My 2017 Best Picks for The Civil War Monitor

Thanks once again to Terry Johnston for inviting me to share a few of my favorite Civil War books from 2017 with the readers of The Civil War Monitor.

This year I have to give the top prize to Steven E. Sodergren’s The Army of the Potomac in the Overland & Petersburg Campaigns (LSU Press). The book explores the Union army in the final year of the war and functions very much like a companion volume to J. Tracy Powers’s Lee’s Miserables. Sodergren explores how Union soldiers dealt with the obvious challenges related to the shift to life in earthworks and weather, but he also considers largely unexplored topics such as soldier responses to northern charitable organizations. Chapters focused on how soldiers transitioned from the continuous fighting during Overland campaign to periods of inactivity during the Petersburg campaign are particularly interesting. The research behind this book is extensive and it is beautifully written.

Jonathan W. White’s Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams During the Civil War (UNC Press) is a reminder that there are still plenty of topics left in this field to research and write about. White examines the meaning that Union and Confederate soldiers, slaves, and even such notable figures as Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, attached to their dreams and how they evolved over the course of the war. For some sleep was a welcome refuge from the struggles of war while for others nighttime during the Civil War years, according to the author, “might reasonably be considered the most sleepless period in American history.”

There have been a number of excellent unit studies published in the past few years, but I am very much looking forward to reading Susannah Ural’s new book, Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit (LSU Press). For those interested in Civil War memory, Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts, Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy (The New Press), scheduled for a spring 2018 release, should be on their reading list.

Bonus: Here are a couple of titles that didn’t make the list. Ed Ayers’s The Thin Light of Freedom is a wonderful concluding installment of the war and Reconstruction in the Shenandoah Valley between Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin, Pennsylvania, which I am just about finished. One final book in the pipeline is Andrew Lang’s In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America (LSU Press). Later in 2018 LSU Press will publish what looks to be an excellent collection of essays edited by Andrew Lang and Andrew Bledsoe. It is titled Upon the Fields of Battle and will feature essays by Earl Hess, Brian Jordan, Jennifer Murray, John Hennessy, Ken Noe, among others. It also will include an essay of mine on Confederate military executions. Stay tuned.

2 comments… add one
  • msb Nov 29, 2017 @ 11:56

    Does the Monitor ever consider fiction? If so, perhaps they’d choose The Underground Railroad or Lincoln in the Bardo, which are both terrific.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 29, 2017 @ 12:06

      I don’t believe so, but I couldn’t agree with you more. I thoroughly enjoyed both books.

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