Top 10 Civil War Bestsellers: April 2009

I last looked at the Top 10 Civil War bestsellers in March 2009.  I’ve enjoyed keeping an eye on this list to see how books move over time, and the Top 10 Civil War Books list has become a monthly or every other monthly feature here at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.  Readers who are looking for books many people are currently reading and commenting on can’t go wrong selecting books from this list.

As in each entry in the series, I’ve taken the liberty of removing non-Civil War related books from the list.  The books below are in the Civil War Top 10 as of April 27, 2009.  Numbers in parentheses usually mark the book’s prior position in the Top 10, but due to the massive influx of and interest in Abraham Lincoln in this bicentennial anniversary of his birth, I’ve split out the Lincoln books into an Top 10 Abraham Lincoln bestsellers list, the first of which debuted this month.  Any Lincoln books with a Civil War focus can be found there rather than in this list.

Note: Some of these are the Kindle edition. Kindle is Amazon’s handheld device for reading books electronically.  Since last time, Amazon has come out with Kindle 2, a sleeker version which also allows you to upload many public domain books for minimal or no cost!

1. (-) Vicksburg, 1863 by Winston Groom

Summary: Groom, the author of Forrest Gump, tries his hand at recounting the Vicksburg Campaign.  Several reviews Groom uses no notes, so this is probably a book I won’t be buying now or in the future.

2. (-) This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

Summary: Faust argues that 1860s America’s familiarity with death led to massive casualty rates, acceptable by those standards but appalling when looked at through today’s lens. This book has been one of the most reviewed Civil War books I’ve seen over the past 3 or so years since I started blogging.

3. (-) Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History by Alan Huffman

Summary: I recently received a copy of Sultana for review, so regular TOCWOC readers should definitely find out what I thought of the book in the coming months.  Journalist Alan Huffman tells the story of America’s worst maritime disaster (for once a subtitle is not complete hyperbole) by following four Union soldiers who were present.

4. (-) Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson

Summary: Quite simply the best single volume history of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom should be in every Civil War buff’s collection.

5. (-) The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Summary: Although obscure when initially written in the 1970s, Michael Shaara’s fictional account of Gettysburg has been a bestseller pretty much since the movie GETTYSBURG was released in 1993.

6. (-) The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War by H. W. Crocker III

Summary: There has been some interesting discussion lately on this one recently in the Civil War blogosphere.  The author appears to have a bit of a Southern bias judging from reading the blog entries referenced here.

7. (-) Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant

Summary: At a time when most personal memoirs were full of self-serving propaganda designed to make the memoirist look as good as possible, Grant’s memoirs have been lauded for their honesty.  Grant struggled to finish the book as he was dying of throat cancer, and narrowly succeeded, securing a nice amount of money for his family in the process.  This is another classic Civil War book which almost anyone will want to own.

8. (-) Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Summary: Jacobs was a slave, and she chronicled her experiences in this book, released in 1861.  Her attacks on slavery served to further educate the public as to the evils of the peculiar institution.

9. (-) Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas by Benson Bobrick

Summary: Fellow TOCWOC blogger Jim Durney reviewed Master of War rather unfavorably last month, and it received quite a few comments, including some from the author himself.  Unfortunately, this one looks like a hagiography to me.  Bobrick uses an odd notes system which is described well in Jim’s review as well.  If you are looking for a balanced biography of George Thomas, this isn’t it.

10. (-) Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Summary: This is one book I’m genuinely sorry I haven’t yet had the chance to read.  Horwitz, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his foreign war correspondence work, here details Civil War re-enactors and the continuing hold the Civil War has on the American public. There has been some criticism from certain groups about Horwitz’ misrepresentation of typical reenactors, but I’m in no position to judge the validity of that argument.

Dropped Out This Month:

Since we are in a sense starting over I’m going to “reset” this section as well.

Brett’s Final Thoughts:

Now that I’ve gone through and removed the Abraham Lincoln books from the list, we are starting to see a better representation of books focusing on the Civil War in this list.  We’ve got everything from the best one volume history of the war to one of the most famous Civil War novels ever written.  Keep in mind that “bestselling” definitely does not always mean “best”, especially considering a few of the entries in this month’s list.  In any event, whether you are new to the study of the Civil War or an experienced veteran, check out the Top 10 Civil War Books List and see if there is something there for you.

Previous Books in the Top 10 Prior to Last Month’s Top 10:

This section is also being reset this month.  Check back next month to see which books drop out and which ones take their place in the Civil War Top 10.

Look over past Top 10 Civil War Books lists to see how various books have done over time!

Are you interested in Civil War books? Read some Civil War Book Reviews here at TOCWOC!

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11 responses to “Top 10 Civil War Bestsellers: April 2009”

  1. bran Avatar

    gonna check out Battle Cry of Freedom, definitely.

