Civil War Book Reviews

Books for Elementary, Middle, and High School Students
Photograph of stacked books
Annie Between the States

Annie, Between the States
L.M. Elliott
Grades 6-9

The Civil War has broken out and Annie Sinclair’s Virginia home, Hickory Heights, is right in the line of battle. Caught up in the rising conflict, Annie and her mother tend to wounded soldiers while Annie's older brother, Laurence, enlists in the Confederate cavalry under JEB Stuart. Even Annie's rambunctious baby brother, Jamie, joins John Mosby, the notorious "Gray Ghost." Faced with invading armies, Annie is compelled into a riskier role to protect her family and farm. She conceals Confederate soldiers and warns Southern commanders of Union traps, and the flamboyant JEB Stuart dubs her "Lady Liberty."
Annie's loyalty is clear until a wounded Union officer is dragged onto her porch. Saved from a bullet by a volume of Keat's poetry he keeps in his pocket, Thomas Walker startles Annie with his love of verse. After several chance encounters, Annie is surprised by her growing interest in the dark-eyed Northerner as they connect through a shared passion for poetry.
As the war rages on, Annie begins to question some of the values driving Virginia's involvement. Then tragedy befalls Hickory Heights, and Annie becomes the subject of a shocking accusation. She must confront the largest quandary of all: choosing her own course.

L. M. Elliott crafts a stirring novel that carries readers from the Manassas battlefield to fancy-dress balls to the burning of the Shenandoah Valley while capturing the tenacious spirit of a young heroine facing an extraordinary, complex time in American history.

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Gentle Annie: The True Story of a Civil War Nurse
Mary Francis Shura
Grades 5-7

Based on the experiences of Annie Etheridge Hooks, Gentle Annie dramatizes the life of Annie Etheridge who, at the age of sixteen, enlisted in the Union Army, one of only eighteen women from Michigan.  When the army headed into battle, the other seventeen women fled.  Only Annie remained with the troops to face the danger.

Annie became known for her gentle manner, her great courage, and her devotion to duty.  Never fearing gunfire, she risked her life again and again to nurse wounded soldiers on the battlefields, even winning the Kearny Medal of Honor presented by Major General Philip Kearny. She was beloved by the men of her regiment, writing letters for them to their loved ones, and comforting them in their pain.

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book of the month

With Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War
James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Grades  9-12

With Every Drop of Blood follows 14 year old Johnny, a native Virginian from the Shenandoah Valley.  Johnny has just lost his father because of the war and now needs to support his family.  When offered a large amount of money for his work Johnny decides to join a wagon train to Richmond.  Along the way the wagon train is attacked by Union forces and Johnny is captured. 

With Every Drop of Blood is told through Johnny’s point of view, with all his rash decision making and uncertainty. Throughout the book Johnny struggles with the cause of the war and spends a majority of his time questioning its meaning.

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book of the month promo

Civil War on Sunday
Mary Osborn Pope
Grades 1-3

The Magic Tree House Series takes on the Civil War with Civil War on Sunday.  The Magic Tree House series places Jack and Annie, two elementary school students from Pennsylvania, in various places and times through the use of a magic tree house filled with books. 

In Civil War on Sunday Jack and Annie read a book on the Civil War and end up in Virginia at a battle with Clara Barton.  Jack and Annie need to help her take care of the wounded and in the process they learn more about the war and war in general then they had anticipated.

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book of the month

Secrets of the Civil War Submarine
Sally M. Walker
Grades 6-10

In Secrets of the Civil War Submarine, Sally Walker presents a brief history of the H. L. Hunley, a Confederate built submarine, along with a look at the archeological work that took place in the late 1990s.

Secrets of the Civil War Submarine brings history and science together. Beginning with the original design of the world’s first armed submarine to the present day use of math and science to investigate, conserve, and preserve a very delicate historic artifact.

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Chasing Lincoln’s Killer
James L. Swanson
Grades 6-12

James L. Swanson author of the best selling novel, Manhunt, has adapted the story for a young adult audience in Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. 

It’s April, 1865 in Washington, DC, and you are in the midst of it. Swanson transports the reader to the center of the emotionally charged city which has just experienced the re-election of President Lincoln and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  Follow John Wilkes Booth, his co-conspirators, President Lincoln, Secretary Stanton, and the American people in the greatest American drama to ever unfold.   

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book review

Billy Boy: The Sunday Soldier of the 17th Maine
By Jean Mary Flahive
Grades 7-12

Twenty year-old Billy Laird can’t read or write, and as his Pa says, “his mind just don’t work the way most folks’ do.”  But, when his friend Harry, the only one in town who’s ever stood up for him, enlists in the Union army, Billy joins as well. Billy manages military life with Harry’s help until he is reassigned to an artillery battery because of his fear of gunfire.  The men in the new unit tease him mercilessly, Unaware of the consequences of desertion, Billy leaves the army and follows the North Star toward home.  Along the way he meets and travels the Underground Railroad with a runaway slave named Elijah.  Billy and Elijah become close friends and hope to see each other again after parting ways.  Billy, however, must first face the consequences of desertion.   

Written from the perspective of a mentally challenged soldier, this book provides a unique look at the Civil War and includes a compelling portrayal of the battle of Fredericksburg, for which CWPT’s interactive map allows one to follow the movements of the Harry’s regiment, the 17th Maine.

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book review

My Brother’s Keeper: Virginia’s Civil War Diary
By Mary Pope Osborne
Grades 3-5

Part of the Scholastic My America Series, My Brother’s Keeper is set in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the summer of 1863. The main character, Virginia, has been put in charge of her brother’s diary while he helps their father prepare for the invading Confederate army.  Virginia documents the town happenings during the Confederates’ arrival, the battle, and the aftermath.

