1. Black Soldiers in Blue: African-American Troops in the Civil War Era edited by John David Smith (The University of North Carolina Press). Only in recent years have scholars—including respected historian Smith—studied, documented and written extensively about the contributions of black soldiers fighting for the Union cause. Using military and social history, Black Soldiers in Blue presents 14 essays discussing African-Americans’ service and the war’s impact on their lives. Even if your black ancestors lived in the South, don’t dismiss this book—one essay covers recruitment of blacks in the Mississippi Valley. The book also contains battle maps and illustrations. It’s a well-researched and compelling read.
2. In Search of Confederate Ancestors: The Guide, 2nd edition, by J.H. Segars (Southern Lion Books). If you have Southern ancestors, odds are one of your relatives served the Confederacy. This book attempts to help you find his Civil War service records—but despite some solid suggestions and an easy-to-follow style, it’s tainted by factual and genealogical inaccuracies. For example, Segars discusses how you can obtain Confederate information online. When the author refers readers to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System <www.itd.nps.gov/cwss>, he fails to provide the URL and instead suggests you type search-engine keywords that don’t work. He also mentions the 1890 veterans schedules, but leaves out two key facts: Only records from states alphabetically Kentucky to Wyoming survived. And though the schedules list some Confederates, they’re supposed to be Union-only. Further, Segars’ genealogy book recommendations—such as Wilbur Helmbold’s Tracing Your Ancestry—are outdated and even the titles are erroneous.
3. Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era by Laura F. Edwards (University of Illinois Press). What did Great-aunt Martha do when Great-uncle Jeremiah was off fighting the war? Even though women weren’t on the front lines sporting rifles, they were just as much a part of the war effort as men. But as the author states in her introduction, “few Southern women … were belles like Scarlett and Melanie” in Gone With the Wind. In Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, you’ll learn the roles played by ordinary women—white and black, rich and poor. The book reveals women’s social and political roles and shows how women coped before, during and after the war. It’s a great read about your female ancestors’ lives during this tumultuous period in American history.
4. Uniforms of the Civil War: An Illustrated Guide for Historians, Collectors and Reenactors by Robin Smith and Ron Field (The Lyons Press). This book is a must-have if you possess photos of Civil War ancestors in uniform and need help identifying them. The guide provides detailed photos and drawings to illustrate uniforms of the Union and Confederate armies, breaking them down by state. Even if you don’t have a picture of your Civil War ancestor, you’ll see the style of uniform your ancestor might have worn. And if you plan to write your family history, this book will provide you with specifics to describe your ancestor’s uniform.
5. While in the Hands of the Enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War by Charles W. Sanders Jr. (Louisiana State University Press). Your ancestor may have been among the 400,000 soldiers taken prisoner during the war. In this well-researched and fully documented history, you’ll gain insight into life in an enemy prison. Sanders reports that nearly 56,000 prisoners succumbed to overcrowding, exposure, poor sanitation, inadequate medical care and starvation. From your ancestor’s military service records, you’ll be able to learn if he served time in one of the prisons Sanders discusses. Even if your ancestor wasn’t a POW, you’ll want to read about the prisoners’ grim experiences.
Further Fighting Words
• The Divided Family in Civil War America by Amy Murrell Taylor (The University of North Carolina Press)
• My Confederate Kinfolk by Thulani Davis (Basic Civitas Books)
• A People’s History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom by David Williams (New Press)
• The True Story of Andersonville Prison: A Defense of Major Henry Wirz by James Madison Page and M.J. Haley (New Papyrus Co.)