  2. admin Avatar


    I highly recommend it, despite my misgivings about Dr. McPherson’s recent work.


  3. The Abraham Lincoln Observer Avatar

    Brett: You should read “Confederates in the Attic.” I read it when it first came out, so some of the details are vague now, but I don’t recall any mischaracterization of “typical” re-enactors. Unquestionably, though, some atypical re-enactors are strange, as Horwitz duly reports. I imagine that’s what generated the complaints.

  4. admin Avatar

    I know it! That’s one of those books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time and it just hasn’t happened. I recently started a subscription at, an audiobook store. I may end up buying it that way and listening to it on my way in to work.


  5. Benson Bobrick Avatar
    Benson Bobrick

    It’s been a month or so since I checked in on this website. So I’m pleased to learn from you that my book “Master of War” was a best-seller last month (no doubt helped by the generous review it received from the History Book Club). However, it does concern me that yet another error in James Durney’s review of my book is repeated in your summary of it. I politely pointed out a number of factual misstatements Mr. Durney made. There were others–for example, that my book lacked proper footnotes. In fact, my book has a tremendous number of endnotes (which, of course, is how footnotes are usually done these days –and have been done now for a quarter century–in trade books). So I can’t imagine what he is talking about. There is absolutely nothing eccentric or unusual in the system I use, which is what most historians use, from David McCullough (my good colleague) to Joseph Ellis to Doris Kearns Goodwin. I don’t ask that you agree with my assessment of Thomas–you may call it hagiography, which was really not my intent; others may call it righting an historical wrong. However, I do ask that statements made about the book itself–at the very least, about its physical nature–be accurate. In fairness, please. In my own review of books, I always take pains to get such basics right. Again, with kind regards,
    Benson Bobrick

  6. admin Avatar

    Mr. Bobrick,

    In my opinion, it *is* an odd notes system, and one which more and more authors are unfortunately starting to use. Yours isn’t the first book and won’t be the last I criticize for this. Andy Trudeau’s new book on Sherman’s March, for instance, uses this method, one which I find extremely difficult to use.

    James Durney wrote in his review:
    “A word on footnotes and quotes, there are no footnotes in the text. In the 30 pages of notes at the end of the book, a chapter and page number links the note to a quote. The reader needs to count quotes on the page, to determine where a quote came from. Only quotes are noted.”

    Which part of that is factually incorrect? He said you don’t have footnotes. You don’t. He then described your endnotes, accurately I might add. Footnotes aren’t endnotes and vice versa.

    As far as the hagiography comment goes, I believe it has been well established by multiple people whose opinions I respect that you are overly accepting of Thomas’ mistakes while being overly critical of Grant and Sherman. I stand by my remarks.


  7. Benson Bobrick Avatar
    Benson Bobrick

    In reply, I can only say that Mr. Durney implied that my system was unusual, when in fact it is standard, and has been for some time. David J. Eicher, for example, used it in “The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War,” which received a glowing Foreword from James McPherson. Doris Kearns Goodwin used exactly the same system in “Team of Rivals.” As you say, it is common. Perhaps we’re all at fault. You may find the system cumbersome. Others find it simple. For my part, even with my aging eyes, I find that to count a couple of quotes on a page is no great trial.

    By the way, the reason trade publishers originally adopted the endnote system is fairly clear: it saves money not to have to set each page with footnotes, and besides gives trade books (in their view) too academic a cast. In point of fact, I have no objection to footnotes myself.

    On the hagiography issue, I’m sure you don’t mean to say that “multiple opinions” “establish” the truth of anything: they establish a point of view. Other scholars and writers hold my book in high regard. But I would never claim their support of my position proves the truth of it. Only a full debate on all the relevant issues can begin to get at the truth. That takes time, and won’t be settled here. But I think a long and vigorous debate has begun. I’m content to have helped set that in motion, which is the most a lowly scholar like myself can hope to do.

    There’s no need to reply, as I think we understand each other. Besides, there are only so many hours in the day….Once a month or so I try to check out a few websites. However, you can always write to me directly, if you like, since you have my email address.

    Again, with kind regards, Benson Bobrick.

    1. admin Avatar

      You’re correct about one thing. I won’t be wasting my time debating you on semantics.


  8. Benson Bobrick Avatar
    Benson Bobrick

    Well, I’m sorry to see you chose to end this colloquy on an uncivil note.

    1. admin Avatar

      Repeatedly coming back to this blog and scanning for any negative mention of your book deserves a less than civil tone. I’ve been more than patient with you and I have allowed you to present your point of view on several blog entries. You have done so. With that said, please stop. This comments section is closed.

  9. […] the topic doesn’t fit this blog as well as the Top 10 Civil War bestsellers.  Check out the April 2009 Top 10 Civil War bestsellers if you haven’t already, and look for the next Abe Top 10 in June.  I’ve enjoyed […]