Last Updated on: 21st February 2023, 11:02 pm
I wrote yesterday about my visit to Gettysburg over the weekend. While browsing the gift shop at the Visitor’s center, I stopped to check out their extensive selection of Civil War inspired nonfiction and novels. Between visiting Gettysburg and seeing Margaret Mitchell’s house in May, I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about the Civil War and its impact.
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For travel guidebooks to have with you during your trip, I always pick one or two from Rick Steves and Lonely Planet.
This prompted me to pick up Team of Rivals (information below). I practically devoured it yesterday and today–it’s that good. I knew it would be, but I sometimes have a hard time getting into a biography instead of listening to a podcast or history. I should really work on this habit, I know I’m missing out on some great American history biographies because of it.
Here are my five recommendations for books to read on your vacation to Gettysburg (or inspire you to take one).
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
New York magazine hails Doris Kearns Goodwin as America’s historian-in-chief, and her 2006 biography of Abraham Lincoln is the standard Lincoln biography of the 21st century. Detailing Lincoln’s political rise and tenure as president, it focuses on the way he built relationships to forge the team that would lead the Union to win the war.
The Complete Gettysburg Guide: walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, field Hospital Sites, and other Topics of Historical Interest by J. David Peruzzi and Steven Stanley
You can buy a copy of an auto tour cd at the Visitor’s center, but for the same price, you can get this version that includes the cemeteries, hospitals, and the town. The battle spread across a very large area, and the official tour contains 16 stops. This version is much more extensive.
The War that Forged a Nation by James McPherson
James McPherson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, and this book tackles how to understand the legacy of the Civil War in the 21st century. Examining many of the issues at the heart of the war (racial inequality, state sovereignty, competing geographic interests, etc.), McPherson chronicles how these issues still affect society today.
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was the basis for the movie Gettysburg and had a significant influence on Ken Burns’ making of his PBS Civil War documentary. The novel covers the intense days of the battle, centering on real historical figures from both sides of the war.
The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle by Margaret S. Creighton
After a few hours on the tour, I found my head spinning trying to keep track of troop movements, advances, and hilltops. If you’re not a complete military history fanatic, you might enjoy this look at the war through the eyes of women, African Americans, and immigrant soldiers covers the battle as experienced by those typically overlooked in the traditional telling of the war.
The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command by Edwin B. Coddington
This is probably one of the best contenders for a novel with the most precise parts and detailed history about the Gettysburg Battle. If you need one book to help you understand about it, then this will be a good choice for you. He has written the flow of the story perfectly as if you were actually someone who witnessed the battle. Despite being published in 1968, his research makes way for a great resource and a go-to book for history students and geeks up to this date.
You will also get insights from some of the generals and privates which adds more reliability aside from the usual details of what really transpired on those 3 days. It also has old maps, pictures and a lot of side notes to help you as you read. Overall, it is a great novel and a way for you to get back in time during the war. The facts stated in the book are very accurate and pretty sure that a lot of historians have read this masterpiece from Coddington.
>>See The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command on Amazon<<
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
The author of Killer Angels is a fiction writer who writes about sports, science and history. Prior to his career in writing, he was a boxer and a police officer. It was also first published in 1974 and won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a year after for its outstanding story about the Battle of Gettysburg. This is also one reason why it was later on adapted into a movie in 1993 where most of the dialogue from the book were retained.
He dissects the story into 4 days instead of the 3-day battle listed in history books. Every day of the battle is broken down into the perspective of the two commanders. You will also see some maps that show how the troops were positioned in every advancement and retreat that they did.
The different emotions of each leader during the battle were also shown by Shaara. He also incorporated very detailed historical bits into the story that will amaze you. Most important of all he also showed the struggles and encounters aside from the consequences and lessons we can learn from the battle.
>>See The Killer Angels on Amazon<<
Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears
Sears is an American Historian and an award-winning author of books who focused most of his work on the Civil War. He was also the editor of the Educational Department at the American Heritage Publishing Company. One of his works, Gettysburg, was published in November 3, 2004. It has also received a lot of good complements and five-star ratings from different editors and readers.
The book studies the battle of Gettysburg in all its complexity. It gives you a detailed summary of what transpired during the battle and things not mentioned in history books. He also gave his opinion about how Lee was not fully in control of his army which led to his downfall and the victory of Mead.
The details were almost so great and you will love how he created the maps with the location of each battle. The timeline and flow of the story is also commendable and it also includes troop movements, so we can say that this one is a big contender for books about the Gettysburg battle. This and Coddington’s The Gettysburg Campaign should be a part of any enthusiast of the Civil War.
>>See Gettysburg on Amazon<<
Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory by Carol Reardon
Reardon talks about the myths and facts that surround the Pickett’s Charge. The book has won the 1998 Forrest C. Pogue Prize and the 1998 Philip S. Klein Prize. Her passion about the civil war makes her one of the best staff ride tours in Gettysburg.
If you are someone who’s curious about what transpired on both sides during the Pickett’s Charge, then this book is a must read. You will see how Reardon perfectly states stories from both the winners and the losers of the battle – giving you a more in-depth reading experience. He also tries to separate what is fact from fiction, so you can uncover yourself the mysteries of the Pickett’s Charge and understand about the first ever loss of Lee.
You will also see what influence and importance this incident has done to shape the history of America. It answers a lot of questions one may have about Pickett’s Charge and you might just clear up your confusion like most people do about this specific incident, making it an excellent read that can also change your insight.
>>See Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory on Amazon<<
Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage by Noah Andre Trudeau
Noah Andre Trudeau is an American Historian and also an executive producer at the National Public Radio. He has also won the Civil War Round Table of New York’s Fletcher Pratt Award and the Jerry Coffey Memorial Prize. His book Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage was first published in May 27th of 2003.
