My story connected to the Civil War has passed the 70,000-word mark, and the ending is in sight. I’m not sure when it was that I realized I was writing about something I had only the most surface understanding of, but I did. The only solution was to start reading and researching.
Many blogs and web sites have been helpful, but two especially so. Emerging Civil War, edited by Chris Mackowksi, is written by historians, National Park guides, and other who know their stuff. Most have published books. Civil War Books & Authors, penned by Andrew Wagonhoffer, posts notices of new books and full-length book reviews focused solely on the Civil War, its causes, and its aftermath. Both sites have been at this work for years, ECW for more than a decade and CWBA since 2005.
What was also a treat was discovering and visiting the Missouri Civil War Museum, located adjacent to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery here in St. Louis.
My reading and research this year has been less about military strategy, tactics, and battles, and more about what both civilians and soldiers experienced. For several decades after the war, officer and soldier memoirs were popular, and several publishers have made them available in digital format. The same is true for civilians, although there seem to be more memoirs by women and mothers on the Southern side than the Northern, likely reflecting the direct experience these women had.
I did pay attention to certain battles. For my story, the battles of Shiloh, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Franklin, and Petersburg / Appomattox were the key ones, as was the whole surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. The surrender, in fact, was the scene where the manuscript originally started, even if its now in another place.
What’s also changed is that I’m reading other fictional accounts of the war – novels, stories, and poetry. Many people turned to fiction and poetry to make sense of what happened in the years between 1861 and 1865. As a friend once said, “Fiction can be truer that history.”
What follows is a list of the books I read in 2023. Given where my own fiction manuscript is, I expect to be reading far fewer in 2024. Then again, maybe not; the Civil War is a difficult subject to walk away from.
The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War by Michael Gorda.
Irish-American Civil War Songs by Catherine Bateson.
Of Age: Boy Soldiers and Military Power in the Civil War Era by Frances Clark and Rebecca Jo Plant.
Contemners and Serpents: The James Wilson Family Civil War Correspondence, edited by Theodore Fuller and Thomas Knight.
Four Years with Morgan and Forrest by Col. Thomas Berry.
Grant vs. Lee, edited by Chris Mackowski and Dan Welch.
If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania, Vol. 1, by Scott Mingus & Eric Wittenberg.
Reading John Greenleaf Whittier, the “Abolitionist Poet”, edited by Brenda Wineapple.
A Season of Slaughter: The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, May 8-21,1864 – Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White.
Bear in the Wilderness by Donald Waldemer.
The Summer of ’63: Vicksburg and Tullahoma, edited by Chris Mackowski and Dan Welch.
Man of Fire: William Tecumseh Sherman in the Civil War by Derek Maxfield.
The Wartime Journal of a Georgia Girl by Eliza Frances Andrews.
Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer by G. Mosely Sorrell.
The Civil War: The First Year by Those Who Lived It – Library of America.
Bloody Promenade: Recollections on a Civil War Battle by Stephen Cushman.
If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania, Vol. 2 by Scott Mingus and Eric Wittenberg.
The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It – Library of America.
Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers by Rufus Dawes.
The Civil War: The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It – Library of America.
The True Story of Andersonville Prison by James Madison Page.
The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It – Library of America.
From Western Virginia with Jackson to Spotsylvania with Lee by Peter Luebke.
The Story of Camp Douglas by David Keller.
Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott.
Shiloh, A Novel by Shelby Foote.
John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benet.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.
The Battle of Franklin by A.S. Peterson.
The Stolen Train by Robert Ashley.
I also wrote four blog posts that discussed a little of my own great-grandmother’s experience in Union-occupied New Orleans and some of the struggles I had with the research.
Top photograph, courtesy Wikimedia Commons: The Wilderness site, sometime after the battle. The dense scrub wasn’t conducive to fighting, but the dry weather made it conducive to being ignited by sparks from artillery fire.