The best books on the Confederate States of America

6 authors have picked their favorite books about the Confederate States of America and why they recommend each book.

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The Life of Johnny Reb

By Bell Irvin Wiley,

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

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…

The Life of Johnny Reb

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…

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.

The Confederate Republic

By George C. Rable,

Book cover of The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics

This is the first, and still really the only, thorough study of the political life of the seceded states when they formed their new Confederacy. It is an eye-opener as to what those founders envisioned for their new republic, revealing them as more than just reactionary rebels. While never downplaying the central role of slavery and its concomitant issues in bringing about secession, Rable also shows the flashes of political idealism in the minds of some who thought they would be perfecting what was begun in 1776.

The Confederate Republic

By George C. Rable,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this investigation of Confederate political culture, George Rable focuses on the assumptions, values, and beliefs that formed the foundation of Confederate political ideology. He shows how southerners attempted to purify the political process and avoid what they saw as the evils of parties and partisanship. According to Rable, secession marked the beginning of a revolution against politics, in which the Confederacy's founding fathers saw themselves as the true heirs of the American Revolution. Nevertheless, factionalism developed within the Confederacy as the war dragged on, and the conflict carried over from the strictly political sphere to matters of military strategy,…

Who am I?

I find the early days of the Confederacy to be fascinating, a chance to look at Americans in the act of nation-making while surrounded by fear and crisis. Far more than in the convention of 1776, this episode offers sources that allow us to look inside their motives, and to evaluate them both as impractical rebels, and social and political idealists [albeit their idealism was always encased within the confines of a slave society]. Having written biographies of Jefferson Davis, Alexander H Stephens, Robert Toombs, and other Confederate politicians, this subject is a natural object of my interest. While I do not at all agree with or endorse the political measures they took in the secession crisis, I can feel some empathy for them and their people who felt themselves caught in a no-win position, facing [in their view] the possible destruction of their economy, society, and culture.


I wrote...

An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

By William C. Davis,

Book cover of An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

What is my book about?

In February 1865, the end was clearly in sight for the Confederate government. An Honorable Defeat is the story of the four months that saw the surrender of the South and the assassination of Lincoln by Southern partisans. It is also the story of two men, antagonists yet political partners, who struggled during this time to achieve their own differing visions for the South: Jefferson Davis, the autocratic president of the Confederate States, who vowed never to surrender whatever the cost; and the practical and warm General John C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War, who hoped pragmatism would save the shattered remnants of the land he loved so dearly.

William C. Davis traces the astounding flight of these men, and the entire Confederate cabinet, as they flee south from Richmond by train, then by mule, then on foot.

Four Years in Rebel Capitals

By Thomas C. DeLeon,

Book cover of Four Years in Rebel Capitals: An Inside View of Life in the Southern Confederacy From Birth to Death: From Original Notes, Collated in the Years 1861 to 1865

It is one of the best first-person accounts we have of the adolescent days of the Confederacy in Montgomery, AL. De Leon is a fine writer who provides great pen portraits of the people involved, endless anecdotal detail on political and social life among the founders and their Montgomery hosts, and some penetrating insights into the jealousies and rivalries that helped to cripple their efforts from the outset.

Four Years in Rebel Capitals

By Thomas C. DeLeon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Four Years in Rebel Capitals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and…


Who am I?

I find the early days of the Confederacy to be fascinating, a chance to look at Americans in the act of nation-making while surrounded by fear and crisis. Far more than in the convention of 1776, this episode offers sources that allow us to look inside their motives, and to evaluate them both as impractical rebels, and social and political idealists [albeit their idealism was always encased within the confines of a slave society]. Having written biographies of Jefferson Davis, Alexander H Stephens, Robert Toombs, and other Confederate politicians, this subject is a natural object of my interest. While I do not at all agree with or endorse the political measures they took in the secession crisis, I can feel some empathy for them and their people who felt themselves caught in a no-win position, facing [in their view] the possible destruction of their economy, society, and culture.


I wrote...

An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

By William C. Davis,

Book cover of An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

What is my book about?

In February 1865, the end was clearly in sight for the Confederate government. An Honorable Defeat is the story of the four months that saw the surrender of the South and the assassination of Lincoln by Southern partisans. It is also the story of two men, antagonists yet political partners, who struggled during this time to achieve their own differing visions for the South: Jefferson Davis, the autocratic president of the Confederate States, who vowed never to surrender whatever the cost; and the practical and warm General John C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War, who hoped pragmatism would save the shattered remnants of the land he loved so dearly.

