Best Civil War books of 2020?

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
This year I've become a big fan of the 'Civil War Books and Authors' blog.

He just posted his best books of the year list -- https://cwba.blogspot.com/2020/12/2020-civil-war-books-and-authors-year.html -- and it's interesting indeed.

The academic title German Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery to Reconciliation 1830 to 1877 is unlikely to make a lot of other 'best' lists for the year, but the choice reflects the blog authors special interest in the western theater of the war.

Anyone else has some thoughts on the best books of the year?
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015

2020 - The CIVIL WAR BOOKS and AUTHORS Year in Review​


BOOK OF THE YEAR
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1. GERMAN AMERICANS ON THE MIDDLE BORDER: From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830–1877 by Zachary Stuart Garrison (Southern Illinois University Press).

My Take: "Melding the best of recent scholarship with his own research and creative interpretation, Garrison alternately reaffirms and challenges much of what has been popularly written about the German Americans of the Civil War era. His skillful and persuasive tracing of immigrant German antislavery and pro-Union ideology to their Old World origins firmly establishes the background context necessary to comprehend the fervency of German reaction in the border West to slavery, sectional politics, secession, and Civil War. German Americans on the Middle Border is exquisitely crafted history, both in its nuanced reassessment of the nature and results of German antislavery activism before, during, and after the Civil War and its lucid explanation of the many complicated reasons behind the dizzying rise and fall of German social and political influence and status in the region over that period of time. It would be difficult to imagine an introductory-scale treatment of the subject matter that could best the one presented in this outstanding book."


The Rest of the Year's TOP TEN (in no particular order)
2. Into Tennessee and Failure: John Bell Hoodby Stephen Davis (Mercer University Press).

Though surely not the last word, Davis's two-volume study represents the most comprehensive assessment of Hood's Civil War military career to date along with the most judicious critique of the Hood historiography that you'll find anywhere in the literature.

3. A War State All Over: Alabama Politics and the Confederate Causeby Ben Severance (University of Alabama Press).

Brilliantly overturns decades of scholarly misconceptions regarding Alabama state politics and popular support for the war from 1863 onward.

4. Tempest over Texas: The Fall and Winter Campaigns of 1863–1864by Donald Frazier (State House Press).

The penultimate volume of Frazier's monumental military history series that documents in exhaustive fashion the campaigns and battles fought in Louisiana and coastal Texas.

5. Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union Warby Carl Guarneri (University Press of Kansas).

A notable biography of a journalist and government official who, as both headquarters observer (some would say War Department spy!) and actor in his own right, had a profound behind-the-scenes impact on the course of the war.

6. The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains by Christopher Rein (University of Oklahoma Press).

A model unit history of a Union regiment that forged a lofty reputation in Central Plains pacification operations and in fighting regular and irregular Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi.

7. The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863by Timothy Smith (University Press of Kansas).

Two studies addressing this topic were published recently, both excellent (see my review of the other one here). Choosing between the two is entirely a matter of personal preference.

8. Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American Historyby Gary Clayton Anderson (University of Oklahoma Press).

A multitude of single-volume histories of this terrible event in Civil War-era Minnesota history have been published, but Anderson's bravely dispassionate reassessment of the 1862 Santee uprising's origins, conduct, and conclusion is a breath of fresh air.

9. Defending the Arteries of Rebellion: Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865by Neil Chatelain (Savas Beatie).

While also the best and most comprehensive overview of the topic published so far, this study's keen analysis of the many factors leading to Union triumph and Confederate failure during the critical mid-1861 to mid-1862 period is particularly noteworthy.

10. Bull Run to Boer War: How the American Civil War Changed the British Armyby Michael Somerville. (Helion & Company).

On multiple levels, Somerville compellingly revises traditional interpretations of how the Civil War did or did not influence pre-WW1 British Army developments.
 

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