Recommended reading

Hi all

Does anyone have recommendations for texts that provide a strong foundation for learning about the US Civil War?

I'm primarily interested in somehting that fairly objectively analyses the motivations for the war, and then proceeds to give a decent insight into how the prevailing political parties of the time (Democrat and Republican I presume) conducted themselves.

It'll be a starting point for learning about how the United States became a defense superpower through it's grounding in industrial warfare and so on.


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
McPherson comes to mind immediately:

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Jul 2012
Salah's right; that's the best wide-ranging book on the war that encapsulates both the causes and events of the war from political, military and home front perspectives. Not only valuable for its broad overview of the war but also for its bibliographical essay which denotes several hundred of important books on the war.


Historum Emeritas
May 2009
A tiny hamlet in the Carolina Sandhills
I'll second the MacPherson recommendation. Unlike most ACW writers, MacPherson spends almost no time on the actual conduct of the war, but rather explores the causes and events leading up to it. It is still the best single volume on the ACW, in my humble view.

Some others worth considering are Shelby Foote, Bruce Catton, and William Freehling.
Jul 2012
MacPherson spends almost no time on the actual conduct of the war, but rather explores the causes and events leading up to it.
Diddy, I don't think that's quite right. I'd say about the first 1/3 of the book is on what caused the war, but most of the book is on the war itself. Here's the book description from Amazon:

Packed with drama and analytical insight, the book vividly recounts the momentous episodes that preceded the Civil War--the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry--and then moves into a masterful chronicle of the war itself--the battles, the strategic maneuvering on both sides, the politics, and the personalities. Particularly notable are McPherson's new views on such matters as the slavery expansion issue in the 1850s, the origins of the Republican Party, the causes of secession, internal dissent and anti-war opposition in the North and the South, and the reasons for the Union's victory.

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