A comfortable reading level for 3rd-5th graders, the story unfolds quickly and dramatically; written as a diary My Brother’s Keeper is a great way to view the battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of a child.

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By Walter Dean Myers
Grades 8-12

Using a screenplay format that lends itself to reader’s theater, Myers focuses on the experiences of a young girl during the New York City Draft Riots in July 1863.  Claire is a fair-skinned 15-year-old daughter of a black man and an Irish mother who “looked beyond skin and saw people”.  However, after days of rioting and looting by Irish immigrants protesting the Union draft turns to violence against the city’s black population she wonders, if at the end of the war there will be a new bondage where blacks will be trapped by the color of their skin.  Claire and her friend Priscilla witness the ugliness of the mob bent on destruction, the police who are powerless to stop them, and the refuge offered by a black Baptist Church.  The riots are the crucible that destroys Claire’s innocence and forges her newly-found identity.  Myers accurately describes the events of the Draft Riots from various points of view, giving readers a thorough understanding of the causes leading to the violence and perhaps an examination of attitudes about race in America today, a point he raises in the Author’s Notes.  Primary source photographs and documents from Myers’s personal collection provide additional historic information to this tragic period in American history. 

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lincolne's high tech war

Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War:  How the North used the Telegraph, Railroads, Surveillance Balloons, Ironclads, High Powered Weapons and More to Win the Civil War
By Allen, Thomas B. and Roger MacBridge Allen
Grades 6-12

Students researching the technology of the Civil War need to look no further than this detailed, well-researched study on how Lincoln applied technology to give the Union a military advantage during the Civil War. 

Lincoln, himself an inventor and the only presidential patent holder, grasped the military importance of technology such as railroads and telegraphs long before many of his generals.  Chapters on railroads, the telegraph, surveillance balloons and rifled weapons and other technologies are interspersed with “situation reports” that brief the reader on the military and political events of the war at key periods in the Eastern and Western theaters. 

In addition to describing the technology and how it was used during the war by both the Union and the Confederacy, the authors also explain how the technology affected the outcome of the war on land and sea. The readable text is accurate without being overly technical, making this a readable title for research and pleasure reading. 

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nov. book review

I'll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War
By Anita Silvey
Grades 7-12

During the Civil War, women contributed their services in many ways: as nurses, laundresses or vivandieres.  They worked in factories or they worked the farms.  They supported the troops from home. They acted as spies.  Other women volunteered in unthinkable and unexpected ways; they disguised themselves as men and fought as soldiers.  As Silvey points out in this well researched examination of female soldiers in the Civil War, for any woman to want to fight or offer to fight was considered abnormal by the standards of the day.  But this attitude did little to stop women such as Martha Parks Lindley (who passed down her uniform and pistol to her children) and Melverina Peppercorn (who could spit tobacco ten feet) and the more well-known Loreta Velazquez and Jennie Hodgers from defying social conventions and risking their lives and reputations on the battlefield.  Silvey explores a variety of reasons that compelled some women to forsake the security of home for the dangers of army life, and she describes how women not only disguised themselves but also managed to enlist and serve undiscovered.  The difficult transition to civilian life faced by the surviving women underscores the challenges they continued to face long after the war ended.   Photographs, illustrations and maps complement the text, which includes primary source excerpts.  Readers can follow up with the extensive bibliography and source notes provide additional documentation.  In her author’s notes, Silvey reserves praise for the Civil War Preservation Trust for their dedication to battlefield preservation.  I’ll Pass for Your Comrade is a fascinating look at individual women, the Confederate or Union regiments in which they served, and the battles in which they participated. 

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Under Siege! Three Children at the Battle of Vicksburg
By Andrea Warren
Grades 6 and up

Along with Gettysburg, the battle for Vicksburg was a crucial turning point in the Civil War, but as Warren notes, news of the triumphant capture of Vicksburg, the key to Confederacy, was knocked off the front pages by the epic three-day battle of Gettysburg.  In Under Siege Warren puts Vicksburg back in the limelight, from May 1862 -- when the first attempt to capture Vicksburg was made -- through the siege itself and ultimately, to the final surrender on July 4, 1863. 

This multifaceted journey back in time is accomplished with deft writing, authoritative research and primary source quotations woven into the narrative.  Warren presents the history of the siege through the viewpoints of three children who lived through it, using their memoirs to provide the human interest to the historical record.  Ten-year-old Lucy McRae and 11-year-old Willie Lord describe the dangers and deprivations from the Confederate perspective, while General Grant’s son Fred does the same from the Union perspective.  Warren seamlessly juxtaposes the timeline of the campaign with the experiences of the children and those of other prominent Vicksburg citizens, which makes for fascinating reading, while at the same time providing insight into the tactics and strategy of Generals Grant, Pemberton and Johnston.  Her “you are there” approach takes readers on a journey through the alligator-infested bayous with the Union Army, where soldiers stood on deck with brooms to brush away lizards, cockroaches and poisonous snakes that fell out of tree branches onto the ships.  They enter the caves with Vicksburg’s terrorized civilians to escape the constant shelling of the city, caves so packed with people that there “was no turning room for anybody; air so foul, sometimes you couldn’t have made candle to burn in it.”  They can’t help but sympathize with Pemberton’s difficult decision to surrender Vicksburg, knowing that the loss would be credited to him. 

Throughout the narrative, the effects of war on the civilian population both during the siege and during Union occupation, are made clear; Warren follows up with a postscript for the families and other individuals, providing details on their lives after the Civil War.  Winner of the 2010 IRA Teacher’s Choice Award, Under Siege is a dramatic account of the forty-seven day siege and the battles leading up to it.  Also includes black and white captioned photos, maps and diagrams, glossy pages, endnotes and a selected bibliography.  Highly recommended for grades 6 and above.

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