Civil War fiction books like or dislike or mehh?

7thWisconsin

Sergeant Major
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Nov 21, 2014
Joseph A Altsheler's Civil War series (written in the 19teens) is ok ,more fiction than fact at times but since it's available on YouTube through Libravox I listen to them while at work .

Glorietta Pass and The Guns of Val Verde by P.G. Nagle are good reads about a often overlooked area of the Civil War

Across five April's by Irene Hunt

Charlie Skedaddle by John & Patricia Beatty
it's more of a younger reader book ( I read it at about 12 )

James Reasoner's Civil War series I am a fan of just because i like family story lines
I stumbled onto Altsheler about 10 years years ago and enjoyed him quite a lot. Money was tight at the time, so the fact that his books are available free on Gutenberg was a big plus.
 

Peace Society

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I love Abrose Bierce’s short stories and his other work but him being a contemporary author and witness, can we really call his work historical fiction? His work is more contemporary criticism, contemporary fiction, rather than someone completely removed from the events writing about them or the setting. One wouldn’t call Mark Twain’s novels “historical fiction” because he was commenting on the times, places, and scenes he lived in. Just as Graves’ “Good Bye to All That” and Erich Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” really aren’t historical fiction but rather contemporary or near contemporary fictional assessments of the events, cultures, and scenes the writers lived. If I write a novel about a family living in 2020 dealing with the craziness therein, it isn’t historical fiction. In 100 years, if my novel were being read, it wouldn’t be historical fiction. Contemporary fiction from days gone by can be a very powerful tool of the historian but it should not be confused with a modern author writing a novel or story about something from the past.
Should we call it "fictionalized history" because the authors are writing history, but concealing names and places sometimes, and putting in a great deal of personal commentary. (That is the term the author of the 6WI I/C history uses for G Peck's memoirs.)
 

Zella

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May 23, 2018
Should we call it "fictionalized history" because the authors are writing history, but concealing names and places sometimes, and putting in a great deal of personal commentary. (That is the term the author of the 6WI I/C history uses for G Peck's memoirs.)


I'm not familiar with those memoirs, but I think fictionalizing aspects of a memoir is a very different thing than writing fiction, so I don't think that term would apply to Bierce. Two different genres with different goals. In memoirs, it's pretty common practice to change names or even place names, usually to avoid lawsuits or to protect people's privacy. Adding personal commentary is also pretty common in a memoir, in my opinion.

Certainly, some fiction writers may do all those things when they write about history, but Bierce, when he was writing fiction, he was writing straight fiction. (And he was someone who personally delighted in being quite controversial, so I doubt he would have changed names for the reasons someone ordinarily would in nonfiction.)

His fiction is informed by his experiences during the war, but he's not telling the story of someone who actually lived and then changing small details but otherwise preserving the historical record. Like with "The Occurrence of Owl Creek Bridge." He's not writing about a real Peyton Farquhar. He's telling a story set during the Civil War, but the themes and the technique he is using is more the focus of the story than anything else. It's a similar case with his short story "Chickamauga." He's writing about the battle from the perspective of a child who doesn't understand what he is seeing. Bierce's own experiences undoubtedly are in the story, but Bierce's primary interest seems to be in playing with a sense of irony in that the reader recognizes what the child does not and is horrified. Bierce's fiction about the war often seems to be more about creating an effect, something he does very well, but that's very different from what would motivate another writer to fictionalize history by changing surface details in an otherwise nonfiction account.
 

Peace Society

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Was Bierce actually writing fiction or recounting incidents he knew about, but without revealing the participants? I'm thinking particularly of some of his other short stories. He definitely chooses the blackest incidents he can think of, but I suspect they are true to the time. Most people prefer to remember the good rather than the bad, for their own mental health, if nothing else.
 

Zella

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 23, 2018
Was Bierce actually writing fiction or recounting incidents he knew about, but without revealing the participants? I'm thinking particularly of some of his other short stories. He definitely chooses the blackest incidents he can think of, but I suspect they are true to the time. Most people prefer to remember the good rather than the bad, for their own mental health, if nothing else.
He wrote both fiction and nonfiction about the war. I don't think his civil war fiction is him fictionalizing specific people whom actually existed, though I could be mistaken. That doesn't mean his fiction isn't realistic, but there is still a difference between realistic fiction about fictional people and fictionalizing an event that happened. Something can be true to the time without being true.

Which stories do you think are based on real people whose identity he is concealing?
 

KianGaf

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May 29, 2019
Location
Dublin, Ireland
I had a discussion recently on The Guns of the South. There was a lot varying opinion on the historical fiction genre. I started The Guns of the south but stopped after two chapters I found the premise just a bit wacky for my taste. Although there was discussion about how historical fiction and science fiction involving historical subjects are completely different genres aswell.
 

huskerblitz

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Nebraska
I had a discussion recently on The Guns of the South. There was a lot varying opinion on the historical fiction genre. I started The Guns of the south but stopped after two chapters I found the premise just a bit wacky for my taste. Although there was discussion about how historical fiction and science fiction involving historical subjects are completely different genres aswell.
Well, yeah, Guns of the South isn't historical fiction...it's alternative history tied in with science fiction. It's like a whole other genre as you mention. I couldn't get into it either, but I did have a student who read it that liked it.
 

