldier’s experience, while tying those experiences to the larger objectives of senior military officers. Although his analysis generally reflects an earlier era, knowing how the battle was understood during the Civil War’s centennial provides context for most current interpretations of America’s bloodiest day.    

The Gleam of Bayonets

By James V. Murfin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the bloodiest days in American military history, the Battle of Antietam turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of the North and delivered the first major defeat to Robert E. Lee's army. In The Gleam of Bayonets, James V. Murfin gives a compelling account of the events and personalities involved in this momentous battle. The gentleness and patience of Lincoln, the vacillations of McClellan, and the grandeur of Lee- all unfold before the reader. The battle itself is presented with precision and scope as Murfin blends together atmosphere and fact, emotions and tactics, into a dramatic…

Who am I?

As a child my grandmother shared that we had ancestors who had served during the Civil War, a momentary conversation that set me on a lifetime quest to connect with those men and their experiences.  My professional work as a historian and military analyst for the US Government helped build the skills that enabled this quest and each of my books, articles, and videos seek to understand and share both the “what” of those experiences and the “why” of the war’s many battles and conflicts.  


I wrote...

The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

By David A. Welker,

Book cover of The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

What is my book about?

For generations of Americans the name Antietam—a bucolic western Maryland stream—held the same sense of horror and carnage that the date 9/11 does for modern Americas. Now, David A. Welker’s The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point for the first time tells the full story of the exciting struggle to control “the Cornfield,” the action upon which this great battle turned. Offering fresh views of the battle as a whole, it provides readers an engaging, exciting, and historically-accurate story of human struggle against fearful odds, of men seeking to do their duty, of simply trying to survive amidst a self-reinforcing cycle of disaster that doomed the Union's prospects for success—at the cost of 22,000 casualties and thousands of lives.

Book cover of A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade: Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers

I found Major Rufus Dawes' first-hand account of Antietam to be perhaps the best, most readable of the many soldier accounts available. Not only does Dawes write clear narrative accounts of what he experienced at Antietam, but he offers his own feelings and thoughts on the fighting that take the reader beyond the movements and action. Another thing that I appreciated about Dawes' account is that he frequently offers wider context for the fighting and movements that gives the reader a deeper understanding of why he was experiencing these events (and unlike many other postwar accounts, Dawes avoids using this hindsight to cast blame). Although it naturally only gives the Union side and a small portion of the battle, Dawes' experiences probably generally reflect what it was like to “be there.”

A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade

By Rufus R. Dawes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I have been so wholly engrossed with my work for the last week or I should have responded sooner to your question: 'Are you going?' If a kind Providence and President Lincoln will permit, I am. I am Captain of as good, and true a band of patriots as ever rallied under the star spangled banner."-Rufus R. Dawes. A Full Blown Yankee of the Iron Brigade combines the personal experiences of Rufus R. Dawes with a history of the regiment in which he served. The Iron Brigade was the only all-Western brigade that fought in the eastern armies of the…

Who am I?

As a child my grandmother shared that we had ancestors who had served during the Civil War, a momentary conversation that set me on a lifetime quest to connect with those men and their experiences.  My professional work as a historian and military analyst for the US Government helped build the skills that enabled this quest and each of my books, articles, and videos seek to understand and share both the “what” of those experiences and the “why” of the war’s many battles and conflicts.  


I wrote...

The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

By David A. Welker,

Book cover of The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

What is my book about?

For generations of Americans the name Antietam—a bucolic western Maryland stream—held the same sense of horror and carnage that the date 9/11 does for modern Americas. Now, David A. Welker’s The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point for the first time tells the full story of the exciting struggle to control “the Cornfield,” the action upon which this great battle turned. Offering fresh views of the battle as a whole, it provides readers an engaging, exciting, and historically-accurate story of human struggle against fearful odds, of men seeking to do their duty, of simply trying to survive amidst a self-reinforcing cycle of disaster that doomed the Union's prospects for success—at the cost of 22,000 casualties and thousands of lives.

Too Afraid to Cry

By Kathleen A. Ernst,

Book cover of Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign

Civilians affected by America’s bloodiest day—tiny Sharpsburg, Maryland was literally at the center of the fighting—are too frequently treated as an afterthought, but Kathy Earnst’s excellent book proved a vital resource for capturing their experiences in my own book. Featuring firsthand accounts of these experiences that day, she provides background stories of these average people swept up in this event as well as short descriptions of their lives after the battle.

Too Afraid to Cry

By Kathleen A. Ernst,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Too Afraid to Cry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Studies the Maryland Campaign of 1862 from the perspective of the people living in the region.

Who am I?

As a child my grandmother shared that we had ancestors who had served during the Civil War, a momentary conversation that set me on a lifetime quest to connect with those men and their experiences.  My professional work as a historian and military analyst for the US Government helped build the skills that enabled this quest and each of my books, articles, and videos seek to understand and share both the “what” of those experiences and the “why” of the war’s many battles and conflicts.  


I wrote...

The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

By David A. Welker,

Book cover of The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

What is my book about?

For generations of Americans the name Antietam—a bucolic western Maryland stream—held the same sense of horror and carnage that the date 9/11 does for modern Americas. Now, David A. Welker’s The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point for the first time tells the full story of the exciting struggle to control “the Cornfield,” the action upon which this great battle turned. Offering fresh views of the battle as a whole, it provides readers an engaging, exciting, and historically-accurate story of human struggle against fearful odds, of men seeking to do their duty, of simply trying to survive amidst a self-reinforcing cycle of disaster that doomed the Union's prospects for success—at the cost of 22,000 casualties and thousands of lives.

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