Good Reads for the Summer
Book Picks by the Staff of the Civil War Trust
Summer is the perfect season to get lost in literature. Here at the Civil War Trust — where the topic of history often ties hand-in-hand with a love of reading — we often get asked about our favorite history-related books. So, we have compiled a list of both our all-time favorites and our top picks for new summer reading on Civil War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812 topics.
Whether you're on a road trip to visit a battlefield, vacationing on the beach, or relaxing at home, we hope you enjoy our suggestions — and enjoy getting to know us a little more!
Douglas Ullman, Jr., Digital Producer:
“My favorite Civil War book, hands down, is Harry Pfanz’s Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill & Culp’s Hill. Pfanz’s clear and enjoyable narrative sheds light on an important but often overlooked portion of the Gettysburg battlefield, the fighting on the Union right flank Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill—which happens to be one of my favorite aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg.
“My summer reading list is long, but top of the list is Douglas Southall Freeman’s biography of Robert E. Lee, entitled Lee. Even in it’s abridged version (four volumes is too long for me), Freeman’s work is a classic study of the Confederacy’s most important figure. I believe firmly in reading the classics, so it’s about time I cross this one off the list.”
GiGi Bregani, Development Associate:
“I’m an avid reader (averaging sixty books a year) and always reading something related to our mission at the Trust. I’m currently reading The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan, a biography of Gen. Thomas F. Meagher. My nonfiction book club finally selected a Civil War book and I’m really looking forward to discussing this truly interesting historical figure at our next meeting. I’ve also been recommending American Scoundrel, a biography of Gen. Daniel Sickles by Thomas Keneally (Schindler’s List) a lot. His life story is stranger than fiction!
“Historical fiction on my summer reading include Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray by Dorothy Love (about the friendship between Gen. Robert E. Lee’s wife and slave Selina Norris Gray), Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham (told from Mary Surratt’s point of view) and America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray (meticulously researched novel about Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph).”
Melissa Sadler, Director of Events:
“To plan the Civil War Trust events, I have the privilege of traveling to many historic sites and meeting a lot of historians. One memorable book for me is The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks, which brings history to life at Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee.”
Kathy Robertson, Deputy Director of Real Estate:
“On the list right now is Hamilton by Ron Chernow. My grandmother worked for one of his descendants. I’m interested in the play, too.”
Roger Bailey, History and Education Intern:
“I would have to say that my favorite book isn’t entirely on the War of 1812. Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll tells the story of the founding of the Navy from the controversial and uncertain establishment of a small squadron to its acceptance as a permanent force and a key part of America’s mission after its success in War of 1812 (and other conflicts).
“A book I’m planning to read is The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict by Donald R. Hickey (the Bicentennial Edition). I’ve heard it’s the best single-volume survey of the war from the American perspective, and covers the relationships between US politics, economics, and the different land and naval theaters of the conflict.”
Garry Adelman, Director of History and Education:
“If you want to understand what it was like to be in the Civil War, then read these two books: Fighting for the Confederacy by E. Porter Alexander and A Diary of Battle by Charles Wainwright. Both march readers through the war in order but perhaps more importantly they both illustrate the lives, circumstances, follies and foibles of people involved in the Civil War. Paired together, these books taught me more about the conflict than any others.”
Samantha Ringer, Executive Assistance to the President:
“Before starting at the Trust 3 years ago, I didn’t know much about the Civil War but have always been interested in history. Bruce Catton’s book The Civil War was a great over view for someone with minimal knowledge. However, Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is probably my favorite for all the obvious reasons.”
Jon Mitchell, GIS Manager:
“Out of the several Civil War books I have read, I would say that my favorite is Man Hunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. James Swanson did a fantastic job of making you feel as if you were on the run with John Wilkes Booth.”
Blake Lindsey, Policy and Media Intern:
“Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution by Woody Holton walks readers through the trials and tribulations Americans faced after the War for Independence. The Articles of Confederation is one of the overlooked aspects in American history, in my opinion, and Holton shows just how tense and fragile our young country was. Like President Washington says to Alexander Hamilton in the now famous Broadway musical: 'Winning is easy young man, but governing? That's harder.'”
Mark Coombs, Manager, State and Local Relations
“My pick is The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left by Yuval Levin.
“Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine: a pair of thinkers united in their support for the American Revolution — though the former, loyal British parliamentarian that he was, famously disliked the R-word itself — and little else beyond.
“A fantastic book for those with an interest in how our country’s foundational conflict brought together the Father of Conservatism and the liberal author of Common Sense — a man without whose pen, John Adams wrote, 'the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.'
“No less enthralling for readers of all philosophical stripes is how the two men’s divergent perspectives previewed the primary differences that would, and continue to, animate the ever-running political dialogue of the plucky democratic republic to which the Thirteen Colonies’ war with Great Britain would ultimately give rise.”
David Duncan, Chief Development Officer:
“This is a difficult list to create, as most days I would rather read than eat, so asking me to pick favorites is like asking me to pick a favorite child. That said, here goes:
“Favorite Civil War Book: Chancellorsville 1863: Souls of the Brave by Pat Furgurson. One of the most readable and accessible battle histories ever done, plus it happens to be my favorite battlefield.
“Other must-read Civil War books: I cut my teeth on Bruce Catton, and still love the Army of the Potomac trilogy, the Centennial History of the Civil War trilogy, and his books on U.S. Grant. There is an elegance about his writing that is unmatched among historians. Of course, Shelby Foote’s The Civil War is also in a class by itself, but I prefer to read that one in sections, rather than sit down and try to plow through all 3,000 pages at one time. I also recommend any of Stephen Sears’ battle histories.
“Upon a recommendation by Dr. Gary Gallagher, I am now going back to read some of Clifford Dowdey’s books. Favorite Civil War biography: James I. Robertson’s Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, the Legend. Best Civil War memoir: Fighting for the Confederacy by E. Porter Alexander. For historical fiction, anything by either Michael or Jeff Shaara will serve you well.”
Matt George, Land Stewardship Manager:
“Landscape Turned Red by Stephen Sears. Sears takes you moment by moment through the Battle of Antietam in the Corn Field, East Woods, the Sunken Lane, and Burnside’s Bridge in exquisite detail. His vivid descriptions of the horrors of the fighting, the experiences of the common soldier, while also striking a balance by weaving in the larger troop movements and decisions from the high commands has always made this my favorite. Our current restoration of the “Epicenter” tract makes me want to read it again!”