Is there a good overview of the war with 10 to 15 major battles? Edited

Joined
Mar 1, 2019
Location
Dedham, MA
I know that there are many very good books that go into great detail about the war but I'm wondering if anybody knows of an overview or summary that gives the big picture with perhaps 10 to 15 major battles?

Also, what ten to fifteen battles should be included to get a really good overview of the big picture?

My goal is to provide my grandchildren, who are not students of the war, with an overview. Thus, since most Americans have heard of some of the major battles, I believe that including the majors is important.
 
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John Winn

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Mar 13, 2014
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State of Jefferson
If you can find a good used copy of the American Heritage Civil War (with Bruce Catton narrative) I recommend that. It's what many of us started out with and it's a great overview. The maps in the original edition are great (IMHO). I'd guess you can find one for a reasonable price on Amazon; mine ain't goin' nowhere (even though my cat peed on it some twenty years ago).
 

GwilymT

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To add to @John Winn comments, McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” is a great overview but may be a better follow-up to his recommendation.

As to which battles- that seems an impossible question. There are small engagements that had huge sociopolitical consequences and huge bloody engagements that really didn’t change a thing in the big picture. And, of course, everything in between- imo it would be folly to try to list the ten or fifteen “most important” as none of them exist independent of the others.
 

Zack

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Los Angeles, California
As to which battles- that seems an impossible question. There are small engagements that had huge sociopolitical consequences and huge bloody engagements that really didn’t change a thing in the big picture. And, of course, everything in between- imo it would be folly to try to list the ten or fifteen “most important” as none of them exist independent of the others.

Gwilym is absolutely right but I thought it would be fun to take a stab at it anyways.

The idea is to choose battles that played an important role in the overall progress of the war, meaning some smaller battles are included and classics (like Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Shiloh) are not.

First Battle of Bull Run 7/21/1861
First major battle of the war

Battle of Mill Springs 1/19/1862
Secured Kentucky for the Union

Battle of Fort Donelson 2/11 - 2/16/1862
Along with Henry opened the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers

Battle of Pea Ridge 3/7 - 3/8/1862
Drove Confederates from Missouri

Battle of Island Number Ten 2/28 - 4/8/1862
Opened Mississippi

Battle of Forts Jackson and St Phillip 4/18 - 4/28/1862
Led to capture of New Orleans

Siege of Corinth 4/29 - 5/30/1862
Major objective of 1862 western campaigns

Seven Days Battles 6/25 - 7/1/1862
Lee enters the field

Battle of Antietam 9/17/1862
Invasion of North repulsed; emancipation proclamation issued

Battle of Perryville 10/8/1862
Invasion of North repulsed

Siege of Vicksburg 5/18 - 7/4/1863
Along with Port Hudson opened the Mississippi

Battle of Gettysburg 7/1 - 7/3/1863
Second invasion of North repulsed

Second Battle of Battery Wagner 7/18/1863
Black troops

Battle of the Wilderness 5/5 - 5/7/1864
Grant takes command in the East

Second Battle of Petersburg 6/15 - 6/18/1864
Union fails to take Petersburg starting siege

Battle of Atlanta 7/22/1864
Major Confederate city falls

Battle of Mobile Bay 8/5/1864
Blockade strengthened

Battle of Fort McAllister 12/13/1864
End of March to the sea

Battle of Bentonville 3/19 - 3/21/1865
Last confederate gasp in west

Breakthrough at Petersburg 4/2/1865
Now we’re in the Endgame

Appomattox Courthouse 4/9/1865
Lee surrenders

This being said, in some ways it might be more helpful to just study campaigns in a broad sense. They attacked here to seize this objective and won. You can learn the ins and outs of the battles later but if you want to get a sense of the broad strokes of the war and how it was won and lost skip the details of individual battles and look at the broader movement of armies.

Justification for not including a few battles -
Fredericksburg, Second Bull Run, and Chancellorsville can be summarized as "a series of Union generals tried to beat Lee without success."
Shiloh was an attempt to stop the campaign towards Corinth that did not succeed.
While the Atlanta Campaign as a whole is interesting, since I was limited in the total number of battles I skipped to the end. The rest can be summarized as "Sherman slowly pushed Johnston back towards Atlanta."
Ditto Overland Campaign - I chose the Wilderness because it showed Grant's mindset.
I did not include Franklin and Nashville because, while they were important, they can be summarized as "Hood chose not to pursue Sherman into Georgia and had his army destroyed."
You get the idea....
 

