For as long as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed reading about the Civil War, and I’m always on the lookout for good books about that historic conflict. Several years ago, I read that the 1918 book “History of the Civil War, 1861-1865” by James Ford Rhodes had won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1918. I’d never read this outstanding book, so I added it to my “bucket list” a few years ago.
I started reading this book on Aug. 27 and finished reading it on Sat., Sept. 17. The version that I read was the 486-page edition published by Dover Publications in 1999. This edition includes a new introduction by John Herbert Roper of Emory & Henry College in Emory, Va.
Within the covers of this book, Rhodes does a masterful job of giving the reader a thorough overview of the events that took place during the war. In 14 chapters, he covers a wide variety of topics, including events leading up to the war, slavery, early battles of the war, Naval aspects of the war, the Emancipation Proclamation, elections and politics, the shuffling of generals, foreign relations, the military draft, the rise of Ulysses S. Grant, important campaigns, financial problems for both governments, civilian life during the war, Sherman’s March to the Sea and the war’s closing days.
Of course, the book also discusses the war’s major battles, but be forewarned. While this book does discuss the war’s major battles and campaigns, it does not give detailed accounts of these. This book provides overviews of those events and how they fit into the big picture. If you’re looking for details accounts of these battles and campaigns, you’ll need to check other sources.
I also thought this history was fairly balanced, especially for a book written by a northern author. Rhodes was born in Ohio and was a graduate of New York University, so it would have been easy for him to write a slanted history of the war. Perhaps the book’s balance was one of the factors that helped it win a Pulitzer Prize.
Having now read Rhodes’ history of the Civil War, I’m left wanting to read the other Pulitzer Prize History winners related to the Civil War. Those winners, who are obviously related to the war, include “The Organization and Administration of the Union Army, 1861–1865” by Fred Albert Shannon (1929), “Abraham Lincoln: The War Years” by Carl Sandburg (1940), “Reveille in Washington, 1860–1865” by Margaret Leech (1942), “A Stillness at Appomattox” by Bruce Catton (1954), “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era” by James M. McPherson (1989), “The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties” by Mark E. Neely Jr. (1992) and “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery” by Eric Foner (2011).
In the end, how many of you have read Rhodes’ “History of the Civil War”? What did you think about it? What other Civil War books would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.