William C. Davis traces the astounding flight of these men, and the entire Confederate cabinet, as they flee south from Richmond by train, then by mule, then on foot.

Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War

By David Williams, Teresa C. Williams, David Carlson

Book cover of Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War: Class and Dissent in Confederate Georgia

Focusing on Georgia, this study answers the question of just what rich Confederates were doing during the Civil War. It turns out that they were not sacrificing all for the Confederate cause but pursuing their self-interests by continuing to grow cotton, speculating in goods, and finding ways to use their class position to stay out of Confederate armies. By so doing, they aroused the class resentments of the plain folk who increasingly turned against the Confederate cause.

Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War

By David Williams, Teresa C. Williams, David Carlson

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This text aims to shed new light on how planter self-interest, government indifference, and the very nature of southern society produced a rising tide of dissent and disaffection among Georgia's plain folk during the Civil War.

Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Book cover of Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy

What is my book about?

Regardless of whether they owned slaves, Southern whites lived in a world defined by slavery. As shown by their blaming British and Northern slave traders for saddling them with slavery, most were uncomfortable with the institution. While many wanted it ended, most were content to leave that up to God. All that changed with the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Rebels in the Making is a narrative-driven history of how and why secession occurred. In this work, senior Civil War historian William L. Barney narrates the explosion of the sectional conflict into secession and civil war. Carefully examining the events in all fifteen slave states and distinguishing the political circumstances in each, he argues that this was not a mass democratic movement but one led from above.

Book cover of The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience

Here is the best introduction to how the Confederacy transformed itself into a mirror image of the South’s traditional portrayal as a static agricultural society based on states’ rights. To meet the demands of waging the Civil War, the Confederacy underwent rapid industrialization and urbanization directed by a strong centralized bureaucracy in Richmond. New and expanded roles opened up for southern women challenging the prerogatives of male patriarchy. How many of these changes would have become permanent had the Confederacy survived is an open question, but the Confederacy decidedly was not an extension of the Old South.

The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience

By Emory M. Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The purpose of this book is to show that the Confederacy not only enacted an external revolution (in terms of its war with the Union), but that it also experienced a very significant internal revolution. Provides an explaination of what things within Southern society were revolutionized and in what ways.

Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Book cover of Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy

What is my book about?

Regardless of whether they owned slaves, Southern whites lived in a world defined by slavery. As shown by their blaming British and Northern slave traders for saddling them with slavery, most were uncomfortable with the institution. While many wanted it ended, most were content to leave that up to God. All that changed with the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Rebels in the Making is a narrative-driven history of how and why secession occurred. In this work, senior Civil War historian William L. Barney narrates the explosion of the sectional conflict into secession and civil war. Carefully examining the events in all fifteen slave states and distinguishing the political circumstances in each, he argues that this was not a mass democratic movement but one led from above.

Book cover of Women of the Civil War (Women Who Dare)

This book provides outstanding biographies of the female luminaries of the Civil War, such as Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Mary Walker, while also introducing readers to lesser-known women who made an impact during the great sectional conflict.  Beautifully written and full of rare photographs, Women of the Civil War is captivating.

Women of the Civil War (Women Who Dare)

By Michelle A Krowl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women of the Civil War (Women Who Dare) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tells captivating stories of the courageous women from both the Union and the Confederacy, accompanied by dozens of rare photographs and images.

Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

By DeAnne Blanton, Lauren Cook,

Book cover of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

What is my book about?

Popular images of women during the American Civil War include self-sacrificing nurses, romantic spies, and brave ladies maintaining hearth and home in the absence of their men. However, as DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook show in their remarkable new study, that conventional picture does not tell the entire story. Hundreds of women assumed male aliases, disguised themselves in men's uniforms, and charged into battle as Union and Confederate soldiers--facing down not only the guns of the adversary but also the gender prejudices of society. They Fought Like Demons is the first book to fully explore and explain these women, their experiences as combatants, and the controversial issues surrounding their military service.

