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Trans-Mississippi Musings

Six Civil War Must Read Books

Posted by The Muse (themuse) on May 20 2015
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James M. McPherson 

James M. McPherson

James M. McPherson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era , recently appeared on The Diane Rehm Show to promote his new book, “The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters ”. Here's a link to this interview.

As part of his interview, McPherson recommended reading the following six books if you want to begin to understand "why the Civil War still matters."

  • Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution by Eric Foner. "Reconstruction chronicles the way in which Americans—black and white—responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. It addresses the ways in which the emancipated slaves' quest for economic autonomy and equal citizenship shaped the political agenda of Reconstruction; the remodeling of Southern society and the place of planters, merchants, and small farmers within it; the evolution of racial attitudes and patterns of race relations; and the emergence of a national state possessing vastly expanded authority and committed, for a time, to the principle of equal rights for all Americans." taken from Amazon.
  • Confederate Reckoning by Stephanie McCurry. "The story of the Confederate States of America, the proslavery, antidemocratic nation created by white Southern slaveholders to protect their property, has been told many times in heroic and martial narratives. Now, however, Stephanie McCurry tells a very different tale of the Confederate experience. When the grandiosity of Southerners' national ambitions met the harsh realities of wartime crises, unintended consequences ensued. Although Southern statesmen and generals had built the most powerful slave regime in the Western world, they had excluded the majority of their own people-white women and slaves-and thereby sowed the seeds of their demise." ​taken from Amazon.
  • Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War by Elizabeth R. Varon. "Winner, Library of Virginia Literary Award for Nonfiction; Winner of the Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize of the Austin Civil War Round Table; Finalist, Jefferson Davis Award of the Museum of the Confederacy. Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House evokes a highly gratifying image in the popular mind -- it was, many believe, a moment that transcended politics, a moment of healing, a moment of patriotism untainted by ideology. But as Elizabeth Varon reveals in this vividly narrated history, this rosy image conceals a seething debate over precisely what the surrender meant and what kind of nation would emerge from war. The combatants in that debate included the iconic Lee and Grant, but they also included a cast of characters previously overlooked, who brought their own understanding of the war's causes, consequences, and meaning." ​taken from Amazon.
  • Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 by James Oakes. "A powerful history of emancipation that reshapes our understanding of Lincoln, the Civil War, and the end of American slavery. Freedom National is a groundbreaking history of emancipation that joins the political initiatives of Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress with the courageous actions of Union soldiers and runaway slaves in the South. It shatters the widespread conviction that the Civil War was first and foremost a war to restore the Union and only gradually, when it became a military necessity, a war to end slavery. These two aims―"Liberty and Union, one and inseparable"―were intertwined in Republican policy from the very start of the war." ​taken from Amazon.
  • ​​After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War by Gregory P. Downs. "After Appomattox argues that the war did not end with Confederate capitulation in 1865. Instead, a second phase commenced which lasted until 1871―not the project euphemistically called Reconstruction but a state of genuine belligerency whose mission was to shape the terms of peace. Using its war powers, the U.S. Army oversaw an ambitious occupation, stationing tens of thousands of troops in hundreds of outposts across the defeated South. This groundbreaking study of the post-surrender occupation makes clear that its purpose was to crush slavery and to create meaningful civil and political rights for freed people in the face of rebels’ bold resistance." taken from Amazon. 

Last changed: May 20 2015 at 8:37 AM