There is an enormous amount of material available on the American Civil War. Since the war began in 1861, over 50,000 books and pamphlets have been published about it. Now, with the advent of the internet, hundreds of web pages and other online sources have appeared as well. With so many resources available, knowing where to start when seeking to do research on the conflict can be a daunting task.
The purpose of this pathfinder is to provide a useful starting point for anyone wishing to find quality information about the Civil War, either for serious research or just looking up a quick fact.
The enormous amount of literature available on the Civil War is apparent in the Library of Congress classification system employed by many academic libraries. Books about this period, including those covering the issues of slavery and secession, extend from E440-E660. Under the Dewey Decimal Classification favored by most public libraries, books about the Civil War are cataloged under 973.7.
The Library of Congress subject heading under which to search for Civil War literature is United States-History—Civil War, 1861-1865.
If looking for printed sources on the Civil War, the best place to start is with David J. Eicher’s The Civil War in Books: an Analytical Bibliography(University of Illinois Press, 1997). This work provides annotated bibliographical references for 1100 of the most important books published about the conflict. The works selected cover every major facet of the war: general histories, battle and campaign studies, biographies, unit histories, social and political issues, the role of Blacks and women, atlases and reference works, and even other Civil War bibliographies.
For articles dealing with battles, campaigns, issues, concepts, and prominent Confederate individuals the best available source is the 4 volume Encyclopedia of the Confederacy(Richard N. Current, editor in chief, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1993). This encyclopedia contains over 1400 articles written by more than 300 leading scholars. Each article contains a brief bibliography, and the entire work is indexed. This work has also been published recently in an abridged, one-volume edition entitled MacMillan Information Now Encyclopedia : The Confederacy (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1998).
If you just need to look up a quick fact or a brief definition of a person or event, you should try the following two sources: Mark M. Boatner’s The Civil War Dictionary (David McKay Co., New York, 1959, rev. ed. 1988) contains 4186 entries including definitions of terms, brief descriptions of events, and biographical sketches. The second work to consult for such information is The Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (Patricia L. Faust, ed., Harper and Row, New York, 1986). This item contains fewer entries than does Boatner (2380), but the ones in this work are mostly longer and more analytical.
If you are looking for a good overall history of the Civil War, the best choice continues to be James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom (Ballantine Books, 1989). This Pulitzer Prize winning work is widely considered the best single volume history of the Civil War, successfully integrating the military, political, social, and economic aspects of the conflict. It includes an excellent bibliographic essay. The best introductory military history of the Civil War is Shades of Blue and Gray by Herman Hattaway (University of Missouri Press, 1997). Hattaway does an excellent job of summarizing the history of the conflict, while also providing excellent annotated bibliographies at the end of each section.
Finally, for an understanding of how historians have interpreted the Civil War and its various elements, and how those interpretations have changed over the years, the essential source is Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand (James M. McPherson and William J. Cooper, eds, University of South Carolina Press, 1998). This book consists of a series of essays in which noted historians discuss how previous scholars have written about and interpreted the military, political, social, and economic aspects of the conflict.
As mentioned above, there are literally hundreds of Civil War information resources in cyberspace. Fortunately, there are several major Civil War web sites that have gathered impressive, well organized collections of what is available:
- U.S. Civil War Center: (http://www.cwc.lsu.edu/) This web site, maintained by Louisiana State University, was created for the express purpose of indexing every single internet resource concerning the Civil War. It currently contains links to over 2100 items, including both secondary sources and primary online texts such as newspapers, unit rosters, letters, and other documents, and even Civil War booksellers. USCWC is both browsable by topic and searchable. The essential starting point when looking for Civil War information on the web.
- The Civil War Archive Files: (http://www.civilwararchive.com/files.htm) A browsable collection of links organized by topic, designed to meet the needs of “historians, educators, reenactors, and the interested public”. Contains links to a variety of Civil War resources, but emphasizes military information such as orders of battle, regimental histories, and battle summaries. A good source to turn to if you have a military related question, or if USCWC doesn’t have what you need.
- American Civil War Homepage: (http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/) A browsable index of “hypertext links to the most useful identified electronic files about the American Civil War (1861-1865)”. Organized by topic. Contains links to a large number of primary online documents. Another good place to look in addition to USCWC and ACW Information Archive.
- Yahoo’s Index of Civil War Sites : (http://dir.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/History/U_S__History/By_Time_Period/19th_Century/Military_History/Civil_War__1861_1865_/) The main index page for Civil War related sites listed in Yahoo!. A number of different categories are listed, of both historical and commercial interest. A final useful source when looking for Civil War information on the Internet.
If you have a question that needs to be answered by an expert, you might try the H-CivWar listserv (http://www.h-net.org/~civwar/). This is an e-mail discussion group for professional scholars of the conflict. In addition, there are two major Civil War USENET discussion groups, news.alt.war.civil.usa, and news.soc.history.war.us-civil-war.
This pathfinder created by David Durant