What Did You Read This Year?

Screen Shot 2012-11-29 at 7.14.11 AMAs I did last year I thought I might give you a chance to share what you enjoyed reading in the area of Civil War history over the past year.  It doesn’t have to have been published this past year and feel free to share something outside the field entirely if you feel moved to do so.

In the meantime here is a taste of my “Best of 2012” list.  Even though I am only halfway through it, I am giving the Best Biography award to Jason Emerson’s, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012).  I never thought that I would find myself engrossed by the story of Lincoln’s only son to survive to adulthood, but this is a fascinating story.  It was Spielberg’s Lincoln that drove my curiosity.  While the movie offers somewhat of a corrective to Lincoln’s relationship with his wife it offers a very traditional picture of an estranged father-son relationship.

Emerson offers a very different interpretation of this relationship, one that includes a great deal of fatherly affection.  The author also makes a convincing case that Lincoln talked seriously with his son about issues related to the war during his visits home from Harvard.   In fact, it is likely that father and son were engaged in conversation before Lincoln headed off to Ford’s Theater.  You can’t help but sympathize with Robert Todd in the period immediately following his father’s death as he was forced to assume the role of father figure to Tad and caregiver to his aggrieved and increasingly unstable mother.  On top of this he decided not to return to Harvard and instead intern at a Chicago law firm.

I knew that Robert was present at the assassination of President James Garfield and that he was in Buffalo, NY when President McKinley was shot, but I did not know that he was saved on a train platform before his father’s assassination by non-other than Edwin Booth.

This is a big book, but I promise that you will be well rewarded.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

30 comments… add one
  • Ann Jan 14, 2013 @ 14:10

    I also read a good deal from the CWI reading list – first year I attended, so I had a lot to read to “catch up.” I also tried to read Civil War era books that I had never gotten to…so my list includes Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Co. Aytch!

    A Year in the South – Stephen Ash
    Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War – Tony Horwitz
    This Republic of Suffering – Drew Gilpin Faust
    Remembering the Battle of The Crater
    George B. McClellan – Thomas J. Rowland

    and trying to read articles from The Journal of the Civil War Era and Civil War History

    I just realized that is more books that I’ve read on any one topic in one year since Grad School!


  • bryanac625 Dec 29, 2012 @ 8:54

    I read three books from the Time-Life “Voices of the Civil War Series-” Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg. This is an excellent series which tells the story of the war through primary source accounts. I’m currently reading Soldier Life in the series. Next year, I plan to read Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Charleston.

  • GBrasher Dec 17, 2012 @ 12:41

    The book’s that I read this past year that stood out the most to me were:

    Goodheart’s 1861.
    Nelson’s Ruin Nation.

    Gallagher’s Union War.

    And I finally got around to finishing Howe’s What God Hath Wrought.

  • longislandwins Dec 15, 2012 @ 18:45

    Read roughly 60 CW books this year. Here are 5 favorites:

    Three new books that I liked a lot:

    Unholy Sabbath by Brian Jordan
    The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom (Civil War America) by Glenn David Brasher
    Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder (New Directions in Southern History) by Kevin M. Levin

    An old book I read that I didn’t know about til this year:
    My Life in the Irish Brigade by William McCarter

    A book that I had wanted to read and finally got around to:
    Fredericksbug! Fredericksburg! by George Rabble

    -Pat Young

    • Kevin Levin Dec 16, 2012 @ 3:02

      Thanks for the shout out. Rable’s book is one of the most creative and interesting campaign studies.

  • John B. Dec 15, 2012 @ 14:46

    Not a totally Civil War book but I’m reading “Shavetails & Bell Sharps:The History of the U.S. Army Mule.” It does have a chapter about the use of mules during the War and is very interesting. Never had really thought about how many animals were used during the War.

  • Jan Dresler, Denmark Dec 15, 2012 @ 10:45

    I was spending a week of my Holiday in Gettysburg in the end of May 2012 (my second visit to GB – the first trip was in May 2010), and prior to this years trip I did some studying:
    George W. Newton:” Silent Sentinels”
    Gregory A.Coco:”A concise guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg”
    Plilip M.Cole:”The civil war Artillery at Gettysburg”
    Jennings Cropper Wise:”The long Arms of Lee vol. I+II”
    LVanloan Naisawald:”Grape and Canister”
    Hazlett, Olmstead and Parks:”Field artillery Weapons of the Civil War”.

    ….and some biographies and autobiographies of Henry J.Hunt, John C.Tidball, Pegram, Pelham, Cushing and so on.

    …..and the outstanding blog by Craig Swain “To the Sound of the Guns” (http://markerhunter.wordpress.com/) which was and still is a great help for a artillery-geek/nerd like me. Craig Swain also provided me with some of his own maps of gun-placings at the battlefield…

    There is still a lot of books about Gettysburg to read “out there” ..

  • Keith Muchowski Dec 15, 2012 @ 9:39

    The three books I profited from the most in 2012 were:

    Dark Horse: the Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield–
    I had heard about this when it first came out, but was intrigued about Garfield only after reading Adam Goodheart’s 1861. We underestimate the lives of the Gilded Age presidents and leaders. Speaking of Gilded Age, I have been looking forward to Giant in the Shadows ever since seeing RTL’s grave at Arlington. FYI, a biography of John Hay is coming out in late spring.

    The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America–Schecter covers so much more than the turmoil in July 1863.

    Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man–The Secretary of State gets his due. There’s a lot on the antebellum period, including figures such as William Henry Harrison and Millard Fillmore. Again, the tendency is to dismiss such figures because they don’t fit into the popular narrative of our nation’s history. I finished this and started Freedom’s Cap just afterward, which covers the same period and gave me a greater understanding of the 1850s. Too many people read about just the war–I suppose because they think the battles are “fun”–but don’t look into the causes and consequences of the conflict. This is, to put it charitably, short-sighted.

  • Lyle7 Dec 15, 2012 @ 8:41

    I’ve been reading off and on, The Impending Crisis by David M. Potter, The Civil War in the West by Earl J. Hess, We Have the War Upon Us by William J. Cooper, and The Thirty Years War by Peter H. Wilson.

  • bummer Dec 15, 2012 @ 7:46

    Bummer has a list of contemporary historians to catch up on. A dent was made this year, I finished; Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns/Steven E. Woodworth, The Civil War in Kansas: Ten Years of Turmoil (The History Press)/ Debra Goodrich Bisel,Southern Storm/Sherman’s March To The Sea/ Noah Andre Trudeau,Team of Rivals:The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln/Doris Kearns Goodwin, currently into Levin”s Crater. The stack of to be reads, is huge and my mind is getting more blown,

  • Jazzeum Dec 15, 2012 @ 6:14

    The Seward book by Walter Stahr was one of the best I read this year as were Elizabeth Leonard’s book on Judge Holt and William Harris’ books about Lincoln dealing with the border states and reconstruction.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 15, 2012 @ 6:31

      I’ve heard good things about Stahr’s biography, but I definitely agree that Leonard’s book on Holt is excellent.

  • Garry Adelman Dec 15, 2012 @ 4:28

    After 30 years of reading about this stuff, I finally read my 1868 copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and I see why it sold so many copies! I just finished it yesterday and enjoyed very much. I also especially liked this year: Moxley Sorrell’s Diaries, Sickles at Gettysburg, I read the new Rare Images of Antietam and Shadows of Antietam in tandem just before the anniversary which was very cool. Tried to read Mind of the South put had to put it down. Almost done with and enjoying Ruin Nation and just starting Gordon Rhea’s Wilderness book. Need to read your Crater book, Kevin!

    • Kevin Levin Dec 15, 2012 @ 4:35


      “Almost done with and enjoying Ruin Nation and just starting Gordon Rhea’s Wilderness book. Need to read your Crater book, Kevin!”

      WTF? You disappoint me Adelman. 🙂

      • Garry Adelman Dec 15, 2012 @ 4:39

        You haven’t given me a free copy yet! 🙂

        • Kevin Levin Dec 15, 2012 @ 4:42

          Honestly, I wish I could afford to hand out a lot of free copies. Made my reservations for G-burg in March. We need to hang my friend.

          • Garry Adelman Dec 15, 2012 @ 4:45

            Indeed, though I’m only there one day–I’ll head to NCSS Wisconsin soon after. Drinks at Blue Parrott,or Garryowen perhaps?

  • Samnell Torquill Dec 14, 2012 @ 14:50

    Working my way through William W. Freehling’s Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay 1776-1854 right now. I’m enjoying it but now and then I lose track of which politician is which and spend a section bumbling around before I catch up.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 14, 2012 @ 15:08

      I know what you mean, but it’s an excellent book. And just think after you finish it you can start volume two. 🙂

      • Samnell Torquill Dec 14, 2012 @ 16:30

        I think I’ll want a break afterwards and maybe read a little fiction, but once I’ve had my vacation I’m debating taking up Don Fehrenbacher’s The Slaveholding Republic or David Potter’s The Impending Crisis, with Foner’s Reconstruction as a lesser possibility. But knowing myself I’ll probably forget these good intentions and leap on the first thing that seems neat when the time comes.

    • Jazzeum Dec 15, 2012 @ 6:09

      It’s an excellent book which I also read this year. However, he is not the best writer and it took a lot of persistence.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 15, 2012 @ 6:19

        His writing style definitely takes some time getting use to, but the payoff is huge.

  • Mike Rogers Dec 14, 2012 @ 14:04

    The list from CWI this year made up a lot of my Civil War reading. Had a chance to revisit Douglas Southall Freeman (Lee’s Lieutenants), Mark Grimsley, but the capstone was John Hennessey book on 2nd Manassas since I was part of that tour of CWI. Also picked up during the year Flood’s Grant & Sherman; and from my father in-law a book which belonged to his grandfather – Harper’s Pictorial History of the Great Rebellion published in 1866.

  • Lois Leveen Dec 14, 2012 @ 13:34

    *The Secrets of Mary Bowser* (HarperCollins) brought Civil War history to many readers who would not otherwise have reached for a book on the topic. It’s a Civil War book without a battlefield, focusing instead on the Union spy ring that operated in Richmond. The account is fictionalized but the research behind the novel is quite thorough.

  • Stephen J Grilli Dec 14, 2012 @ 13:33

    Two of Gordon C Rhea’s books on the Overland Campaign (The Wilderness and the book on Spotsylvania.) Also Stephen W. Sears on Chancellorsville before visiting the battlefield. I am reading Team of Rivals now; also, I read parts of James Robertson’s bio of Stonewall Jackson. All of them are splendidly researched and written.

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