Robert E. Lee

By Emory M. Thomas,

Book cover of Robert E. Lee: A Biography

This book remains the best one-volume biography of Robert E. Lee almost twenty-five years after its publication. Thomas is far more balanced than either Lee’s critics or devotees. Early on, he offers fascinating material about Lee’s parents and private life in general. His discussion of Lee’s father, Light-Horse Harry Lee, is particularly riveting. Despite being born into one of Virginia’s leading families, young Robert E. Lee grew up in an insecure environment after losing his father at a young age. Throughout the book, Thomas provides concise, though somewhat limited, summaries of Lee’s military exploits.

Robert E. Lee

By Emory M. Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Robert E. Lee as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The life of Robert E. Lee is a story not of defeat but of triumph-triumph in clearing his family name, triumph in marrying properly, triumph over the mighty Mississippi in his work as an engineer, and triumph over all other military men to become the towering figure who commanded the Confederate army in the American Civil War. But late in life Lee confessed that he "was always wanting something."

In this probing and personal biography, Emory Thomas reveals more than the man himself did. Robert E. Lee has been, and continues to be, a symbol and hero in the American…

Who am I?

I am the author of The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee and A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. I’ve been a teacher, editor, and writer for over twenty-five years. The Civil War, in particular, has been my passion since I first read Bruce Catton’s The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War as an elementary school student in the 1960s. My articles on Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant have been featured in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and on the History News Network.


I wrote...

A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

By John Reeves,

Book cover of A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

What is my book about?

A Fire in the Wilderness tells the story of that perilous time when the future of the United States depended on the Union Army’s success in a desolate forest roughly sixty-five miles from the nation’s capital. Robert E. Lee, who faced tremendous difficulties replacing fallen soldiers, lost 11,125 men—or 17% of his entire force during the battle. On the opposing side, the Union suffered 17,666 casualties.

The alarming casualties do not begin to convey the horror of this battle, one of the most gruesome in American history. The impenetrable forest and gunfire smoke made it impossible to view the enemy. Officers couldn’t even see their own men during the fighting. The incessant gunfire caused the woods to catch fire, resulting in hundreds of men burning to death. “It was as though Christian men had turned to fiends, and hell itself had usurped the place of the earth,” wrote one officer.

When Sherman Marched North from the Sea

By Jacqueline Glass Campbell,

Book cover of When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front

Most books about Sherman’s famous March recount his army’s march from Atlanta to Savannah. Campbell turns her lens instead on the march from Savannah north through the Carolinas, when “Southern women frequently faced the enemy alone.” In doing so, she walks the reader through the culture of white Southern womanhood that clashed with Northern soldiers’ view of proper female behavior in its energetic defense of home, hearth, and enslaved workers. Campbell tells, too, of the resistance of blacks against Sherman’s aggressive foragers, who sometimes sought to take items even from those who had virtually nothing.

This book provides a window into the women’s war on the Confederate home front when it became the frontline in Sherman’s campaign to humiliate the Confederate Army and demonstrate its impotence.

Out of this collision between Southern women and Northern men grew the archetypes of “barbarian” Sherman and “gentleman” Lee, says Campbell, icons in the…

When Sherman Marched North from the Sea

By Jacqueline Glass Campbell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Sherman Marched North from the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Women defending the home front Home front and battle front merged in 1865 when General William T. Sherman occupied Savannah and then marched his armies north through the Carolinas. When Union soldiers brought war into Southern households, Northern soldiers were frequently astounded by the fierceness with which many white Southern women defended their homes. Jacqueline Glass Campbell convincingly restores these women to their role as vital players in the fight for a Confederate nation, as models of self-assertion rather than passive self-sacrifice. Campbell also investigates the complexities behind African Americans' decisions either to stay on the plantation or to flee…

Who am I?

I was fated to write about war. Born on Guam to a Navy hospital corpsman and his intrepid wife, I spent four years on tank-littered beaches of Saipan and sailed to Japan on a U.S. Navy LST at the age of seven. When I graduated from college with a major in journalism, a Navy man, the late great Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson hired me as his press secretary, and we talked military history even as he made it in Afghanistan. Thirty-three years later, I went back to school for an MA in History. As I write, my great grandfather’s bugle from the Spanish-American War and the flag that covered my father’s coffin at his Arlington Cemetery funeral sit atop my shelves of military history books.


I wrote...

Lincoln's Generals' Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War--For Better and for Worse

By Candice Shy Hooper,

Book cover of Lincoln's Generals' Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War--For Better and for Worse

What is my book about?

The story of the Civil War is not complete without examining the extraordinary lives of Jessie Frémont, Nelly McClellan, Ellen Sherman, and Julia Grant, wives of Abraham Lincoln’s top generals.

Once shots were fired on Fort Sumter, these four women were launched out of their private lives into a wholly different universe, where their relationships with their husbands and their personal opinions of the President of the United States had national and historical consequences. Using letters, memoirs, and other primary sources—and, for the first time, mapping their wartime travels—I explore the very different ways in which these remarkable women responded to the unique challenges of being Lincoln’s generals’ wives. Published in 2016, my book won three national awards.

Book cover of A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States

Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander "Little Alec" Stephens was the real "Little Giant" of mid-century politics. His 2-volume apologia for secession is not an easy read, but it is a fountainhead for the thinking that would inform "Lost Cause" mythology for more than a century. The very title gave future "Lost Cause" adherents their mantra of it being a "war between the states," and not a civil war. Stephens is argumentative, at times fustian and slow going, but what he has to say is essential to getting into the mind of the men who made secession happen, and how they sought to justify it after 1865.

A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States

By Alexander H. Stephens,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and…

Who am I?

I find the early days of the Confederacy to be fascinating, a chance to look at Americans in the act of nation-making while surrounded by fear and crisis. Far more than in the convention of 1776, this episode offers sources that allow us to look inside their motives, and to evaluate them both as impractical rebels, and social and political idealists [albeit their idealism was always encased within the confines of a slave society]. Having written biographies of Jefferson Davis, Alexander H Stephens, Robert Toombs, and other Confederate politicians, this subject is a natural object of my interest. While I do not at all agree with or endorse the political measures they took in the secession crisis, I can feel some empathy for them and their people who felt themselves caught in a no-win position, facing [in their view] the possible destruction of their economy, society, and culture.


I wrote...

An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

By William C. Davis,

Book cover of An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

What is my book about?

In February 1865, the end was clearly in sight for the Confederate government. An Honorable Defeat is the story of the four months that saw the surrender of the South and the assassination of Lincoln by Southern partisans. It is also the story of two men, antagonists yet political partners, who struggled during this time to achieve their own differing visions for the South: Jefferson Davis, the autocratic president of the Confederate States, who vowed never to surrender whatever the cost; and the practical and warm General John C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War, who hoped pragmatism would save the shattered remnants of the land he loved so dearly.

William C. Davis traces the astounding flight of these men, and the entire Confederate cabinet, as they flee south from Richmond by train, then by mule, then on foot.

Hood's Texas Brigade

By Susannah J. Ural,

Book cover of Hood's Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy's Most Celebrated Unit

Ural tackles a unit history, but this time a brigade and one of the most famous ones: Hood’s Texans. She showcases not just why and how they became renowned for their fighting effectiveness, but how these men—white southerners—were unapologetic in their support of slavery and the Confederacy. It is “new military history” at its best—combining astute military analysis with social and cultural understandings of the people and the times in which they lived.

Hood's Texas Brigade

By Susannah J. Ural,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the most effective units to fight on either side of the Civil War, the Texas Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia served under Robert E. Lee from the Seven Days Battles in 1862 to the surrender at Appomattox in 1865. In Hood's Texas Brigade, Susannah J. Ural presents a nontraditional unit history that traces the experiences of these soldiers and their families to gauge the war's effect on them and to understand their role in the white South's struggle for independence.

According to Ural, several factors contributed to the Texas Brigade's extraordinary success: the unit's strong self-identity…

Who am I?

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).


I wrote...

A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

By Lesley J. Gordon,

Book cover of A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

What is my book about?

A Broken Regiment recounts the tragic history of one of the Civil War's most ill-fated Union military units. Organized in the late summer of 1862, the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was unprepared for battle a month later, when it entered the fight at Antietam. The results were catastrophic: nearly a quarter of the men were killed or wounded, and Connecticut's 16th panicked and fled the field. In the years that followed, the regiment participated in minor skirmishes before surrendering en masse in North Carolina in 1864. 

The struggles of the 16th led survivors to reflect on the true nature of their military experience during and after the war, and questions of cowardice and courage, patriotism and purpose, were often foremost in their thoughts.

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