Whether you’re a history buff or are just trying to complete a school assignment, reading a historical novel about the Civil War can be a great way to gain insight into this world-changing event. But which to read? From classics like Little Women to gritty retellings like The Killer Angels, we’ve highlighted the 30 best novels about the Civil War Era.
MacKinlay Kantor’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Andersonville has been called “the most powerful [novel] ever written about our nation’s bloodiest conflict.” Andersonville brings to life the Confederate Prisoner of War camp where more than 50,000 Union solders were held under inhumane conditions.
Battle Flag (The Starbuck Chronicles, Book 3)
Bernard Cornwell is famous for fictionalizing real-life battles in an exciting way, and his Starbuck Chronicles series is no exception. This is the third book in the series Battle Flag. It follows Confederate soldier Captain Nate Starbuck has he battles the formidable Union army, his own superiors, and even at times, himself.
The Black Flower
Howard Bahr’s The Black Flower tells the story of two American heroes who fall in love during the country’s bloodiest conflict. Twenty-six-year old Bushrod Carter is finally wounded in Tennessee after fighting for three years without incident. Taken to recover at a nearby hospital, Bushrod falls in love with Anna Hereford, a young nurse who has experienced her own bloodshed and tragedy. Together, they seek salvation in a time of war and hope for life after war.
A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh
In A Blaze of Glory, celebrated Civil War novelist Jeff Shaara turns his attention to the Battle of Shiloh. As with Shaara’s other novels, A Blaze of Glory is told from the perspective of myriad real-life characters. These include General Albert Sidney Johnston, the Confederate leader who launches the surprise attack on Shiloh, and Ulysses S. Grant, the Union general hot on Johnston’s tail.
Cold Mountain is the heartbreaking, can’t-put-it-down novel about a wounded Confederate soldier and the woman he longs to return to. After Inman is nearly killed in battle, he begins the long, hazardous walk back to North Carolina, where the gentle Ada has herself turned into a warrior. In 2003, the novel was adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger.
Paulette Jiles’s Enemy Women tells the story of Adair Colley, an 18-year old woman who is forced to flee her family home in southeastern Missouri as the War Between the States tears apart her family. When Adair meets up with the wrong person, she finds herself arrested and held captive in a filthy women’s prison. Against all odds, Adair falls in love with her interrogator, a major in the Union army. He helps her escape and promises he’ll return for her when the fighting is over.
Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War
William R. Forstchen and Newt Gingrich
William R. Forstchen and New Gingrich have teamed up to write a number of bestselling books, including Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War. The book takes place in 1863, and imagines history as it could have been. In this version of history, Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army win at the Battle of Gettysburg, changing the entire course of the war and the American story.
Gods and Generals
Gods and Generals is Jeff Shaara’s brilliant epic about the Civil War’s greatest military leaders in the war’s earliest years. In detailed, historically accurate prose, Shaara tells the tales of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Winfield Scott Hancock, Joshua Chamberlain, and Robert E. Lee, among others.
Gone With the Wind
Published in 1936, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is one of the best-selling books of all time. The classic novel takes place in the years before, during, and just after the Civil War, and follows precocious Southern Belle Scarlett O’Hara and the roguish Rhett Butler. Gone With the Wind was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, and turned into a classic movie two years later.
Heaven and Hell
In this sequel to North and South — also featured on our list of the best Civil War novels — the Civil War has recently ended. Still, the series’ main protagonists, the Hazard and Main families, have yet to face their biggest challenges. The war-torn country struggles to heal, the West calls for settlers, and old hatreds resurface.
The Killer Angels
A bestseller and the winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels is one of the most famous novels ever written about the Civil War. Remarkably accurate historically, The Killer Angels recounts the four-day Battle of Gettysburg from various perspectives on both sides of the war.
The Last Full Measure
In this sequel to The Killer Angels, Jeff Shaara captivates readers with his novelization of the Civil War’s third year, from the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant as head of the Union Army through the Battle of Appomattox. The novel is told from multiple perspectives, including Grant and Confederate leader Robert E. Lee.
Lincoln: A Novel
Most books and movies about Abraham Lincoln portray the president as “the Great Emancipator” and “Savior of the Union.” In Lincoln, author Gore Vidal focuses on Lincoln as a man from Illinois who entered a besieged, South-favoring capital in the midst of the fight over slavery. Over the course of the novel, the Civil War ravages the entire country and Lincoln faces loss, prejudice, and his own deep personal turmoil.
Louisa May Alcott
Though Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is not directly about the Civil War, it does take place during the Civil War Era, and the consequences of war are felt throughout. The classic novel revolves around sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy, each of whom is more unlike the next. As the girls come of age during this tumultuous period, they struggle with the absence of their soldier father and the new presence of the young man next door.
In March, Geraldine Brooks imagines and recounts the story of Mr. March, a Civil War soldier and the father of the four “little women” made so famous by Louisa May Alcott. The novel topped a number of bestseller lists, and was awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for literature.
