4 Best Post-Civil War Books (2020)

Post-civil war books can be tiresome with the analysis of all the facts and figures as the war itself is analyzed, so what better way than to write about the period in fiction. These four books are fiction but use much data and research to interweave their fiction with many facts.

 

The Unvanquished by William Faulkner

Faulkner was a renowned writer and The Unvanquished is one of the best post-civil war books. It is a novel set during the time of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction in Mississippi. It focuses on the Sartoris family who are meant to epitomize the best of the Southern way of life.

The Unvanquished is basically seven different stories that Faulkner eventually finished as a complete novel; the main character is Bayard Sartoris and his musings over his life from the ages of twelve to twenty four on a Mississippi plantation.

The book tells the tale of the relationship between two boys on the opposite side of the fence: Bayard, whose father is a colonel for the Confederates and whom he adores, and Ringo, who is a slave boy. The two boys are raised together amicably and unaware of the fracas that is going on around them. We see them enjoy adventures together blissfully unaware of the racial tensions around them.

But the focus is on Bayard and his coming of age, his father’s determination that his son become a lawyer, and his son’s determination that he will help make the world a better place and bring justice.

The Unvanquished is an excellent post-civil war book as it shows a man’s determination and struggle to end enmity from the civil war, and end the terrible blow for the south the civil war was, and to start again, in a better way.

 

Jubilee by Margaret Walker

Jubilee relates the story of Vyry who was born into slavery to a black mother and their white master. We see her life from slavery through the civil war all the way to her freedom. We see in this book all the feelings the slaves went through, their terrible pain and suffering and humiliation; and we see the hope and flame of humanity that didn’t burn out. It is a heartbreaking read but important and very enlightening.

Walker relates the story with great mastery and uses the dialect of the slaves in direct speech that enhances so much the atmosphere and realism of the text.

Far from just fiction, this actually is a work borne of experience also, as Walker’s great grandmother was born a slave before the war. She gathered all the information she could from her own family who had experienced the war and slavery, and she spent years researching the history, battles, personalities etc., just so that she could write Jubilee.

Her painstaking academic research and her own family history rewritten and worked did not go to waste as Jubilee is a work adored by all and is certainly one of the best books on post-civil war.

 

The House Behind the Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt

The House Behind the Cedars charts the story of two young African Americans, brother and sister John and Rena. They urge to join the majority and fulfill the promise the American dream gives and this is their journey, trying to deny the small amount of African blood in their bodies, while pursuing the predominantly white American dream.

The siblings’ mother is partly black married to a wealthy white man. Unfortunately, he dies and a misunderstanding with the will means their mother inherits nothing. However, John is an ambition and bright young man and makes it as a lawyer. He marries a white wife and the tale gets complicated from then on… as the siblings tie themselves in knots trying to hide their ‘blackness’, only for it to become unraveled.

This is an excellent novel that describes so well the one drop mentality, that says: one drop of black blood makes a person black. The author Charles W. Chesnutt was a light skinned black man much accepted in society as a white person, and who was later ejected from these circles. He was able to understand both worlds and this deep understanding is seen in one of the best post-civil war fiction books.

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is another non-fiction work set in the civil war and one of the best books of this genre. Beloved tells the story of Sethe, a slave who escaped to Ohio. Eighteen years later and Sethe is still not free, from the difficult experiences that haunt her mind from the past. Beloved is the name of her baby, who died without a name. Morrison was a very talented author and you can learn about her other books in our best black feminist books review.

Beloved book is known as a work of horror and a work of great American literature. It is written in a very intimate and personal way as if the Sethe is sharing her secrets with us in the strictest confidence. You can learn more about this amazing book in our Beloved book review.

Its themes are many, the resilience of the human spirit, emotional wounds that fester on and on, the cruelty and abuse inflicted on innocents. It is a descriptive and gripping novel. However, some say that it is too heavy, too dense in style, and induces the reader to give up. 

Morrison evokes the suffering of the one-time slaves in a way that penetrates the spirit and doesn’t let you forget. The experience is intense, it breaks the heart. Without a doubt, Beloved must rate as one of the best books on post- civil war. This book is so amazing that we dedicated the whole article to Toni Morrison. Check out our best Toni Morrison books review.

Personal stories of people who endured the war are the best ways to evoke the atmosphere of these times. And post war is always a peculiar time, as people suddenly enjoy peace then they have to pick up the pieces of their town and lives that war shattered around them so completely. It is always a time of bereavement and joy and hope, and life stories of very real characters are the best medium through which to capture this time and reality. If you are interested in Toni Morrison’s work, you have to read more about her debut in The Bluest Eye book review

Author

Michael Englert

Michael Englert

Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.