Top 5 Most Important Civil War Books: Stephanie Farra

Several Fridays ago, I posted Ian Spurgeon’s winning entry in the Roll Call to Destiny Book Contest.  Contestants had to answer the following two questions:

What are the five most important books you have read on the Civil War? Why is each important?

This week, Stephanie Farra’s entry in the contest is featured.  It appears below.  This is the last of the featured entries from the Roll Call to Destiny book contest.  Look for another contest soon!

  1. Hardtack and Coffee by John Billings is a great book because it is one of the few first person accounts about day to day army life. Without the thoughts of individual soldiers, war accounts seem like cold chess-like maneuverings of anonymous pawns.
  2. Writing and Fighting from the Army of Northern Virginia Edited and arranged by William Styple is a compilation of soldiers’ letters printed in newspapers. The first person accounts of soldiers enables us view the battles through their eyes. It is valuable because most of what we think about battles and campaigns is in hindsight. We say things like, “That was a failure, why would they continue that stupid maneuver?” In these writings, we can learn what how the situation seemed to the soldiers, not what historians have told us later, giving us a similar feeling of vulnerability that these soldiers felt, not knowing when the next big battle will be. There is a terrible feeling of dramatic irony when an eager young man, anxious for battle will soon be in a ghastly slaughter and he does not yet know that his high-spirited letter to the newspaper will be his last.
  3. The Killer Angels by Michael Sharra and not just because of its entertaining qualities- but because this was required reading when I was in High School. I think the popularity of this book and the movie Gettysburg has raised awareness of the war by average people. This awareness is crucial to protect battlefields, artifacts and relics. If the average American does not know anything about the war, he will be apathetic to things like government funding used for protecting battlefields or supplementing children’s textbooks. It takes a village, and if this book gathered that village-it makes my list. It is also a starting point for most people; they read this book and want to find out more about “That Gettysburg War.”
  4. Raising the Hunley by Brian Hicks and Schuyler Kropfv is a great book because it mixes American history with the individual histories of the Hunley’s crews with the preservation and conservation of historical artifacts. This book makes it clear that the technology during the Civil War was much better than previously thought. It also gave an inside look as to what money for preservation is used for. It is a riveting story about curious men who enter an iron casket- a known death trap- where the previous crews had to be raised from watery graves and hacked to pieces to be removed from the vessel.
  5. An Illustrated History of the Civil War by William J. Miller and Brian C. Pohanka is lovely because it gives you an image to go along with the history. The Civil War era was very visual due to the growing popularity of photographs. There’s no better way to tell the story of the war than have the soldiers and civilians tell their story’s themselves through the vivid pictures. This publication is not like others like it because the photographs are large and clear- you do not have to squint and guess what is in the pictures.

Thanks for the opportunity! Stephanie Farra

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