Civil War Bookstore

Strategy, Tactics, and Weapons


The West Point Atlas of American Wars: Volume I 1689-1900  *****  Vincent Esposito makes masterly use of maps to explain the strategy behind the Civil War and other conflicts of the era.  Strategy leading up to battle and the battles themselves are well covered.  In addition to the Civil War, the sections on the Mexican War and Spanish-American War are excellent.  These are better maps than those on the West Point website which are simplified to fit a shorter curriculum.  Better still is the commentary explaining the maps.  Readers of this book will gain an impressive understanding of the war.


The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience in the Civil War  *****  by Brent Nosworthy.  Most Civil War historians devote themselves entirely to the late unpleasantness and completely lack a larger tactical context for the war.  As a result, most works parrot the same tired old ideas - "Napoleonic tactics used beyond their time" and "the first modern war".  Brent Nosworthy has studied tactics of the entire gunpowder era, producing unmatched works on the18th Century and the Napoleonic era showing the complex inter-relations of combat arms and highlighting the importance of the psychology and motivation of individual soldiers.  Now, he has given the same sort of treatment to the Civil War.  He discusses the European developments in weapons and tactics in the first half of 19th Century.  He shows the underappreciated increased lethality of the new combination gun-howitzers with longer range and exploding shells.  Discussing the debate on infantry tactics, he shows not only the increased accuracy of rifled muskets - but also the less well publicized negative effects of their slower muzzle velocity - in addition to the constants constraints of battle, fear and smoke.  He shows that some visionaries in Europe foresaw - too early - the effects of new infantry weapons, but he also shows that skeptics, particularly in Britain, did exist.  He shows that "Napoleonic tactics", when written by participants in the Civil War, actually meant tactics developed by Napoleon III, an innovator in artillery technology and infantry tactics, including the use of a gymnastic pace to minimize time under enemy fire.  In discussing cavalry, Nosworthy shows that cavalry attacks in the 1859 Italian War had been disrupted by long range artillery fire the likes of which had not possible in Napoleon's time.  Nevertheless, he shows that cavalry could and did successfully attack infantry during the Civil War.  By 1864, however, when cavalry had the training and experience to do so, there were earthworks and other factors preventing it.  In his excellent chapter on grand tactics, Nosworthy shows that imitation of Jomini's reactionary line-heavy formations made Civil War combat less decisive than Napoleonic combat, in which columns allowed greater maneuverability and co-operation with cavalry.  Despite some flaws (see other reviews), overall this is the best book on Civil War tactics yet written, and will make you think of Civil War combat in a whole new way.


Battle Tactics of the Civil War  ****  Paddy Griffith is an authority on tactics of many eras.  In this controversial book he argues that instead of being the first modern war, the Civil War was the last "Napoleonic" war.  The potential of shock action was - and still is - ignored in favor of firepower, and battles often degenerated into indecisive slugging matches.  Griffith shows that firefights usually occurred at 100-150 yards, and that the effect of the rifled musket wasn't as great as it has been made out to be.  Interestingly, he points out that the Union could have equipped whole armies with repeating rifles but could not manufacture enough ammunition to supply them.  


Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage  ***  McWhiney and Jamieson believe that the Scotch Irish of the South were lazy and liked to drink and fight.  Therefore they were naturally inclined to wasteful attacks in a time when the strength of defense was rising.  The authors argue that the Confederacy would have been better off fighting on the defensive.  I strongly disagree with these opinions and believe that the authors would be widely denounced as racists if their comments were directed toward any other ethnic group.  The authors use statistics to back up their claims, but as with many things, numbers tell only part of the story.  Despite a flawed argument, this well written and well argued book remains an influential and interesting work, with some good details on tactics given.  It is worth reading, but with skepticism.



