Approaching Gender Equity in Your Civil War Reading List

For much of my teaching career I have worked to achieve some level of gender equity in the books and articles that I assign my students to read. This has been especially the case in the many elective classes that I have taught on the Civil War era. My overall goal has been to challenge both the tendency to see the Civil War as a masculine subject and the historians and enthusiasts that it attracts as overwhelmingly male. This goes far in tearing down some of the barriers that prevent female students from fully embracing the subject as their own and one that is worthy of serious study.

It should come as no surprise that this outlook helped to shape the reading list for my research seminar at the AAS, which begins next week. Of the six books that I ordered three are authored by women. This past spring Joseph Adelman reflected on similar concerns regarding his reading list for a course on the American Revolution, only he took it a step further. He wondered whether the reading list for an entire undergraduate course on the Revolution could be filled with books by female authors. I didn’t find the results particularly shocking, but it was certainly worth the effort if only to visualize it for the sake of discussion.

Given my earlier point regarding the gender assumptions about the field of Civil War history it might be worth the time to see if a similar list can be achieved. Let me emphasize that this is just a first pass at a list. I fully expect that you will offer your own suggestions in the comments section below.

It goes without saying that no undergraduate class could read this many books. My goal is to cover as much ground as possible in a reading course on the Civil War from a broad narrative of the Civil War era to more narrow military, cultural and memory studies.

There are a few noticeable gaps. I had trouble with biographies of Lincoln as well as with locating a traditional battle/campaign study and a study of United States Colored Troops. I am not all that surprised by some of the gaps in the literature, which I believe are negligible at best. How much this matters, of course, depends on the focus of your particular course.

What, if anything, this list reflects within the field of Civil War historians I leave to you.

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35 comments… add one
  • MillikensBend Sep 5, 2015 @ 18:19

    I think Freedom’s Women: Black Women and Families in Civil War Era Mississippi by Noralee Frankel is too often overlooked. And of course, Anne Bailey has some good titles.

  • Boyd Harris Sep 2, 2015 @ 10:00

    I would add at least one of Ella Lonn’s (1879-1962) works to this list for a variety of reasons. Her monographs on the importance of salt in the Confederacy, desertion in both armies, and foreign born soldiers represented some of the first serious examinations on those subjects. Her contemporaries, such as Charles W. Ramsdell and Bell Wiley, valued her interpretations on the war. The inclusion of her work would also provide students with a good glimpse at the early historiography of the war and the challenges/biases faced by scholars during the early twentieth century. Her book, “Salt as a Factor in the Confederacy,” remains a pretty good account on the limits faced by the Confederacy during the war.

  • Tracey McIntire Sep 2, 2015 @ 5:08

    I heartily recommend “They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War” by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook. It is a subject rarely covered in Civil War studies.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2015 @ 5:38

      Another vote for Blanton and Cook. Excellent book. Thanks, Tracey.

  • Ken Noe Sep 2, 2015 @ 5:03

    Let’s keep going with some other books of my reading list: Anne Rubin’s earlier book, A Shattered Nation, Jeanne Attie’s Patriotic Toil, Linda Barnickel’s Milliken’s Bend, Nicole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas and A Generation at War, Kathryn Meier’s Nature’s Civil War, Jen Murray’s On a Great Battlefield, Grace Palladino’s Another Civil War, and Anne Rose’s Victorian America and the Civil War.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2015 @ 5:04

      Excellent titles. Thanks, Ken.

    • MillikensBend Sep 5, 2015 @ 18:22

      Thanks for the mention, Ken! What a privilege to be included on this list with all the others!

      • Kevin Levin Sep 6, 2015 @ 3:49

        I am glad Ken mentioned your book as I thoroughly enjoyed it.

      • Ken Noe Sep 6, 2015 @ 4:49

        I like the book very much, and think it deserves more attention. The way you blend battle narrative and memory into a seamless whole makes it a real role model for future work.

  • Diane Miller Sommerville Sep 2, 2015 @ 3:13

    Anne Sarah Rubin Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman’s March and American Memory

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2015 @ 3:32

      Thanks. Also need to include Susanna M. Lee’s _Claiming the Union: Loyal Citizenship in the Post-Civil War South_.

  • Rachel Williams Sep 2, 2015 @ 1:58

    Great list! I would add Frances Clarke on suffering and sacrifice, Jeanie Attie on women and the Sanitary Commission, and Susan-Mary Grant on nationalism.

