Western Theater Reading List

AA484

Private
Joined
Jan 17, 2020
It seems that a lot of people make requests for which book to read on what battle/campaign, so I thought I'd do a brief "high-level" reading list for major battles and campaigns in the Western Theater. These are my personal recommendations so your mileage may vary. I may come back and amend it or make an additional post focused on "secondary" campaigns or battles but for now, I'll keep it broad. I am also open to suggestions if you feel I missed or overlooked something:

Overall
The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, by Earl J. Hess
-A little too broad for my tastes but it serves as a good introduction to the theater as a whole.

Maps
Battle Maps of the Civil War: The Western Theater, by American Battlefield Trust
-In a talent-laden field, Steven Stanley is one of the best contemporary Civil War cartographers. This is probably the best single visual resource/companion for your study of the theater.

Essay Collections
Civil War Campaigns in the West, by Various; edited by Steven E. Woodworth
-Essay collections are a great way to supplement your knowledge on a particular battle or campaign. Oftentimes, these collections challenge conventional or traditional thinking in certain areas and offer a more in-depth study or look into others. Southern Illinois University Press has been releasing several such collections in the past decade, eventually hoping to cover all major campaigns of the theater.

Grant's 1862 Tennessee Invasion
Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson
Shiloh: Conquer or Perish
Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation

by Timothy B. Smith
-Tim Smith's contributions to the Western Theater bibliography cannot be underestimated. He provides a singular view of a campaign that had traditionally been approached in separate pieces by different authors. He also gives us a more thorough study of the second day at Shiloh than any previous author. His book on Corinth also explores the October 1862 battle for that town.

Island No. 10
Island No. 10: Struggle for the Mississippi Valley, by Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock
-Even though it has been in print for 25 years, this is still the best treatment on the campaign.

Bragg's Kentucky Invasion
War in Kentucky: Shiloh to Perryville, by James Lee McDonough
-Kenneth Hafendorfer's postmortem, two-volume campaign study would probably be listed here but the print run and price point have made it so most readers (myself included) will probably never read it. McDonough's work will have to do for now.
Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, by Kenneth W. Noe
-Thankfully, those who wish to pursue a more detailed study of the major battle of the campaign need look no further than Noe's work.

Corinth/Iuka
The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth, by Peter Cozzens
-Tim Smith very adequately covers the battle in his work but I still prefer Cozzens's look at the battle and how it fit into larger Confederate strategy in October 1862. You can't really go wrong with either, however.

Stones River
Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland, by Larry J. Daniel
-Honestly, this is a toss-up between this book and Cozzens's No Better Place to Die. I went with Daniel as his work is more recent and Cozzens is already represented.

Vicksburg
The Campaign for Vicksburg: (I)Vicksburg Is the Key, (II)Grant Strikes a Fatal Blow, (III)Unvexed to the Sea, by Edwin C. Bearss
-Bearss's work, as great as it is, is still somewhat dated and mostly cites the Official Records and other "official" primary sources, lacking much of the "human" element that exists in contemporary battle studies. It is also difficult to find at an affordable price. Thankfully, Tim Smith appears to be working towards a modern-day update to the campaign (see below).
Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg
The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863
The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, May 23-July 4, 1863
(release date: June 18 2021)
by Timothy B. Smith
-Tim Smith continues to complete high-quality work at a frenetic pace. He has provided an update to the latter half of the campaign and while his study of the siege of Vicksburg has yet to be released, I expect it will live up to the standards of his many other great works. From what I understand, he is planning on going back and writing additional works to fill in the gaps between the onset of the campaign and Champion Hill.

Chickamauga
The Chickamauga Campaign - Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 - September 19, 1863
The Chickamauga Campaign - Glory or the Grave: The Breakthrough, the Union Collapse, and the Defense of Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863
The Chickamauga Campaign―Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863

by David Powell
-Powell has given us a thorough examination of the costliest battle in the Western Theater. My only real complaint is the skimpy nature of the third book but it is a minor quibble, all things considered.

Chattanooga
The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga, by Peter Cozzens
-While some of his works have been equaled or superseded by newer studies, Cozzens series of Western Theater works in the 90s went a great way towards giving us a more modern understanding of some of the most important battles of the theater. In my opinion, his work on Chattanooga still stands up as the best on that particular campaign.

Atlanta
Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, by Albert Castel
-Once you become accustomed to the "unique" writing style, the late Castel's work stands up as the best study on this long campaign. There have been several outstanding individual battle studies but Castel's work has stood the test of time as the definitive single-volume study.