The Fourth Battle of Winchester: Toward a New Civil War Paradigm   ****  by Richard McMurry.  In this relatively short book, beginning with a counter-factual, the author argues that it is impossible to understand the Civil War without studying the western campaigns.  Kentucky's neutrality gave the Confederacy time to prepare its defenses in the west, and hopefully to woo the vital state with its easily defensible northern border to its side.  Instead, the bishop General Polk violated its neutrality, forcing it to the Union side.  The Mississippi, Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers gave the Union navy and army clear paths deep into the Confederacy, making most of the important state of Tennessee untenable.  Although Robert E. Lee is frequently criticized for lacking a good overall vision of the war, McMurry argues that his actions were best for the Confederacy, that only by great success in Virginia could the losses in the west be negated and Southern independence won.    


Civil War Artillery at Gettysburg  *****   By Phillip Cole.  Although it was written by a Gettysburg tour guide and it includes advice on finding specific guns at the park, this book is more of an excellent overview of artillery throughout the war.  Being more of a conceptual book than Naisawald's, somewhat obscure but fascinating facts about the design of the guns as well as the logistics and command structure behind them provide a complete view of Civil War artillery.  Although the book deals with a very technical subject, the author does not get bogged down in jargon and his explanations of complex topics are easy to understand.





Grape and Canister: The Story of the Field Artillery of the Army of the Potomac 2nd Edition  ****   L. Vanloan Naisawald, is an excellent writer who provides vivid battle detail of the often neglected actions of the Federal artillery.  Because of the lack of good maps, an all to common problem with military history books, it can be somewhat difficult to fully understand the action described, especially without prior reading on the battles of the Army of the Potomac.  The author believes that long range shrapnel was largely ineffective, which is debatable, and also that artillery was only effective at short range on the defensive.  The author's tactical analysis is probably hindered by this as well as his belief that the rifled musket had revolutionized warfare, making gunners much more vulnerable.  For a full view of artillery during the Civil War, you should also read Phillip Cole's "Civil War Artillery at Gettysburg".  Nevertheless, Naisawald's book is solid, the standard book on its subject, and is particularly strong with its analysis of the army's organizational flaws concerning the artillery and the negative and possibly decisive effects of these flaws in battle.   



Arms and Equipment of the Civil War  *****  Well written and well illustrated - both by Jack Coggins.  A look at weapons, tactics, and the soldiers' everyday lives, this book is a classic of Civil War literature.  Coggins gives concise and well considered descriptions of all topics, including naval ones.  All Civil War buffs should find the book useful - weapons fanatics, re-enactors, armchair generals, and more.





Stonewall Jackson : The Man, the Soldier, the Legend *****  by James I Robertson.  This large well written biography gives new insight into Jackson's difficult younger years, a neglected but important formative time in which the boy experienced little familial love.  Robertson shows that Jackson was not religious early in life, and he details his Mexican War exploits.  Jackson so loved Mexico that he was tempted to settle there and marry.  Although Jackson is often described as an enigma, Robertson clearly understands the man like no one else.  By the end, Robertson's skilled telling can bring even the most hard-hearted to tears.

The Marble Man  ****1/2  by Thomas Connelly.  More of a discussion of the formation of Lost Cause Mythology than a biography of our beloved Bob, in this well written book, Thomas Connelly shows how the image of Lee has changed over time and has reflected first the needs, desires, and agenda of the South, and eventually those of the entire country.  The book is an early attempt to revise downward our opinion of the man.  Connelly may go a bit far in looking for the darker side of Lee, but he gives us an interesting picture.  His father deserted the family, and Robert was left to help his ailing mother.  Lacking money, Lee was sent to West Point and entered the Army.  His marriage into a wealthy and prominent family was unfulfilling, with the couple often living apart.  His wife became an invalid, and Lee seems to have longed for other women, from his past and present, married and single.  Lee repressed an outgoing personality perhaps because he saw himself as a failure in life.  Connelly suggests that the enormous risks Lee took during the war can be explained by his feeling that he had nothing to lose.  (The same applied to Grant.)  Despite comments elsewhere to the contrary, Connelly suggests that Lee enjoyed battle.  After his death, Connelly argues, Lee's importance was hyped, and a good man was made into a saint in order to justify the rebel cause.  