  • Jonathan Mahaffey Sep 1, 2015 @ 18:43

    I just finished Anne Bailey’s “The Chessboard of War” on Sherman’s March to the Sea and Hood’s invasion of Tennessee, which might qualify as the missing campaign study for your list. I’m not sure, though, if it would count as a “traditional” campaign study. Given the brevity of the book it doesn’t get into as much tactical detail as one might expect. It also spends a good deal of time on non-military matters, such as the political implications of the campaigns on the 1864 Presidential election.

  • Matt Gallman Sep 1, 2015 @ 17:51

    Nice list.
    Others worth noting:

    Joan Waugh on Grant
    Thavolia Glymph on the plantation household before, during and after the Civil War
    Nicole Etheson on Putnam County, Indiana
    Elizabeth Leonard on Joseph Holt (as well as many other relevant books)
    Lisa Frank on Sherman’s March
    Jackie Campbell on Sherman’s March
    Catherine Clinton on Mary Lincoln (and many other books)
    Margaret Creighton on Gettysburg
    Judy Giesberg on northern women (and other relevant titles)
    Alice Fahs on literature
    Lyde Sizer on literature and gender
    Mary Ryan on cities during the war
    Carol Reardon on Pickett’s Charge
    Lesley Gordon on Pickett and Memory
    Sharon Romeo on St Louis African Americans and the war [forthcoming]
    Hannah Rosen on race/gender/citizenship after the war
    Susan O’Donovan on the transition to freedom in Georgia
    jackie Jones on Savannah
    Lorien Foote on masculinity in the Union Army

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2015 @ 17:56

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the list, most of which I am familiar with. I should have included Glymph’s book. First, it is an incredibly thoughtful book and my list did not include any African American historians.

      • msb Sep 2, 2015 @ 4:55

        Second the motion on Glymph; that’s a great book, though not a pleasant read.

    • Terry Johnston Sep 1, 2015 @ 18:15

      And Jennifer Weber on Copperheads…

  • Rob Wick Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:57


    I guess if you didn’t mind its age, Ida Tarbell’s two-volume biography of Lincoln or her later “In the Footsteps of the Lincolns” would still have merit. I personally believe the latter is her most mature treatment of Lincoln that came from her pen. Given that Albert J. Beveridge’s two-volume biography or Lord Charnwood’s 1917 biography are still considered relevant to the field, I don’t see why Tarbell’s wouldn’t be either.


    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2015 @ 17:03

      You are going back pretty far, but I definitely appreciate the effort. I am certainly familiar with Tarbell, but not with the book.

  • wkerrigan Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:44

    Very good list. My Civil War Readings class reached parity last Spring when I assigned eight books, for by women. Two excellent ones not mentioned that were on my list are Lisa Brady’s War Upon the Land and Judith Giesberg’s Army at Home. Varon has several other great titles, including Southern Lady, Yankee Spy and Appomattox.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:46

      I am using Giesberg’s book in my AAS seminar. Varon is all over the place. 🙂

  • David T. Dixon Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:35

    Why not consider scholarly articles to supplement the books? You would find a wider variety of more specialized topics and might be able to cover more ground.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:38

      You are no doubt correct, but I am also interested in the visibility of female Civil War historians at the level of book publishing.

  • Pat Young Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:28

    Since you don’t have any books on your list dealing with the quarter of Union troops who were immigrants, you might also include Susannah Ural’s The Harp and the Eagle on Irish in the Union army or the collection she edited Civil War Citizens on immigrants, blacks and Native Americans in the war.

  • Pat Young Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:23

    I would add Varon’s After Appomattox, Matha Hodes’ Mourning Lincoln, and Carole Emberton’s Beyond Redemption. I read them all this spring and found new perspectives in each.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:25

      I’ve read all three book as well and highly recommend them. Like I said, you could easily construct more than one list.

      • Pat Young Sep 2, 2015 @ 13:30

        Sorry, I mixed up titles (but not books). Varon’s volume is Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War.

    • Pat Young Sep 2, 2015 @ 13:26

      Sorry for having messed up the title of Varon’s excellent book with the equally fascinating volume by Greg Downs. Varon’s book is, of course, Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War.

  • Barbara Gannon Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:18

    Thanks for the shout out! I would add among medical books Margaret Humphreys stuff and maybe check out Shauna Devines book that won the Tom Watson Brown prize. Great list!!!

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2015 @ 16:19

      You are very welcome, Barbara. I have Devines’s book but have yet to read it.

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