Mobile Bay
West Wind, Flood Tide: The Battle of Mobile Bay, by Jack Friend
-Often overlooked as simply a "naval battle," the Mobile Bay campaign also involved a significant number of land forces. Friend's book is curiously not spoken of among great campaign studies but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Franklin-Nashville
The Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, by Wiley Sword
-Although some of Sword's views (particularly concerning John Bell Hood) are controversial compared to recent reevaluations of the subject matter, this probably remains the best overall study of the campaign as a whole.
For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin, by Eric A. Jacobson
-Although Sword's work remains the best overall treatment of the campaign, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Jacobson's work on Spring Hill and Franklin, which offers excellent counterpoints to some of Sword's more contentious opinions.

Sherman's March
Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea, by Noah Andre Trudeau
-Meticulously researched and chronicled (Trudeau goes through the march day-by-day), this is the best summary of Sherman's march across Georgia, even it becomes repetitive at times out of necessity.

Sherman's Carolinas Campaign
Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas, by Burke Davis
-Compared to Sherman's march through Georgia, the literature here appears to be a bit more fractured, with great individual works encompassing battles and parts of the campaign available but little in the way of overall studies of his march Savannah to Raleigh. Even the selection above includes the Georgia march, however Davis's work is still probably the best single source for Sherman's Carolinas Campaign, particularly the South Carolina portion. John G. Barrett has a work from the 1950s that covers the entire campaign but I've tried to only include works published "post-centennial" (1966 to present).
"No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865, by Mark A. Smith
The Battle Of Bentonville: Last Stand In The Carolinas
This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place

by Mark L. Bradley
-Thankfully Mark Smith and Mark Bradley have given us an excellent bookend to the campaign, covering in great detail the North Carolina stages of Sherman's Carolinas Campaign. Hopefully, a future work will cover the South Carolina portion in great enough detail to combine with these three excellent studies.

Mobile Campaign
The Last Siege: The Mobile Campaign, Alabama 1865, by Paul Brueske
-A nearly forgotten campaign in history, memory, and literature, Paul Brueske has given us a long overdue and adequate treatment of the last major battles of the war around Mobile.
 
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29thWisCoG

Corporal
Joined
Apr 12, 2021
That is a good list, here is a good one to add for the Texas Campaign(s):

Tempest over Texas: The Fall and Winter Campaigns of 1863–1864 Hardcover – August 17, 2020
by Donald S. Frazier

Looking for some good books covering the Red River Campaign during the Spring of 1864, and the Trans-Mississippi activity in 1864.
 

Belfoured

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
It seems that a lot of people make requests for which book to read on what battle/campaign, so I thought I'd do a brief "high-level" reading list for major battles and campaigns in the Western Theater. These are my personal recommendations so your mileage may vary. I may come back and amend it or make an additional post focused on "secondary" campaigns or battles but for now, I'll keep it broad. I am also open to suggestions if you feel I missed or overlooked something:

Overall
The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, by Earl J. Hess
-A little too broad for my tastes but it serves as a good introduction to the theater as a whole.

Maps
Battle Maps of the Civil War: The Western Theater, by American Battlefield Trust
-In a talent-laden field, Steven Stanley is one of the best contemporary Civil War cartographers. This is probably the best single visual resource/companion for your study of the theater.

Essay Collections
Civil War Campaigns in the West, by Various; edited by Steven E. Woodworth
-Essay collections are a great way to supplement your knowledge on a particular battle or campaign. Oftentimes, these collections challenge conventional or traditional thinking in certain areas and offer a more in-depth study or look into others. Southern Illinois University Press has been releasing several such collections in the past decade, eventually hoping to cover all major campaigns of the theater.

Grant's 1862 Tennessee Invasion
Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson
Shiloh: Conquer or Perish
Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation

by Timothy B. Smith
-Tim Smith's contributions to the Western Theater bibliography cannot be underestimated. He provides a singular view of a campaign that had traditionally been approached in separate pieces by different authors. He also gives us a more thorough study of the second day at Shiloh than any previous author. His book on Corinth also explores the October 1862 battle for that town.

Island No. 10
Island No. 10: Struggle for the Mississippi Valley, by Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock
-Even though it has been in print for 25 years, this is still the best treatment on the campaign.

Bragg's Kentucky Invasion
War in Kentucky: Shiloh to Perryville, by James Lee McDonough
-Kenneth Hafendorfer's postmortem, two-volume campaign study would probably be listed here but the print run and price point have made it so most readers (myself included) will probably never read it. McDonough's work will have to do for now.
Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, by Kenneth W. Noe
-Thankfully, those who wish to pursue a more detailed study of the major battle of the campaign need look no further than Noe's work.