Pat Answer

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“...somewhere between NY and PA”
I heartily second and recommend the American Heritage book mentioned by @John Winn above. I’ve replaced it twice now over the years since childhood. Not always accurate history but a sheer delight to leaf through.

I also agree with @GwilymT that the war as a whole is much greater than the sum of the ‘great battles’ that tend to garner the most attention.

That said, I might check out the availability of this one and see if it is close to what you are asking:

1629686828888.jpeg

Definitely “introductory” with some errors that an expert might find laughable, but a decent and artful treatment for all that.

Happy hunting!
 

John Winn

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State of Jefferson
Another suggestion I forgot to relay:

Symonds, Craig L. (1994) A Battlefield Atlas Of The Civil War (The Nautical And Aviation Publishing Company Of America, Charleston, SC)

This is a nice collection of maps and pretty good summaries of the major battles. I'm not sure how easy copies are get.
 

Pat Answer

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“...somewhere between NY and PA”
My goal is to provide my grandchildren, who are not students of the war, with an overview. Thus, since most Americans have heard of some of the major battles, I believe that including the majors is important.
Are you looking specifically for 'children's literature' like the (very good) Dorling Kindersley publications or a general 'layman's introduction'?

(Edit: I don't have it anymore but I can vouche for Symonds' "...Battlefield Atlas..." as a good 'quick and dirty' reference.)
 

Tony Z

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If you can find a good used copy of the American Heritage Civil War (with Bruce Catton narrative) I recommend that. It's what many of us started out with and it's a great overview. The maps in the original edition are great (IMHO). I'd guess you can find one for a reasonable price on Amazon; mine ain't goin' nowhere (even though my cat peed on it some twenty years ago).
There is the original and a revised copy. The original can be found in retail book stores, such as "Half Price Books", or the discount portion of Barnes & noble, etc. You might find either on Amazon, but I recall the Amazon price being higher than a retail store.

I've had mine for, probably 25 years, and is perfect for an overview. The maps are excellent.
 
Joined
Dec 12, 2020
I picked up the Time Life Civil War series at a resale shop for $20. It has 28 volumes including the index and covers the whole war. I had to buy some missing books and I got them for under $5 each. I am enjoying reading it and it is a great resource for specific battles. It is from the 80s.
 

Tony Z

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Location
DuBois, PA
I picked up the Time Life Civil War series at a resale shop for $20. It has 28 volumes including the index and covers the whole war. I had to buy some missing books and I got them for under $5 each. I am enjoying reading it and it is a great resource for specific battles. It is from the 80s.
I have all 28, though it took buying in a variety of places (some from Time-Life, some from Amazon, some from Ebay), well worth tracking down!

In Gettysburg, traveling south on Baltimore Street, from the Diamond, about half a block up, is an antique mall on the right, that has quite a few for sell.
 
Joined
Dec 12, 2020
I have all 28, though it took buying in a variety of places (some from Time-Life, some from Amazon, some from Ebay), well worth tracking down!

In Gettysburg, traveling south on Baltimore Street, from the Diamond, about half a block up, is an antique mall on the right, that has quite a few for sell.
I'm surprised at how much I am enjoying them. They are well written with some stories that are widely told and some time not as much. Great maps and photos.
 

Zack

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Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California

Bill_S

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Dec 4, 2020
Location
China/Kansas USA
Consider The Civil War..A History by Harry Hansen

One evening I was rushing trough an airport then realized I had forgotten to bring a book. From an airport stall I quickly grabbed this, without any thought. I found it to be well written with a crisp and frugal journalistic style. Less figurative then Foote or Catton. I would recommend it as a single volume introduction to the major battles....and the price is certainly appealing!

Cheers
 

WScott

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Joined
May 6, 2021
One of the better books I have read about the Civil War that provides a nice overview of battles and key elements of the War is “BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR” by Ned Bradford, the single volume edition. I keep this book as a simple reference resource.
 
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