Reading List for ‘The North’s Civil War’

I am getting close to finalizing the reading list for my research seminar at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, which I will teach this coming fall semester. The seminar will focus specifically on how Northerners understood Union and emancipation over the course of the war. We meet once a week and our time will be divided between discussion of readings and learning how to interpret the AAS’s rich collection of primary sources in preparation for a major research paper, which each student will complete. Check out the course description, though I will likely tweak it in the coming weeks.

As for assigned books, I have managed to narrow it down to six. Of course, they will be supplemented by articles and book chapters, which I will make available to students throughout the semester. I tried to find well written books that will keep my students’ attention, allow us to talk a little historiography and that will cover a good deal of topical ground. Finally, I tried to choose books that are right around 200 pages.

The Books

Since I have no idea how much background knowledge my students will arrive with I decided to begin the class by reading Louis Masur’s The Civil War: A Concise History. I’ve used this book numerous times for my high school level elective on the Civil War. It’s accessible and will put all of us on the same page as we move forward. From there we will move to Gary Gallagher’s The Union War. Gallagher devotes a good deal of attention to the key concepts of Union and emancipation, which will be our primary focus in this class. On Civil War soldiers we will read James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. It’s still a must read and the focus on Confederate soldiers should make for an interesting comparative discussion.

Since we are in Worcester I was hoping to find a local study that touched on at least some of the seminar’s topics. Janette T. Greenwood’s First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1862-1900 fits perfectly. We will look at the extent to which Worcester reflected some of the broader themes discussed in the other books. The other nice thing about this book is that it moves us into the postwar period, which we will not cover in any great detail. From there we read Drew G. Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War . What can I say, it’s a powerful book. We can focus in on how the war altered Northerners’ understanding of death. How they mourned and how the scale of death impacted lives on the local level as well as its political impact. Brian Jordan’s new book, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War rounds out the list on Union veterans and their readjustment to civilian life.

Your Help

Please feel free to critique my list and offer your own suggestions. I am especially interested in essays that might help to supplement these titles. Please consider readability as this is an undergraduate seminar made up of students from at least five different schools. No doubt, there are numerous gaps in this list. The one that jumps out is in the area of Northern women. I could probably also use something specifically about Lincoln. Thanks.

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15 comments… add one
  • D. Kent Fonner Jul 27, 2015 @ 5:01

    A very good book on Northern women is “Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War,” by Nina Silber (Harvard University Press, 2005). Good book of essays is Paul A. Cimbala & Randall M. Miller, editors, “Union Soldiers and the Northern Home Front.”

    • Kevin Levin Jul 27, 2015 @ 5:18

      Silber’s book is excellent. Thanks for reminding me of the Cimbala/Miller collection.

  • Terry Johnston Jul 23, 2015 @ 18:49


    Two books that are about the length you’re looking for — but that aren’t Massachusetts specific — are Matt Gallman’s “The North Fights the Civil War: The Home Front” and Reid Mitchell’s “The Vacant Chair: The Northern Soldier Leaves Home.” Both excellent studies. Another that’s a bit on the long side but specific to men who were recruited in the Worcester area is Warren Wilkinson’s “Mother, May You Never See the Sights I Have Seen: The Fifty-Seventh Massachusetts Veteran Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac, 1864-1865.” You can’t go wrong with any of these. Best of luck with the class…

    • Kevin Levin Jul 24, 2015 @ 2:23

      All great suggestions. I decided against a book of soldiers letters because we have access to some letters in the archives from local recruits. I may use a few letters from the book. It is quite good.

  • Joe Wolf Jul 23, 2015 @ 15:09

    Levin, I would recommend Kirk Savage’s Standing Soldiers Kneeling Slaves (or at least using a few chapters). I think Savage would provide some good supplemental material when you get to Marching Home. Savage obviously looks at both north and south remembrance, but he does have some fantastic insight on how Union veterans and their families/communities remembered the war (particularly when it came to etching those memories in bronze). Perhaps that is a little too far outside the scope of your class, but I thought it would make a nice addition as a bookend.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 23, 2015 @ 15:14

      The student becomes the teacher! 🙂 Great to hear from you Joe. The Savage book is an excellent suggestion. Worcester has at least one monument in town and I suspect another in a local cemetery. It might be interesting to juxtapose Savage’s analysis and tour of the monument with Jordan’s interpretation. Thanks again, Joe.

  • Christian McWhirter Jul 23, 2015 @ 15:09

    Edna Medford’s new volume for the Concise Lincoln Library, Lincoln and Emancipation, is reportedly very good and the perfect length for class assignment.

  • edabney Jul 23, 2015 @ 14:57

    As far as sections of books, I’m going to have to remind you to not forget the women.

    Jeanie Attie, “Warwork and the Crisis of Domesticity in the North,” in Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, ed., Catherine Clinton and Nina Sibler (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992)

    Also a short book that perhaps you could better select a chapter from than me: Judith Giesberg, Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

    • Kevin Levin Jul 23, 2015 @ 15:01

      Yes, I indicated in the post that gender/women is missing. I may add Geisberg’s book. It’s really good and it is available in paperback. Thanks, Emmanuel. The other missing piece is immigration.

      • edabney Jul 23, 2015 @ 15:03

        You’re welcome. I do what I can. haha

  • M.D. Blough Jul 23, 2015 @ 14:17

    I’m curious. Why’d you decide against using McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom”? It, to me, is still the best one volume history of the Civil War and a pioneer in demonstrating that the political/social and the military aspects of the war do not have to be seen as separate concepts but can be successfully discussed as an interactive whole.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 23, 2015 @ 14:28

      All good points, but I don’t need a comprehensive history for this class. I went with Masur because he is able to hit most of the main points that I need for students to have as foundation before moving on to more specific readings and research.

  • Scott A. MacKenzie Jul 23, 2015 @ 14:00

    I would suggest Union Heartland, a collection of essays edited by Ginette Alley and J. L. Anderson. It covers the midwestern states during the war, which tend to be neglected in favor of the Atlantic States. It is also just 224 pages.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 23, 2015 @ 14:06

      Hi Scott,

      Nice to hear from you. It’s an excellent collection. I may use Nicole Etcheson’s essay.

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