Corinth/Iuka
The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth, by Peter Cozzens
-Tim Smith very adequately covers the battle in his work but I still prefer Cozzens's look at the battle and how it fit into larger Confederate strategy in October 1862. You can't really go wrong with either, however.

Stones River
Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland, by Larry J. Daniel
-Honestly, this is a toss-up between this book and Cozzens's No Better Place to Die. I went with Daniel as his work is more recent and Cozzens is already represented.

Vicksburg
The Campaign for Vicksburg: (I)Vicksburg Is the Key, (II)Grant Strikes a Fatal Blow, (III)Unvexed to the Sea, by Edwin C. Bearss
-Bearss's work, as great as it is, is still somewhat dated and mostly cites the Official Records and other "official" primary sources, lacking much of the "human" element that exists in contemporary battle studies. It is also difficult to find at an affordable price. Thankfully, Tim Smith appears to be working towards a modern-day update to the campaign (see below).
Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg
The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863
The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, May 23-July 4, 1863
(release date: June 18 2021)
by Timothy B. Smith
-Tim Smith continues to complete high-quality work at a frenetic pace. He has provided an update to the latter half of the campaign and while his study of the siege of Vicksburg has yet to be released, I expect it will live up to the standards of his many other great works. From what I understand, he is planning on going back and writing additional works to fill in the gaps between the onset of the campaign and Champion Hill.

Chickamauga
The Chickamauga Campaign - Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 - September 19, 1863
The Chickamauga Campaign - Glory or the Grave: The Breakthrough, the Union Collapse, and the Defense of Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863
The Chickamauga Campaign―Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863

by David Powell
-Powell has given us a thorough examination of the costliest battle in the Western Theater. My only real complaint is the skimpy nature of the third book but it is a minor quibble, all things considered.

Chattanooga
The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga, by Peter Cozzens
-While some of his works have been equaled or superseded by newer studies, Cozzens series of Western Theater works in the 90s went a great way towards giving us a more modern understanding of some of the most important battles of the theater. In my opinion, his work on Chattanooga still stands up as the best on that particular campaign.

Atlanta
Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, by Albert Castel
-Once you become accustomed to the "unique" writing style, the late Castel's work stands up as the best study on this long campaign. There have been several outstanding individual battle studies but Castel's work has stood the test of time as the definitive single-volume study.

Mobile Bay
West Wind, Flood Tide: The Battle of Mobile Bay, by Jack Friend
-Often overlooked as simply a "naval battle," the Mobile Bay campaign also involved a significant number of land forces. Friend's book is curiously not spoken of among great campaign studies but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Franklin-Nashville
The Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, by Wiley Sword
-Although some of Sword's views (particularly concerning John Bell Hood) are controversial compared to recent reevaluations of the subject matter, this probably remains the best overall study of the campaign as a whole.
For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin, by Eric A. Jacobson
-Although Sword's work remains the best overall treatment of the campaign, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Jacobson's work on Spring Hill and Franklin, which offers excellent counterpoints to some of Sword's more contentious opinions.

Sherman's March
Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea, by Noah Andre Trudeau
-Meticulously researched and chronicled (Trudeau goes through the march day-by-day), this is the best summary of Sherman's march across Georgia, even it becomes repetitive at times out of necessity.

Sherman's Carolinas Campaign
Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas, by Burke Davis
-Compared to Sherman's march through Georgia, the literature here appears to be a bit more fractured, with great individual works encompassing battles and parts of the campaign available but little in the way of overall studies of his march Savannah to Raleigh. Even the selection above includes the Georgia march, however Davis's work is still probably the best single source for Sherman's Carolinas Campaign, particularly the South Carolina portion. John G. Barrett has a work from the 1950s that covers the entire campaign but I've tried to only include works published "post-centennial" (1966 to present).
"No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865, by Mark A. Smith
The Battle Of Bentonville: Last Stand In The Carolinas
This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place

by Mark L. Bradley
-Thankfully Mark Smith and Mark Bradley have given us an excellent bookend to the campaign, covering in great detail the North Carolina stages of Sherman's Carolinas Campaign. Hopefully, a future work will cover the South Carolina portion in great enough detail to combine with these three excellent studies.

Mobile Campaign
The Last Siege: The Mobile Campaign, Alabama 1865, by Paul Brueske
-A nearly forgotten campaign in history, memory, and literature, Paul Brueske has given us a long overdue and adequate treatment of the last major battles of the war around Mobile.
That's a really solid list. For the Atlanta Campaign, I'd definitely add Hess on Kennesaw Mountain, Peachtree Creek, Ezra Church, and Atlanta fortifications; Ecelbarger on July 22 (and also Ezra Church as an option to Hess); and Butkovich on Pickett's Mill. On Chickamauga for the campaign level, I'd add Robertson vol. 1.
 

