E-mails like the following are pretty regular:
I have been following your blog happily for several years now, and your writing on the Civil War has been staggeringly effective, if you don't mind my saying so. So much so, that I (and perhaps others) have been inspired to read more about the period as well. Would you mind posting an annotated list of some of the books you have been referencing over the past years, so that those of who would like to get started on the topic can have the benefit of your experience? Perhaps you have already done this and I missed the post, but I would certainly benefit from some direction in diving into the vastness of the literature.
That one came from a Rabbi, which--for my own bizarre reasons--I think is pretty cool. At any rate, this requests comes in at least once a week. I have, thus far, resisted it, because my exploration of the Civil War has been personal and specific, thus beyond a few obvious surveys, I'm hesitant to say You MUST read xxxx. Bruce Levine's Confederate Emancipation is important to me because it totally demolishes the "Black confederates" mythology, but I don't know if it would be as important to everyone else.
That said, I think my way of approaching the Civil War reflects my way of exploring any broad subject--I just like letting my passions take me wherever. I want the barest guidance and I tend to like being lost. I think there are some people who, understandably, may want something more structured, something that feeds their passions and gives them a working knowledge of what actually happened.
To that end, I'm asking for a hand from you guys. My sense is that anyone seeking to be an autodidact of the Civil War should take the following steps. 1.) Read James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom. 2.) Listen to all David Blight's lectures on the Civil War 3.) Watch Ken Burns epic documentary. 4.) Take a week off and drive through Virginia, visiting everything from the battlefields to the plantations to the Wal-Mart. So much of what happened is still in the people there.
After that, my knowledge becomes really specialized. Should you read Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom? Should you check out Drew Faust's This Republic of Suffering? Should you read a few oral histories? Should you read up Reconstruction to see the immediate results? Should you play Total War to see what marching, formations and double-time really look like? I don't know, but these are things that helped me understand.
So with that in mind, let's talk some. Let's try to come up with a solid, say, freshman fifteen or twenty for the aspiring Civil War geek. Let's strive for a really broad list--one that tackles everything from the wars causes, and it's long-lasting effects to the military tactics and strategies. Some on the ground, first-person histories might be good also. I'll take our conversation and try to make it into something by the end of the week.
Jimmy Mac has got to be number one, though. The first two to three hundred pages completely end any debate on the "causes" of the Civil War.