Historical fiction covers a variety of subjects, not just the wives of Henry VIII. Here are some of our favorite novels about the U.S. Civil War. You’re sure to find one you’ll love!
My Name is Mary Sutter
If there is one thing Mary Sutter has always wanted to be, it’s a doctor. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t an option for a woman in the mid-19th century, as the local medical school repeatedly reminds her, denying her application to study surgery. For the moment, Mary must settle for being the best midwife in Albany, New York. Then the Civil War breaks out. Scores of injured men means that more medical personnel are needed, an opportunity for Mary. Although she is still not allowed to be a doctor, Mary is able to become a nurse in a hospital in Washington, D.C., where she at least has the opportunity to learn medicine — and avoid a painful personal matter back in Albany.
The Killer Angels
Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg with beautiful and empathetic language. The Killer Angels begins with writing that reads almost like poetry, then switches to showing the battle through a rotating cast of commanders. Shaara’s greatest achievement is probably his ability to delve into the minds of men on both sides of the battle and make them all interesting and sympathetic — particularly General Longstreet for the Confederates and Colonel Chamberlain for the Union. Because of the intense connection Shaara creates between the reader and his characters, The Killer Angels is elevated above a military novel, despite the fact that almost the entirety of it takes place on one of the most infamous battlefields in American history.
You may have forgotten that the beginning of Little Women takes place during the Civil War, but the March sisters would not have. The war is why Mr. March is absent, why his wife and daughters have been left to fend for themselves. In Geraldine Brooks’ March we see Mr. March’s harrowing experience as a chaplain in the Union Army, as well as flashbacks to his courtship with the woman his daughters would one day know as Marmee. Brooks creates characters who are real and flawed human beings. Not only is her Mr. March reminiscent of Louisa May Alcott’s own father Bronson Alcott, but her Marmee is a woman who is able to be angry with her husband for leaving the family, but still put on the loving facade that readers will recognize from Little Women.
When Emoline Justice is killed, finding her murderer is hardly a priority. After all, she’s a free black woman in Virginia in the middle of the Civil War. There is one person, though, who cares deeply about her death: Cassius. Cassius is still enslaved, but he considered Emoline to be his mentor, even his surrogate mother. Luckily, Cassius is the plantation’s carpenter and doesn’t work in the fields under the overseer or the house under his master. His position as carpenter also gives him license to be off the plantation from time to time, something that makes it much easier to try to find Emoline’s killer amidst all the slave traders, spies, soldiers and Underground Railroad conductors flooding Virginia at the time.
May the Road Rise Up to Meet You
Peter Troy’s May the Road Rise Up to Meet You follows the lives of two immigrants — one Irish and one Spanish — and two slaves in Civil War-era America. As different as these four are, they are drawn together first into two parallel love stories, and then into a great friendship that defies lines of class, color and circumstance. War plays a smaller direct part in May the Road Rise Up to Meet You than in some of the other books on this list, but it certainly informs the world in which the characters find themselves, thanks to Troy’s evocative writing style.