AA484

Private
Joined
Jan 17, 2020
That is a good list, here is a good one to add for the Texas Campaign(s):

Tempest over Texas: The Fall and Winter Campaigns of 1863–1864 Hardcover – August 17, 2020
by Donald S. Frazier

Looking for some good books covering the Red River Campaign during the Spring of 1864, and the Trans-Mississippi activity in 1864.
I plan on tackling the Trans-Mississippi in a future post.
 

Coonewah Creek

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2018
Location
Northern Alabama
Great list! I think I might include a more general work, specifically on the Confederate Army of Tennessee: the two volumes, "Army of the Heartland," and "Autumn of Glory" by the late Thomas Lawrence Connelly. Because I tend to "lean" Southern, I'm not as sure of recommendations for Union Army studies on the Army of the Tennessee, Army of the Cumberland, etc. But I think in the Army of Tennessee's case, Connelly's works tend to help paint the context of the "big picture" before diving into all the specific battles and campaigns.
 

Irishtom29

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 21, 2008
Location
Kent, Washington
Two books by Steven Woodworth--

"Nothing but Victory--The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865"

"Jefferson Davis and his Generals--The Failure of Confederate Command in the West"

And one must read "Grant Moves South" and "Grant Takes Command" by old Bruce Catton.

Also, "Tullahoma" by Powell and Wittenberg.

And "Engineering Victory---The Union Siege of Vicksburg" by Justin Solonick. A book about the conduct of the siege--fortifications, sapping, mining and such.
 
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Lisa Murphy

Corporal
Joined
Feb 16, 2019
Location
Washington State
Wow! Wonderful list. I look forward to reading some of these.

For Vicksburg, may I also suggest:

Staff Ride Handbook for the Vicksburg Campaign, Dec 1862 to July 1863.
by Dr. Christopher R. Gabel and the Staff Ride Team


This was written to teach the relevant military aspects of this campaign to officers of a war college, and it gives a fantastic introduction to the structure of both armies at the time, the terrible fighting terrain, the fascinating mechaincal/engineering issues of moving over that terrible terrain (including the weights of the wagons that rolled over the bridges Grant had to build), a detailed list of the weapons that were available to both armies, and a clear description of all the various ways that Grant struggled (and failed) to take Vicksburg before he finally succeeded. Very helpful to those who want a comprehensive view from the point of view, "How in the heck could an army ever take Vicksburg???!!"

It can be downloaded for free from Google:
https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/educational-services/staff-rides/StaffRideHB_Vicksburg.pdf

And for the truly nerdly:
Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War
by Thomas F. Army

This explores the engineering challenges of moving over very difficult terrain, how they were solved, and talks about the differences in engineering training and expertise in the Federal vs Confederate armies. There are chapters on applied engineering in Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, The Red River and Petersburg, and the Atlanta and Carolina Campaigns. Nerd heaven. I found a copy in my local library, so you would not even need to buy it.
 

Belfoured

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Great list! I think I might include a more general work, specifically on the Confederate Army of Tennessee: the two volumes, "Army of the Heartland," and "Autumn of Glory" by the late Thomas Lawrence Connelly. Because I tend to "lean" Southern, I'm not as sure of recommendations for Union Army studies on the Army of the Tennessee, Army of the Cumberland, etc. But I think in the Army of Tennessee's case, Connelly's works tend to help paint the context of the "big picture" before diving into all the specific battles and campaigns.
Good points. For the Army of the Cumberland, Larry Daniel's Days of Glory is a solid companion to Woodworth's study of the Army of the Tennessee.
 

DanSBHawk

Captain
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
Great list.

For Corinth, you mention both Cozzens and Smith. I have both books, and my preference goes to Smith. I thought his description of the battle was clearer and better. There were sections of Cozzen's writing on the battle that I had to reread a couple times, and still had a hazy understanding of what he was saying. Tim Smith's writing always seems very clear and understandable.
 
Joined
Mar 2, 2019
Location
Reno, Nevada
That is a good list, here is a good one to add for the Texas Campaign(s):

Tempest over Texas: The Fall and Winter Campaigns of 1863–1864 Hardcover – August 17, 2020
by Donald S. Frazier

Looking for some good books covering the Red River Campaign during the Spring of 1864, and the Trans-Mississippi activity in 1864.
I recommend my own book, a partial history of the 14th Iowa Infantry. It took part in the Red River Campaign and fought at Fort DeRussy and Pleasant Hill. It also was involved in the Meridian Expedition and the battles at Tupelo and Pilot Knob. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1734708611/?tag=civilwartalkc-20
 
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