Elliott asked an interesting question: what are some good introducions to American Civil War history for a Canadian (he has the flattering but unfounded opinion that Americans actually know something about their own history!).
When I was a teenager I was fascinated by the Civil War. We lived in Northern Virginia, an area that saw much of the fighting in the East. Our family would go out for day trips to the great battlefields, and some of the not so great (ever hear of Ball's Bluff?). Actually, almost every place I visited during the course of an average day was the scene of action at one time or another. My grandmother would tell me stories her mother told her about growing up in that period. I grew up saluting the Confederate flag and whistling Dixie. Later my views changed. A bad war for a bad cause. It's still fascinating, but as the descendent of slave owners on both sides of the family it is hard to have the same feelings about The Cause I once did.
But what to read now, to get an overview of the whole thing?
The latest best book seems to be The Battle Cry of Freedom
by James Mcpherson. It's big at over 800 pp, but well written by an established scholar.
Of older vintage (I read them when I was young) but still in print and still very readable is Bruce Catton's The Civil War
. I remember Catton as being a magnificent stroy teller. He also penned a three volume history of the Army of the Potomac, the Union army given the task of protecting Washington while facing down Robert E Lee. It had some of the worst commanders in American history.
Another oldie is A Short History of the Civil War: Ordeal by Fire
by Fletcher Pratt. Pratt is interesting because he also wrote high fantasy novels. And the only book I know of on the Battle of Ball's Bluff!
Shelby Foote did a 3 volume The Civil War: A Narrative
which has gotten high marks for its literary quality. He wrote it out by hand, using old fashioned steel nibbed pens you dip in ink. He's the only modern writer I know who would buy his ink by quart bottles.
There are simply thousands of fictional treatments out there, everything from Gone With the Wind
(very bad history, but a great story) to Guns of the South
(Modern White supremicists time travel to suppy Lee with AK-47's). Most are bad, many are good and a very few are great. The last one I can remember reading that might be in that last catagory was Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels
. It's also a sentimental favorite since the Florida State University had him as an instructor in the English Dept, got rid of him, and then asked him back as a visiting scholar so they could fawn over him once his novel won the Pulitzer. It was great fun.
If one is in the mood for a non-reading experience, get hold of Ken Burn's documentary The Civil War
which was done for [American] Public Broadcasting. Some people nit and pick at it, but the overall impact is extraordinary. It is the best introduction I could think of.
That's it for now, from an American whose only clear idea of an event in Canadian history is the Louis Riel rebellion.