Read These 12 Great Books While Studying The Civil War

Read These 12 Great Books While Studying The Civil War

Perhaps one of the most controversial eras of history, the Civil War is not only known by four different names, but for the numerous and complicated reasons it was fought. These 12 books will help your students understand the many different sides and motives of the bloodiest war fought on American soil. These books can be used as a teaching resource alongside Dave Raymond’s History series.

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For another look at the war, click here to view some amazing colorized photographs of Civil War soldiers, Lincoln, and more.

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington is slowly being forgotten, despite the fact that he established multiple schools across the South, including Tuskegee Institute, to give former slaves an opportunity to get an education. Born a slave, his autobiography describes how he had to work his way to an education and how the black population should respond to unjust treatment at the turn of the century. This is an amazing book to read not only because of our current cultural climate, but because Washington was a Christian, and shows how his faith was an essential part of his life.

This can be read in middle and high school.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

The second autobiography on this list and the second written before the Civil War, this is the memoir and treatise on abolition written by Frederick Douglass. Your student will learn so much about America before the war through the eyes of this former slave and famous orator. This is definitely a must-read for every student.

This can be read in middle and high school.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo

I read this book when I was thirteen as research for an essay and couldn’t put it down. Made up of first-hand accounts, diaries, letters, and speeches, DiLorenzo states that Lincoln was not the heroic president he appears to be. Did Lincoln really want to free black people? What did he say about slavery in his inaugural address? How soon did the Civil War start after these comments? This book will change your student’s life, and I would highly encourage you to read it as well.

This can be read in middle and high school.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Almost as popular as another Civil War novel on this list, this book takes the perspective of the North. To say war is rough is an understatement; Henry Fleming, a young private, realizes this when he abandons his fellow soldiers in his first battle. This story shows how Henry grows into a man and realizes he must master fear or it will master him.

This can be read in middle and high school.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

Middle School

Dear America: When Will This Cruel War Be Over? 

This book series was one of my favorites in middle school. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? is the fictionalized diary of a young girl growing up in the South when war breaks out. Based on actual events and people, the diary itself is fiction, but allows readers to participate in history in a way other novels and history books don’t.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

Dear America: A Picture of Freedom

Another Dear America diary, Clotee, a twelve-year-old slave, has a secret that will change her life. A Picture of Freedom relates her journey from slavery to freedom over the course of the war, and how her secret protects and harms those she loves. 

You can buy this book on Amazon.

Turn Homeward Hannalee by Patricia Beatty

This is a wonderful account of a girl and her brother forced to leave their Georgian hometown by the Yankees marching through the South. Many times when people tell stories about the Confederate South, the focus is on plantations and slave owners. Yet that was only a small percentage of Southerners. Most were regular small farmers who lived quiet lives. Turn Homeward Hannalee shows this side of the men and women whose lives were forever affected by the most devastating war fought in America.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

One of the most moving books about the Civil War, this novel does not get enough credit. It is sweet, touching, and shows how the war not only tore apart our country, but tore apart families as well. This book follows one family throughout the war and how each family member reacts differently to many motives for fighting.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith

Across 5 Aprils describes who the Confederate soldiers were; Rifles for Watie describes the Union soldiers. Jeff has finally joined up and still views combat through the lens of romance and innocence. He comes to find reality is a little different than his expectations. Middle school age boys will really enjoy this book.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

High School

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Arguably the most famous Civil War novel, Gone With The Wind is a staple Southern drama. The characters are compelling, sympathetic, and full of gumption. Mainly set in Atlanta, it spans the entirety of the war and most of Reconstruction. Mitchell perfectly blends fictional characters and real events into a sweeping story that will give your student a well-rounded perspective of the Confederate side of the war.

Young woman putting on her hoop skirt in the 1860s.

Ages 14+. The story is not a happy one and does reference sex. However, Mitchell does not dwell on this and only brings it up when necessary.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

This is an incredibly famous short story about a Confederate deserter about to be hung by Yankee soldiers. It is classified as one of the most well-known and anthologized short stories in American Literature for good reason. Instead of a linear story, Bierce uses a stream of consciousness style of writing to enhance the plot and add to the bizarre twist at the end.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Another famous piece of American literature, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been immensely popular since its serialized publication in 1852. Like Frederick Douglass’ memoir, Stowe wrote this novel a few years before the war broke out, but her account of slavery, those who approved of it, and those who fought to end it, is incredibly moving.

You can buy this book on Amazon.

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