The Civil War Battlefield Guide  ****1/2  Hundreds of battles are covered with topo maps are used for the more significant battles.  Even a relatively obscure battle like Cloyds Mountain and Second Kernstown get a maps.  Importantly, smaller battles are placed into the context of the larger battles and campaigns.  Although it isn't perfect, it is an indispensable touring guide, probably the best available. 

The Civil War Dictionary  ***  Mark M. Boatner has hundreds of entries in this book covering every major campaign and many of the personalities of the war.  Not nearly as good as his Revolutionary War Encyclopedia, it is still useful.  Most Civil War books have this book in their bibliographies.


Southwest Virginia

Battle of Cloyds Mountain: The Virginia and Tennessee Railroad Raid, April 29-May19, 1864  ****  Howard McManus discovered and researched this forgotten Southwest Virginia battlefield.  Before his research, even the location of the battlefield was unknown.  This interesting battle deserves more attention than it has gotten.  Not only is McManus a thorough researcher, he can write also.

Southwest Virginia in the Civil War: The Battles for Saltville  ****  William Marvel covers all the battles for southwest Virginia, including Lewisburg, Wytheville, Droop Mountain, Cloyds Mountain, Marion, and Saltville.  He also covers some of the personalities that came from, or commanded in, the area including Stuart, Floyd, Mosby, McCausland, and Jenkins.  This well written book discusses the vital importance of the region and nicely ties in all the campaigns in the area.


General William Averell's Salem Raid: Breaking the Knoxville Supply Line  ****1/2  This is another forgotten raid into Southwest Virginia, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see this book.  After an attempt to cut the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad failed in the Droop Mountain campaign, Averell tried again, reaching Salem, Va.  Despite doing some damage, Averell was very lucky to make it back to West Virginia.  This well written book makes good use of maps, a necessity in dealing with the rugged terrain.



Battles and Campaigns


Battle at Bull Run: A History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War  ****  Authored by William C. Davis, this book is probably the best yet written on the battle. 

To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign  *****  Stephen Sears is an excellent writer and is author of this book on the Peninsula Campaign, from Fort Monroe to the Seven Days.

The Seven Days: The Emergence of Lee  *****  by Clifford Dowdey.  A very well written account of the battles with excellent analysis.

Stonewall in the Valley  *****  Robert Tanner expertly focuses on the strategic and operational aspects of Jackson's Valley Campaign without ignoring the drama of the battles themselves or the personalities involved.  There is never a dull moment in this book.  This newer edition reveals the influence of Lee on the campaign.  Undoubtedly, this is one of the best Civil War books ever written.  It is a complete joy to read.




"We Are in For It!" The First Battle of Kernstown  ****  by Gary Ecelbarger.  Most histories of the Valley Campaign give only a few pages to this battle.  Ecelbarger, on the other hand, gives us a detailed and well researched view of both the Union and Confederate perspectives that you can find nowhere else.  Unlike many books, this one makes good use of maps to explain the action.  The errors of both sides are shown, from Union neglect of Sandy Ridge to the attacks in column by both sides.  The errors of Jackson in particular are interesting, with his interference into his subordinates' commands, and his fixations on his artillery and on the movements of his troops approaching from the rear.  His arrest of Garnett is shown to have been a great injustice.  Also shown is that Gen. Shields' exaggerations of Confederate strength, in part, led to the massive Union reinforcement of the Valley.   