It has been said that E.L. Doctorow is “incredibly adept at recreating history.” Indeed, in The March, the author recreates the Union army’s devastating 1864 march through Georgia and the Carolinas. The novel is told from the perspective of more than 20 characters, including real-life general William Tecumseh Turner.
Miss Ravenel’s Conversion from Secession to Loyalty
John William de Forest
Miss Ravenel’s Conversion from Secession to Loyalty is unlike any other novel on our list of the best books about the Civil War. Because it was written by an actual soldier in the Union army, John William de Forest, this grisly novel provides readers with an insight into the war that can’t be found elsewhere.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker
This bestselling novel by Jennifer Chiaverini fictionalizes the real life friendship between First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress. “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker” was Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a courageous woman who was born a slave, yet earned her way into the confidence of the First Lady in the White House.
My Name is Mary Sutter: A Novel
My Name is Mary Sutter is the captivating story of a brilliant young midwife who yearns to become a surgeon. Newly heartbroken and determined to break the ties that hold her back, Mary travels to Washington, D.C. where she finds a job treating the wounded Civil War soldiers. Author Robin Oliveira has been praised for her rich storytelling and attention to historic detail, both of which contributed to the novel being called “one of the great novels about the Civil War.”
Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant: The Final Victory
William R. Forstchen and Newt Gingrich
Like their novel Gettysburg, William R. Forstchen’s and Newt Gingrich’s Never Call Retreat is an alternate look at what could have happened if actual events of the Civil War had played out a little differently. In this version of history, Confederate general Robert E. Lee is fresh off a series of victories and heading towards Washington, D.C. President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant are continuing their fight to preserve the Union, despite facing a collapse of political will around them.
North and South
John Jakes’ North and South, inspiration for the popular television show of the same name, is the first in a trilogy about two families, the Mains and the Hazards. Southern planter Orry Main and Northern industrialist George Hazard become best friends as cadets at West Point. But as the Civil War approaches, they find themselves on opposite sides.
The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All
Ninety-five-year old Lucy Marsden, the narrator of Allan Gurganus’s The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, is one of literature’s most beloved voices. The novel tells Lucy’s tale about what it was like to be married off at 15-years old to the 50-something “Captain Marsden.” She reminisces about her husband, a Civil War veteran, who treated his post-traumatic stress by constantly reliving his time during the Civil War.
Red Badge of Courage
Published just 30 years after the end of the war, Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane remains one of the most classic and beloved novels about the Civil War drama. The story is told from the perspective of Henry Fleming, a young soldier who evolves from idealistic patriot, to horrified participant, to courageous warrior.
Rifles for Watie
Sixteen-year old Jeff Bussey is thrilled when he finally receives his father’s permission to join the Union army. But earnest Jeff quickly realizes that the war between the states isn’t all battle glory. Instead, Jeff marches through endless fields, feels extreme hunger and exhaustion, and learns firsthand what it is like to lose friends. Finally, Jeff’s courage is tested when he finds himself taken by the enemy.
Savannah: Or A Gift for Mr. Lincoln
John Jakes’s novel Savannah takes place in 1864 and revolves around the gifting of the city of Savannah to President Abraham Lincoln from General Sherman. Dramatic events unfold that are sure to have a lasting effect on Savannah, the state of Georgia, and the entire country. At the same time, a widow named Sara and her 12-year old daughter, Hattie, struggle to save their family’s rice plantation.
Shelby Foote is considered one of the preeminent Civil War historians, and his novel, Shiloh, one of the best books about the conflict. The book is told in first-person narrative by figures on both sides of the battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles of the entire Civil War.
Two Girls of Gettysburg
Lisa Klein’s young adult novel, Two Girls of Gettysburg revolves around a family torn apart by the Civil War. Rosanna and Lizzie are devoted cousins who find themselves on opposite sides of the cause when war breaks out. Each young woman grapples with coming of age during the brutality of war, only to reconnect in the days surrounding the violent Battle of Gettysburg.
The Widow of the South
Written in 2005 by “Civil War buff” Robert Hicks, The Widow of the South is based on the true story of Carrie McGavock. The Southern woman devoted herself to providing proper burials to Confederate soldiers in her own backyard. In the opening pages of The Widow of the South, it is 1894 and Carrie’s long-lost love has knocked on her doorstep and asked if he too can be buried in her yard.
Woe to Live On
Daniel Woodrell’s Woe to Live On offers readers an interesting look at life in Kansas and Missouri, two states that were officially neutral during the Civil War, but were actually anything but. The historical novel follows Jake Roedel, a young recruit of the First Kansas Irregulars. As part of the Irregulars, Jake grows up fast and experiences a brutal version of war that doesn’t include the gentlemanly standards of mercy.
The Year of Jubilo: A Novel of the Civil War
All Gawain Harper wants to do is marry Morgan Rhea. After three long years fighting in the Confederate army, Gawain returns to Cumberland, Mississippi only to find it a very different place than the town he left. An occupying force of Union soldiers keeps a close eye on Cumberland citizens, while another former Confederate soldier organizes a secret militia to drive the occupiers away. Tired of war and longing for a lifetime of peace with Morgan, Gawain finds himself in yet another battle he is desperate to escape.