Thursday, May 23, 2013

Famous Civil War Fiction

This week's review book, Cold Mountain, is a historical novel set during the Civil War, so here are a few others:

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, is perhaps the most famous Civil War novel (although much of that fame is undoubtedly due to the film adaptation and Rhett Butler's delivery of the controversial "give a damn" line). It was first published in 1936, earned the Pulitzer in 1937, and technically is set during the Civil War Reconstruction, in Atlanta, GA. Plot summary: Scarlett and Rhett have a complex back-and-forth relationship.

Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels (1974) won the Pulitzer in 1975, and chronicles the four-day Battle of Gettysburg. (The 1993 film Gettysburg was based on this novel.) It does so through the perspectives of the commanders of each side. Presumably, this book heavily influenced Joss Whedon's creation of Firefly.

Michael Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara, wrote Gods and Generals in 1996 as a prequel to The Killer Angels. It, too, was adapted to film, with much of the same cast as Gettysburg. This book deals with events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, again through the eyes of the officers of each side.

First edition cover

Are you a fan of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott? Me too! March, by Geraldine Brooks, is a parallel novel to Little Women, from the perspective of the girls' father. It won the Pulitzer in 2006 (it seems like Civil War fiction is the way to go if you're gunning for a Pulitzer...)


During the Civil War, there was a Confederate POW camp in a town called Andersonville in Georgia. MacKinlay Kantor wrote a novel about it, called Andersonville, and it won... you guessed it... the Pulitzer in 1956. He based much of the story on prisoner memoirs.

The Red Badge of Courage is the oldest book on this particular list, published serially starting in 1894 (and published as a complete novel in 1895). H. G. Wells referred to this book's public reception as an "orgy of praise." It has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film several times. The titular "red badge of courage" is a wound sustained on the field of battle, which our young, terrified protagonist wishes for, to counteract his cowardice and prove that he is worthy. 

This is only a small sample of Civil War novels. Do you have any favorites not listed here? Tell us about them!


  1. Travis loves the Gods and Generals/Killer Angels/Gettysburg series. I am not much of a war fiction fan, but like I said, I mainly read books about WWII. I think I had to read The Red Badge of Courage in school but I don't remember anything about it.

    1. The Red Badge of Courage is evil encarnate. I hate, hate, HATED that book (in fact, I wrote about it in our favorites/least favorite school books post.)


      As for the Ghettysburg series... I heard Gods and Generals was kind of a snore. And I watched Gettysburg in a war in the movies class... and I felt it was kind of the same. They monologue A LOT.

      However, if you're looking for a good civil war movie, Glory is pretty fantastic. I mean, a movie with Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington AND Morgan Freeman? Really, there can be no wrong. oh, and Cary Elwes. Seriously, go rent that movie.