He elaborated the story by allowing each character to say their own words. Making the story more interesting and personal. This book helps people understand some of the bits and pieces of history from the Gettysburg Battle that transpired on July 3rd of 1863.
The author states that there can be many reasons as to why there are different variations and stories as to what really happened during the battle – the different insights of veterans of the battle and the history as told by historians. This book makes logical reasoning and provides a great aftermath of the battle. What readers will love most about Trudeau’s masterpiece, is how well written is his report of the aftermath of the battle. It’s also one of the best books to read before you visit the battlefields in Gettysburg.
>>See Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage on Amazon<<
The Maps of Gettysburg: An Atlas of the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 – July 13, 1863 by Bradley M. Gottfried
Despite having a Ph.D. in Zoology at Miami University, Gottfried has given a great contribution to historical literature with his book The Maps of Gettysburg since he is also Gettysburg Licensed Historian. The book was first originally published in 2007 (although there have been many versions later on).
If you are looking for a book with one of the best collections of maps, then this is for you. It has 144 detailed full-page maps of the Battle of Gettysburg, most of which are original cartographs. It is a perfect resource for maps which you won’t see in most history books. It also makes readers easily locate from the map and text from the campaign. This is probably one of the best books to bring along with your trip to the battlefield itself. This is really some serious stuff you can’t miss.
The book can be a bit big to give you a better view of the maps and also to allow the pages to lay flat. What’s so good about the maps is that as you read through the story you can locate some of the positions and settings stated. He also used color legends to make it easier for you to understand like blue for the Union and red for the Confederate regiments. A lot of readers have mentioned that this is by far one of the finest maps you will ever find for the Gettysburg Battle.
>>See The Maps of Gettysburg: An Atlas of the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 – July 13, 1863 on Amazon<<
A Field Guide to Gettysburg by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler
Carol Reardon is a George Winfree Professor of American History at the Pennsylvania State University. She has been awarded the Helen Dortch Longstreet Prize and the Victor Gondos Memorial Service Award aside from other awards. Tom Vossler on the other hand, is a licensed battlefield guide and a retired colonel as well as a former director of the US Military History. Together, they have written A Field Guide to Gettysburg, which was first published in 2013. The efforts of both Reardon and Vossler to create this book will surely benefit a lot of Civil War buffs off to visit the battlefields.
One can easily use this book as a reference while on the battlefields, because it also contains some maps, illustrations and stops not often visited when you get a tour guide. It somehow makes it even better than getting a tour guide, especially if you’re good with directions. The guides in the book are also very easy to understand and you are surely going to appreciate and enjoy. Aside from information about the battlefield, you can also get ample information about the town of Gettysburg itself.
>>See A Field Guide to Gettysburg on Amazon<<
Gettysburg as the Generals Remembered It: Postwar Perspectives of Ten Commanders by Robert P. Broadwater
Robert Broadwater is a charter member and also the former president of the Descendants of Civil War Veterans. He was also a member of the Civil War Round Table of Baltimore. The book talks about 10 leaders of the battle and how their memoirs, create puzzle pieces that connect the battle as told in history books. He also focuses on controversial topics and gives insights you won’t see elsewhere.
This makes it a good read for someone who wants to hear from the leaders of both sides and understand some of the relevant questions people have about the battle based on their perspective – making it easier for you to compare it with what history books have recorded. You will also see the aftermath and consequences of the battle in relation to decisions made by the officers that has affected us up to this day.
Overall, the book is a good read to refresh you from the battle based on the articles written by the generals themselves which is integrated into the book. It is also perfect for history students and military critics who want a nice resource of information about the Battle of Gettysburg.
>>See Gettysburg as the Generals Remembered It: Postwar Perspectives of Ten Commanders on Amazon<<
The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows by Gabor Boritt
Gabor Boritt is not just an American historian, but also a participant in the Hungarian Revolution back in 1956 before he fled to America. He was also awarded by President George W. Bush with the National Humilities Medal in 2008. His great background just sums up why his book The Gettysburg Gospel is a good read. It was also first published in November 7, 2016.
Boritt takes you beyond the 272-word speech the former president gave on November 19th of 1863. There are several books that have been written talking about the famous Gettysburg Address, but the author gives you insider details about what you don’t know about Lincoln’s speech. He also casts a light about the myths and mysteries so you get a better background of what its true meaning is. As we all know, the meaning of the speech has been given different perspectives, it gives clarity to when and how Lincoln wrote the famous speech. You will surely love how raw and new the information this book will give you as the speech continues to live on.
>>See The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows on Amazon<<
East Cemetery Hill At Gettysburg: “We Supposed We Had Won the Battle…” by John M. Archer
John Archer is a licensed battlefield guide who gained interest in the Civil War upon realization that his ancestors were part of the confederate. He used to be a sound engineer, but his passion for writing led to some of the less understood areas of the battle of Gettysburg, which is the East Cemetery Hill. Because of this passion, he is currently living in Gettysburg with his wife. The latest version of his book East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg was published just last February of 2019.
The battle of East Cemetery Hill happened on the second day and it was one of the most heavily fortified positions on the field. Due to the aftermath of the battle, it can be quite difficult to interpret what has transpired here, and this book written by Archer is fit for someone who is curious about scenes and events at the East Cemetery Hill not found in most history books.
Archer, being one of the best East Cemetery Hill licensed guides, will surely help you become enlightened with a lot of things and answers to questions that puzzle you about this place.
>>See East Cemetery Hill At Gettysburg: “We Supposed We Had Won the Battle…” on Amazon<<