7thWisconsin

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Nov 21, 2014
I have plugged this book in the past, even on this forum, but one of the gems I´ve discovered in the last 10 years is ¨The Battle of the Crater¨ by Newt Gingrich. Yes, that Newt Gingrich. Even if you have to put a brown paper wrapper over the cover, or read it on an e-reader for anonymity´s sake ( :smile: ) it´s a good read. Vivid, good characters. Very sympathetic treatment of the USCT. His alternative fiction books on Gettysburg and ¨Grant Comes East¨ are quite good too. ¨Jacob´s Ladder¨ by Donald Craig is quite good: wealth of interesting characters, including a main cast of people of color.
 
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I think the key to good historical fiction is making sure all the history in your book is accurate to the best of your knowledge, doing your due diligence with research, and using multiple sources. The fictional part should fall into the realm of historical possibility. Nothing loses a reader's trust faster than sloppy research or things they know aren't true.

If you can do that, I think historical fiction is a great way to introduce people to history. It's like the sugar with the medicine. I've been a lifetime fan of the genre. I often start my journey with a novel but then have to start looking things up because I want to know if it's true or I just want to learn more.

I always finish the novels I write with a "historical note," where I explain all the things that really happen that were in my narrative and add possibly more information. I also include my sources at the end so people can see where I got my information and where they can read more.

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If you can do that, I think historical fiction is a great way to introduce people to history. It's like the sugar with the medicine. I've been a lifetime fan of the genre. I often start my journey with a novel but then have to start looking things up because I want to know if it's true or I just want to learn more.

Exactly!! You need to become initially interested in an era before you go into depth, and for me this works best with a novel - or a Living History presentation, as it was the case with my interest in the Civl War. But even then I first wanted my "sugar", being the "Killer Angels" trilogy, before I started the serious stuff, digging into nonfiction biographies ... To me, the acting characters are what interests me most, what was their personal background, what was their view of the world, what drove them to do this or that. Then come non-fiction books about specific topics e.g. Civil War medicine or the role of women in the war. I still am not too much interested in descriptions of battles. That is too much medicine on too little sugar for me :D

I always finish the novels I write with a "historical note," where I explain all the things that really happen that were in my narrative and add possibly more information. I also include my sources at the end so people can see where I got my information and where they can read more.

Very good! To me that is like mysteries solved, I always flip to the end of a book to see if a character is historic or a product of artistic license and whether the events described in a novel are based on sources or pure fantasy. I do enjoy these notes as much as the book itself. Sometimes I even enjoy the bibliography and all the more so if I recognize some books I have previously read already.
 

Booklady

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New England
I think this is true as well of historical movies. Another recent thread here pointed out that "Glory" is currently streaming on Netflix. I watched it again Friday night. A well-written movie like Glory or Gettysburg or Spielberg's Lincoln or Amazing Grace (William Wilberforce and John Newton) (and so many more) doesn't always get all the facts right, and often includes fictional characters to increase tension and conflict to entertain the viewers. But they can also increase curiosity and send people off researching to find out more about the people, events, battles, and times they are reading about or seeing dramatized. And they also increase our sense of wonder and appreciation for what it means to be a human being, and maybe inspire us and get us to aim higher.
 

Peace Society

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Jun 25, 2019
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Ark Mo line
He wrote both fiction and nonfiction about the war. I don't think his civil war fiction is him fictionalizing specific people whom actually existed, though I could be mistaken. That doesn't mean his fiction isn't realistic, but there is still a difference between realistic fiction about fictional people and fictionalizing an event that happened. Something can be true to the time without being true.

Which stories do you think are based on real people whose identity he is concealing?
Don't have the book with me, so just from memory, the son shooting at his father, and the general ordering his subordinate to shell his own house. There were some terrible abuses of power at times. And of course, lots of interfamily incidents. And some hangings at Owl Creek - that is a very imaginative "what if" but realistic to the period. Perhaps he is taking a lump sum of incidents rather than specific ones - like Dickens, true to period; but he seems so specific sometimes, not necessarily as if he is making anything up.
 

Zella

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 23, 2018
Don't have the book with me, so just from memory, the son shooting at his father, and the general ordering his subordinate to shell his own house. There were some terrible abuses of power at times. And of course, lots of interfamily incidents. And some hangings at Owl Creek - that is a very imaginative "what if" but realistic to the period. Perhaps he is taking a lump sum of incidents rather than specific ones - like Dickens, true to period; but he seems so specific sometimes, not necessarily as if he is making anything up.
Right but good fiction requires details to work, too, though, so I'm not sure specifics automatically means anything one way or the other. To be a good writer, you have to be able to create an incredibly vivid scene, complete with details, even if you are completely making it up.

That's not to say he's not basing it on something that happened, but being loosely inspired by an event and developing that with your imagination versus recreating it detail for detail and just altering names isn't quite the same thing, in my opinion. Lots of fiction is loosely inspired by real events, but it doesn't mean the author is necessarily trying to document it in a precise or factual way.
 
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James N.

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That's most interesting, I didn't know he did a Civil War series, I'll have to check that out!
The 20+ volume "Waggons West" series he wrote under pen name Dana Fuller Ross is a favorite of mine and I own all volumes!
Do you have any Karl May too?
 
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