Conquering the Valley: Stonewall Jackson at Port Republic  ****  by Robert Krick.  This book about Cross Keys and Port Republic is remarkably well researched and detailed.   The thorough research is the book's strength - and its weakness.  It makes this book the be all end all on the subject, but some readers may find that it goes into too much detail and therefore becomes somewhat tedious.  It has excellent aerial photos - and maps, which unfortunately came as loose corrected versions in my book, a relatively early version.  Of research interest is the author's conclusion that most soldier's accounts are inaccurate, either inflating their part in battles or attempting to hide the dangers and horrors they experienced from their relatives.  



Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain  ****1/2  by Robert Krick.  After the Seven Days, Lee sent Jackson north to protect the Virginia Central from Union forces under Pope.  Seeing that Union forces were spread thin, Jackson advances on a detachment under his old nemesis, Gen. Banks.  With extreme heat and confused marching orders, Jackson is delayed; hampered by deficient cavalry, Jackson deployed in front of Banks and was attacked by an inferior force.  With both Jackson and division commander Winder too narrowly focused on artillery, infantry deployments were flawed, and the Union attack nearly succeeded.  Although Krick gives us little understanding of the Union command and their decisions, the battle is nicely explained.  With excellent discussion of the terrain and its effects on the battle, and with good maps and photos, you won't find a better book on this neglected battle. 

Return to Bull Run: The Battle and Campaign of Second Manassas  *****  John Hennessey wrote this masterpiece of campaign history.  Although he covers the battle in detail, he never loses sight of the big picture.  Brawner's Farm, Pope's disjointed attacks, and Longstreet's attack all make sense now.  McDowell's part in the Union fiasco is also detailed.  This is one of the best Civil War books ever written. 


From Cedar Mountain to Antietam   *****  Edward Stackpole puts you into the heads of the commanders better than anyone else and never burdens the reader with unnecessary detail.  This book covers Lee's most daring and interesting campaigns which also best show Lee's strengths and weaknesses as a commander.  Although this series of books is somewhat dated, as with all of Stackpole's books, the author wasn't afraid to go out on a limb.  Enjoy his opinions, but don't take them too seriously.  This series of books should be useful and interesting to a wide range of readers.


Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam  *****  Stephen Sears does a good job explaining this complex battle, making good use of maps.

Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day  ****  Photographers brought home the horrors of war to the American people with their shocking pictures from Antietam. William Frassanito has located the exact locations these photographs were taken and shows what the places look like now.


The Fredericksburg Campaign: Drama on Rappahannock  ****  by Edward Stackpole.  The author competently explains the battle, Union command failures, and the campaign itself, which is more interesting than you might think.  






Chancellorsville: Lee's Greatest Battle  *****  by Edward Stackpole.  The author nicely details the excellent Union plan, their advance and coordination, as well as Lee and Jackson's daring "break all the rules" victory.


They Met at Gettysburg  *****  This was the first book in the wonderful series written by Edward Stackpole.  Although covering the whole campaign, the book's strongest feature is its analysis of the leaders and their decisions. Stackpole points out that poor Union staff work could have cost them the battle.  This book is an excellent introduction to the battle.


The Battle of Gettysburg: A Guided Tour   ****  by Edward Stackpole.  This is a good guide to the Gettysburg battlefield.  With too many complicated War Department signs and not enough National Park Service signs, you need your own guide.  This book explains the battle, the tour stops, and the important events between park service tour stops.



Gettysburg: A Battlefield Guide  *****  By Mark Grimsley and Brooks Simpson.  This battlefield guide is also an excellent short history of the battle.  Written before the Pfanz trilogy was complete, I did see some differences between the two, but that detracts little from the book.  It provides more detail than the Stackpole tour book, and is suitable for a more advanced history buff. 



