What better way to write history than dress the truth up in a book of fiction, as it allows the writer to wax lyrical about his passion while knowing he won’t be charged with historical inaccuracy. The best civil war fiction books bring the wars of the world to life in a way a non-fiction book cannot. And sometimes because they bring a humane passion to the fore, they are truer to the truth in terms of the effects of war on the human than a work of non-fiction.
The Civil War Trilogy by Jeff Shaara and Michael Shaara
Jeff Shaara and his father Michael are called America’s first family of the war novel. The Civil War Trilogy, set during the time of the American Civil War, is written by both authors, the father writing the middle and the son the first and the last, and they are: Gods and Generals, The Killer Angels, and The Last Full Measure.
Gods and Generals charts the lives and ambitions of four prominent leaders, Joshua Chamberlain, Winfield Scott Hancock, Thomas Jackson and General Lee, and takes the reader up to the Battle of Gettysburg.
The varying personalities and views are beautifully depicted and the author shows each one being put to the test, and how each one failed or succeeded and how they dealt with both. They all have differing viewpoints and this brings to life this time of history. If you are looking for historic books suitable for your kids, check out our best civil war books for kids review. For older readers, you have to look at our best civil war books for students selection!
The Killer Angels focuses on The Battle of Gettysburg and for it, Michael Shaara won the Pulitzer Prize. He describes this war with strong and deep emotion and he pulls together in beautiful prose the stories of several characters in the war.
The soldiers fought for something higher than booty or land, they fought for what they thought was freedom and the right thing to do. This story is legendary and it is said that no writer since has been able to match it.
The Last Full Measure is a novel that wraps up the Battle of Gettysburg and the war advances to the last year of war. Through the various battles during these difficult years Shaara depicts the relationships and characters of Chamberlain and Lee and Hancock. He shows them in their true humanity: complicated difficult, heroic. He takes the characters through to the end of the war and the surrender at Appomattox, dramatizing everything with amazing style that is passionate and heart-breaking.
The book is much recommended for its riveting writing style, the fascinating protagonists and its depiction of the feelings and motives of these leaders, but it is criticized for not being historically accurate, but one would ask why that would be so important as this is a work of fiction, it is not supposed to be absolutely the truth, anyway. And the trilogy is so famous it cannot be other than of the best books of fiction on the civil war. Feel free to take a look at our best civil war books review, where we also mentioned this amazing book.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The book of the famous film depicts Scarlett O’Hara, the beautiful and rich daughter of a Georgian plantation owner. It is the story of a woman who is lazy and manipulative and deeply selfish. Her growth, or lack of it, is chartered through many pages within the context of the American Civil War, as it paints so well the atmosphere of the South, the traditions and feelings and lifestyle, as pitted against everything in the South. To find out more, you might want to take a look at our Gone with the Wind book review.
It is a very contentious novel, especially nowadays, since there is some sympathy from the author for her heroine as a lazy and indulgent girl who is used to slavery and all the perks from it. It is so contentious that many even advise people against reading it. It also lacks, many say, accuracy in terms of history.
Critics say Scarlett O’Hara is a despicable character, and the views she holds about the American Civil War unacceptable… still, the books leaves an indelible print on readers’ memories and it isn’t a book that can be quickly forgotten once read, even if in current times this book is unacceptable in the racism and slavery it seems to portray with an unacceptable degree of acquiescence.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Towards the end of the American Civil War, Inman has enough of it. He went to fight with the Confederates of the South for excitement, not for belief. Wounded in body and spirit, and exhausted, after four years of fighting, he sets off back to find his childhood sweetheart back home in Cold Mountain.
Back home, though, is a perilous and long journey, which spans almost the book. The second protagonist, his sweetheart Ada, has her fair share of difficulties running her father’s farm. The novel charts both characters’ lives and his difficult journey and moves towards an end where they finally meet, and finally find a new world and way of thinking has evolved between them.
Some say this is the most boring book ever read, and others say it is the most beautiful. Whichever, it is an atmospheric novel, heavily descriptive. Charles Frazier gives great insights into the world at the time of the American Civil War, and the stupidity of war and all its ramifications. A deep and reflective book, almost to the point, it is said, of being far too mannered and sculptured and forced.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Another of the best civil war fiction books is The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. The book tells the story of Henry Fleming, who is blighted by romantic images of war and joins the Northern Union army in the American Civil War.
His romantic notions fail him in courage at a key moment, when he is at battle with the confederates, which is the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. This causes him to flee his own side with the Union and join the confederates. Then, feeling shameful to an excruciating level, he returns to the Union army in order to make up for his lacking.
It is thought that this novel changed people’s perception of war, as it manifests the psyche of the fighters. It shows just one man’s thought processes, his feelings, his intuitions. Again, readers are torn, some claiming his characterization to be superficial and ill-informed, and others that this is the pinnacle of the war novel and one of the best fiction books on the civil war.
Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor
Andersonville was a prisoner of war camp near the town of Anderson in Georgia. It opened during the American Civil War and was a prison camp for Union prisoners. It is in reality a huge black mark on American history, the camp being literally seen as worse than anything Germany knew.
Award-winning MacKinlay Kantor spent years on research and even though this is a novel he apparently is most correct in his historicity. It is an amalgamation of many characters and stories all connecting to this camp, this blot on the record of humanity’s worst deeds. Feel free to take a look at our Andersonville book review.
The stories of what happened, the conditions, the hardships, are all described with the finest of detail and one would wish this really wasn’t just a work of fiction, because it wasn’t, his characters were fiction, but basically Andersonville, sadly for humanity, is true.
The camp held thousands and thousands of prisoners; their conditions were beyond despicable: apparently the smell of the place cold be smelt several miles away, what with the human waste and rotting bodies and other bodies well on their way to being dead.
What better way to learn about the American Civil War than read novels about it, since novels bring an ease to reading since its aim must be enjoyment as well as information. But the best fiction books on the civil war, it seems, are those that paint such amazing stories that are brilliant in description and depiction, and are so close to the truth that they could very well be classed as non-fiction. We also covered non-fiction literature, you might want to check out our selection of the best non-fiction civil war books.