Good reads to help further your understanding of the Civil War
During September and October the Beaufort County Library and other local organizations are commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial with an exciting array of programs. In addition to attending some of our events, there are many fantastic books written about the Civil War that can expand your knowledge of that turbulent time. And whether you prefer fiction or nonfiction, there is surely a book out there to entice you. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is considered to be one of the most realistic novels depicting life on a battlefield during the Civil War. Taking place over the four days that were the turning point of the war, Shaara recounts the Battle of Gettysburg, mainly through the perspectives of the commanders of each army, Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet for the Confederacy and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union. This remarkable book brings to life what the war was about and what each side was fighting for.
The North and South Trilogy by John Jakes (North and South; Love and War; Heaven and Hell) tells the epic tale of the years leading up to, during, and after the Civil War through the lives of two fictional families: the Mains of South Carolina and the Hazards of Pennsylvania. When Orry Main and George Hazard meet as plebes at West Point, they form a lasting friendship and their families' fates become entwined. Through three generations of these families, Jakes creates an engaging and compelling saga of the Civil War and how it divided a nation. These books were made into a miniseries in the 1980s, starring Patrick Swayze, Kirstie Alley, Hal Holbrook, David Carradine, and many others.
Focusing on the political, social, economic and military events of the years leading up to and including the war, James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom: the Civil War Era has been called the best single-volume history of the Civil War you can read. McPherson has presented the "why" of the war -- what led to the conflict and affected the outcomes. This one is not to be missed by history buffs or anyone wanting a complete picture of the Civil War.
For a first-hand, non-military account of life during the war, look no further than Mary Chesnut's Civil War by Mary Boykin Chesnut and edited by C. Vann Woodward. Mary Chesnut was the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner and the wife of an aide to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy; she was a staunch abolitionist, a feminist and a prolific diarist. Here, in her own words, she gives plenty of insight into how secessionists were thinking during the War Between the States.
Though not a book about the actual war, Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War looks at how Americans, particularly Southerners, view the war today and its continuing influence on our country. Horwitz spent a year traveling around the South, spending time with hardcore re-enactors, visiting battlefields and other historic sites, and meeting people for whom the impact of the Civil War still resonates today. An entertaining and informative look at why, 150 years later, the conflict still captures the imagination of many Americans.
For more reading suggestions about the Civil War, and a listing of the events associated with the One County Reads the Civil War program, please visit One County Reads the Civil War.
Halle Eisenman is the reference manager at Hilton Head Island library.