Last Chance for Victory  *****  By Scott Bowden and Bill Ward.  This is one of the best military history books I've ever read.  The authors analyze Lee's generalship and convincingly argues a number of controversial assertions.  Specifically - that it was impractical and improper to send troops from Virginia to relieve Vicksburg.  That Lee did not issue discretionary orders but rather orders with discretion that allowed the subordinate to decide how best to complete the task.  That Stuart's ride around the Union army was therefore against orders.  That it was originally intended as a ride THROUGH the Union army.  That Ewell's orders were also not discretionary, so he too disobeyed orders by not capturing the high ground.  That delays in Longstreet's deployment were reasonable and that his performance on July 2nd was superb.  That a Confederate attack on July 3rd was the proper decision, but that the attack was not properly supported, and Longstreet's performance that day was poor.  Bowden's Napoleonic expertise is very useful regarding staff work.  Although many authors mention the problem, Bowden shows how Napoleon successfully used many times the number of staff officers that Civil War armies used, and he explains their functions.  The authors also explain the en echelon attack on the 2nd, and show that it succeeded in drawing Union troops toward the early targets of the attack, making the Union line vulnerable elsewhere.  They also show that the failure to extend the attack along the whole line resulted in the Confederate failure, and they explain who was responsible and why.  The opportunity on the 2nd was great as Meade's shifting of troops had completely denuded some sections of his line.  Although too much ink has obviously been spilled on this battle, you should not miss this book.           


Gettysburg: The First Day  ****  by Harry Pfanz.  This third volume of Pfanz's Gettysburg books is very good, but not quite as good as the other two.  Like the other books, the author covers the fight from the top to the bottom of the chain of command.  In this book, however, the decisions of the high command are not covered as well, probably because less is known.  The book is somewhat oddly organized, with all the events from a particular area covered at the same time regardless of what happened elsewhere.  Nevertheless, it is probably the most comprehensive account of the action.


Gettysburg: The Second Day   *****   In what may be the definitive book on the subject, Harry Pfanz  focuses on Longstreet's attack in excellent detail without losing sight of the big picture.  He eliminates the confusion of this complicated fight.


Gettysburg-Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill  *****  A companion to Gettysburg The Second Day, this book by Harry Pfanz is the definitive book on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill.  The author was superintendent of the park for years and knows the battle as well as anyone.  Pfanz gives the whole picture, top to bottom.  As lengthy as the book is, it is well worth reading.

The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command ****  This is a reissue of the classic book by Edward Coddington.  The author describes the big and small picture of the battle and focuses on the decisions the commanders made.   Coddington analyzes the leadership of the commanders and addresses the controversies of the campaign, including the failure to take Cemetery Hill the first day and the lateness of Longstreet's attack.

Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg   *****   It says good things about George R. Stewart's classic book that it is still in print over forty years after it was first published.  The author makes good use of maps, photos, and some simple math in this well written and comprehensive study of the attack.


Retreat From Gettysburg  ***1/2    Kent Masterson Brown covers important events that have been largely ignored elsewhere, and some of art has never been published before.  His book has great strengths but also great weaknesses.  The research is excellent, and the writing is decent.  The maps are generally good but frustratingly lack all of the needed towns.  This is a micro-history, and often the detail given was just more than I wanted, especially concerning the wounded and the hospitals.  The occasional insight given, however, is quite useful.  Lee's army had suffered from scurvy and other malnutrition diseases, with horses dying of hunger and the army about to fall apart.  This led to Lee's plan for invasion, and although not stated, probably explains Lee's fight at Chancellorsville.  The author seems to imply that Stuart was intentionally sent around Union army in order to cut railroads supplying the Union army, giving Lee time to forage extensively in Pennsylvania.  Lee planned to defend the area just to the east of the mountains and did not intend fight at Gettysburg, because, among other reasons, he had little reserve ammunition.  Meade, too, was poorly supplied, despite being in friendly territory, and the author seems to conclude that it was impossible for him to destroy Lee.  He states that the Confederate failure to protect the pontoon bridge across the Potomac was Lee's responsibility, although he is impressed with Lee's conduct of the retreat.  Unfortunately, the book ends soon after Lee re-crosses the Potomac and does not cover the actions east of Front Royal which threatened Lee once more.  Overall, the campaign's supply benefits, he argues, probably outweigh the casualties of Gettysburg.  This book is worth reading, but focusing more on the forest and less on the trees would have made it a much better and more useful book.



Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide With a Section on Chattanooga  *****  By Steven Woodworth.  Park service signs often inadequately explain a battle.  You really need your own guidebook, and this is one of the best guidebooks ever written about any battlefield.  Mark Grimsley and Brooks Simpson's excellent Gettysburg guide is in the same series, and I am eagerly awaiting more of the same.





The Spotsylvania Campaign: May 7-21, 1864  ****  By John Cannan.  The Spotsylvania campaign was long, complicated, and indecisive.  But John Cannan's concise book makes it interesting and understandable, clearing up confusing troop movements and nicely analyzing the commanders and their decisions.

Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864  ****1/2  By Gordon Rhea.  Although there are other good books on the campaign, this is the most thoroughly researched, detailed, and myth-busting of them all.  In fact, Gordon Rhea's research puts most other historians to shame.  Important but neglected cavalry fights, ones that many authors would footnote, are covered and their importance is shown.  Battle maps are very detailed and are more accurate than anyone else's.  Other books on the battle are confused, leading me to believe their authors don't understand the battle they are writing about.  Rhea clearly does understand, and importantly for us, he can explain what he knows.  If you want to know everything there is to know about Cold Harbor, this is the book for you.      

Not War but Murder: Cold Harbor 1864  ****   Ernest Ferguson's well written book gives a very good treatment of the whole campaign, making good use of maps and providing excellent analysis of the leaders and their decisions.

The Battle of Cold Harbor  ****  Part of the Virginia Battles and Leaders Series.  The greatest strength of Louis Baltz's book is his coverage of the complicated maneuvering from the Totopotomoy to the Chickahominy.  His text and maps make the campaign easy to understand, and his explanations of the battles are very good as well.


Monocacy  ****1/2   by Benjamin Franklin Cooling.  The only modern book on the battle that saved Washington, it covers the campaign starting  with Hunter's retreat through West Virginia, followed by Early's advance, the battle, the skirmishes on the outskirts of the capital, and the withdrawal.  The maps are good and should be very useful to tourists when more of the battlefield is accessible.  Instructions for a driving tour are given.  I would have liked a more detailed descriptions of the fight on the Thomas farm, but first hand accounts may not be available.  Both sides, operationally and tactically, are well covered. 


Sheridan in the Shenandoah  *****  Edward Stackpole makes sense out of this complex and important campaign.  Beginning with the repulse of Hunter's Raid at Lynchburg, the book follows Jubal Early through his raid to Washington and his defeats at Third Winchester, Fishers Hill, and Cedar Creek at the hands of Little Phil.  Few people seem interested in the '64 Valley Campaign, but Stackpole shows just how interesting and important that it was.


Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan  ****  by Eric Wittenberg.  Reviewers tend to either love or hate the book, depending on their view of Phil Sheridan.  Wittenberg argues that Little Phil was a man of inferior character - dishonest, boastful, and back stabbing - which is perhaps not surprising, but he also argues that he was a man of vastly over-rated abilities.  Wittenberg shows that his performances as head of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, and as head of the Army of the Shenandoah, were greatly lacking.  Perhaps his best military quality was a willingness to fight, and Wittenberg even questions this at times.


Petersburg Campaign: Wasted Valor June 15-18, 1864  ****  By Thomas Howe.  Most books concerning Petersburg gloss over the first several days when the Union had numerous opportunities to take the city and win the war.  In fact, I know of no other book length treatment on these battles.  Thomas J. Howe has filled the gap with his book.  He covers the campaign from the top to the bottom of the chain of command, analyzing the commanders and their decisions and their effect on the rank and file.  Howe's account makes Meade's generalship appear mediocre at best.

The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865  *****  Noah Andre Trudeau explains all the complex operations around Petersburg.  Petersburg is a mystery no more.  A joy to read.

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