Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Suggested Reading about the Civil War.

If you are like me, you are constantly looking for good non-fiction reading. I'd like to occasionally share some suggestions. As you know, we are currently in the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Few events have had such an impact on our political and legal institutions. I have been doing some reading to try to get a better understanding of this horrendous tragedy.
If you would like a short, readable paperback on the war try Batty and Parish's The Divided Union: A Concise History of the American Civil War. A few of the things I was not aware of were (1) that the timidity of the Union's early Generals may have been in part, a reaction to wildly exaggerated "intelligence" reports on Confederate strength. (2)One key figure who has not gotten his historical due is Union Adm. David G. Farragut who, defying long odds, captured the largest city in the Confederacy--New Orleans, and then later took the key Gulf port of Mobile, Alabama.
As you probably know, James Buchanan was President before Lincoln. He is consistently rated by historians and political scientists as being among the worst of U.S. Presidents. Being curious about why Buchanan couldn't or wouldn't do more to prevent war, I decided to read up on him. I'd recommend Jean H. Baker's, short and very readable paperback "James Buchanan." (Part of the American Presidents Series of books). I was also interested in why the British stayed out of the war. Their involvement could have changed the course of history. On this topic I'd recommend Amanda Foreman's "A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the Civil War." This is a long book and not easy reading, but worth it. For better or worse it spends a lot of time on the personalities involved and highlights problems in Lincoln's cabinet. Finally, there are oodles of books on Lincoln, who seems to be the consensus #1 President in numerous surveys of historians and political scientists. If you are interested in more on Lincoln and delving into the ideology, political, philosophical, constitutional and religious dimensions of slavery, the Union, secession etc., a long and sometimes difficult read is Jaffa's "A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War."
I learned a lot. If you are a Lincoln-hater, this is not a book for you. If anyone out there would like to recommend a book on any of these topics, please share it with us.


  1. Mention of Admiral Farragut hits home. My great-great grandfather, John C. O'Connell, was a 2nd Assistant Engineer aboard the CSS Tennessee in August of 1864. It was the battle of Mobile Bay against Farragut's fleet. Coincidentally, the CSS Tennessee served as the flagship during the battle to an Admiral Buchanan, CSN. My distant relative's vessel was too out-numbered. The Tennessee was said to have put up a good fight, but ultimately succumbed to crippling damage according to Mr. O'Connell's diary. He, along with the surviving crew, spent the remainder of the war confined to a Union prison camp.

  2. Picked up the David Herbert Donald book "Lincoln" a few years ago and found it to be a great read. Amazon reviews put it at 4.5 stars: