Civil War Book Group

Pencil sketch of young Civil War soldier reading a newspaper

After years of conflict over the institution of slavery, the Civil War would be the turning point that set the course of the United States into the 20th century and beyond. An enormous amount of literature surrounds this time in American history. Americans wrote to document their experiences, to understand the war, to memorialize lost loved ones, and to influence popular perceptions of the conflict. Join us as we explore the meaning of the Civil War and how the past has shaped who we are today through a diverse selection of narratives, novels, and histories. This program is in partnership with the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

This book club meets on first Wednesdays, from 6 pm-7 pm at the Fredericksburg Library Branch.

Upcoming Meetings

April 3, 2024

Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James McPherson 6 pm-7 pm
Meet at Fredericksburg Library Branch (1201 Caroline St., Fredericksburg)

In this book, noted Civil War historian James McPherson tells the story of how Abraham Lincoln assumed the role of commander in chief, took on the task of managing the largest war that the United States had experienced thus far, and saved the Union. Watch a talk with the author on C-SPAN, [Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief] |

May 1, 2024

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth by Kevin Levin 6 pm-7 pm
Meet at Fredericksburg Library Branch (1201 Caroline St., Fredericksburg)

Where did the myth that Black men served in the Confederate Armies come from? Kevin Levine confronts the myth of Black Confederates and explores the real roles African Americans played in the Confederacy in this book that challenges the memory of the Civil War. Watch a talk with the author at the US National Archives, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth - YouTube

June 5, 2024

Ambrose Bierce Selections: "A Horseman in the Sky", "Jupiter Doke, Brigadier-General", "One Of The Missing" 6 pm-7 pm
Meet at Fredericksburg Library Branch (1201 Caroline St., Fredericksburg)

A Civil War veteran, Ambrose Bierce's service as a soldier influenced his often darkly comedic, realistic writing. We will discuss three of his short stories - "A Horseman in the Sky", "Jupiter Doke, Brigadier-General", "One Of The Missing". These works are public domain and are available online: Books by Bierce, Ambrose (sorted by popularity) - Project Gutenberg

July 3, 2024

Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 by James Oakes 6 pm-7 pm
Meet at Fredericksburg Library Branch (1201 Caroline St., Fredericksburg)

How did the Civil War bring about the end of slavery in the United States? Join historian James Oakes as he traces the evolution of emancipation policy and politics during the Civil War. Watch a talk with the author on C-SPAN, [Freedom National] |

August 7, 2024

Historic Fredericksburg: The Story of an Old Town by John T. Goolrick 6 pm-7 pm
Meet at Fredericksburg Library Branch (1201 Caroline St., Fredericksburg)

In 1922, Fredericksburg native John T. Goolrick wrote his own history of the town. This August we'll dive into Goolrick's version of Fredericksburg and discuss what he included, what he left out, and discuss how we understand Fredericksburg's history today. This work is public domain and is available online Historic Fredericksburg: The Story of an Old Town, by John T. Goolrick—A Project Gutenberg eBook.


Previous Meetings

  • March 2024, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War by Joanne B. Freeman. Historian Joanne B. Freeman explores the history of violence in Congress in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In telling this history, Freeman uncovers a story about American democracy that resonates to the present day.

  • February 2024, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. Towards the end of his life, Ulysses S. Grant took up the task of writing a memoir. Despite his failing health, Grant completed two volumes that covered his early years and Civil War service. The book became an instant bestseller and today remains one of the most valuable resources on the history of the Civil War.

  • January 2024, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen explores how the Vietnam War (known as the American War in Vietnam) lives on in the United States and Vietnam. Nguyen handles the questions surrounding war and memory with thoughtful insight and asks readers to think about how we can learn from the past to build a better future.

  • December 2023, Varina: A Novel by Charles Frazier. From the author of Cold Mountain comes a story about the complicated Varina Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Varina is both an intimate portrait of a woman who found herself in the center of the Confederacy and a bigger story of the American Civil War and its consequences.

  • November 2023, American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan. How did Americans who advocated freedom rationalize slavery? Historian Edmund Morgan’s seminal 1975 text covers Virginia’s early history and explores how democratic ideals developed alongside racism and slavery. Joining us at this meeting will be staff from George Washington Birthplace National Monument.

  • October 2023, Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. Tracing the path of a young Irish immigrant who joins the US Army in his new home, Days Without End is a poetic portrait of a nation in turmoil and an intimate look at a makeshift family in the midst of war.

  • September 2023, Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott. Karen Abbott tells the story of four women who refused to sit on the sidelines of the Civil War, and instead took part in the conflict by hiding their true motives.

  • August 2023, Black Civil War Correspondent by Thomas Morris Chester, edited and annotated by Richard Blackett. Thomas Morris Chester, the only Black correspondent for a major paper during the Civil War, covered the last year of the war in Virginia covering the experiences of United States Colored Troops with the Army of the James.

  • July 2023, The Second Founding by Eric Foner. Historian Eric Foner explores the changes to the United States Constitution after the Civil War and how those changes impacted not only the course of American history, but how we understand the rights of citizenship today.

  • June 2023, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. In this experimental story set with the backdrop of the Civil War, Lincoln deals with the grief surrounding death of his son in a cemetery surrounded by ghosts inhabiting the bardo – a state between death and rebirth. The library has a book club kit for this title, copies will be available for pick-up at our May meeting.

  • May 2023, Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory, by Wallace Hettle. Wallace Hettle traces the history of "Stonewall" Jackson though the authors who interpreted the Confederate general's life, provoking readers to address the questions of how and why Jackson lives on in American memory.

  • April 2023, Women’s War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War, by Stephanie McCurry. Through telling the story of three women during the Civil War, Stephanie McCurry shows how women were active participants and thoroughly invested in the war and its outcomes.

  • March 2023, Opium Eating: An Autobiographical Sketch. This anonymous memoir published in 1876 recounts one Civil War veteran's experiences as a prisoner of war and subsequent opium addiction, forcing readers to confront how the war continued to impact soldiers after the fighting was over. This work is public domain and is available online: Opium Eating: An Autobiographical Sketch - Google Books

  • February 2023, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause, by Ty Seidule. Ty Seidule, retired brigadier general and Professor Emeritus of History at West Point, reflects on the intersection of history and memory as he deconstructs the myth of the Lost Cause and advocates for a new way of understanding the Confederacy and the Civil War.

  • January 2023, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers, by Susie King Taylor. As a teenager, Susie King Taylor journeyed from slavery to freedom and ultimately served the 33rd United States Colored Troops as a nurse and laundress. This memoir, full of Taylor's personal commentary, provides a perspective of military life and the changes the war wrought on Southern society rarely seen in Civil War literature. Public domain, available in print, and online: Taylor, Susie King, Reminiscences of my Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops (

  • December 2022, Company Aytch, by Samuel Watkins. Samuel Watkins was 21 years old when he joined the Confederate Army. His memoir, written from the perspective of an ordinary private, has long been remembered as one of the most engaging and unique to ever be published. Public domain, available in print, and online: "Co. Aytch": Watkins, Samuel R., Internet Archive.

  • November, 2022, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpin Faust. Drew Gilpin Faust’s landmark book explores the ways that Americans in the 1860s dealt with the unprecedented human loss wrought by war.

  • October 2022, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David Blight. John Washington and Wallace Turnage both claimed freedom for themselves during the Civil War. This book includes their own narratives from slavery to freedom and historical background from renowned historian David Blight.

  • September 2022, March by Geraldine Brooks. In this take on Louisa May Alcott’s classic, Little Women, Geraldine Brooks’ March follows the story of the father who went to war to aid the Union cause in a story about family, love, and standing by one’s beliefs.

  • August 2022, A Woman in a War-Torn Town: The Journal of Jane Howison Beale by Jane Beale. Jane Howison Beale was a Fredericksburg woman whose journal documents her life between 1850 and 1862. This first-hand account not only chronicles Jane's personal experiences, but provides a glimpse into one person's perception of events leading up to and during the Civil War.

  • July 2022, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom's Cabin entered the national conversation about slavery at a critical moment in history, prompting a divided reaction that would only intensify in the years leading to the Civil War. This work is in the public domain, available in print, and online: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (

  • June 2022, Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara. Jeff Shaara imagines the personalities and times of US and Confederate military leaders in his 1996 historical novel, Gods and Generals.

  • May 2022, Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage tells the story of a battle through the eyes of a young private. Unlike many war stories of the time, Crane focused the story on the inner struggles of his protagonist and set an example that would be followed by generations of writers to come.

  • April 2022, Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years A Slave and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley. Elizabeth Keckley's memoir follows her life from her birth into slavery to her position as seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln during the Civil War. Causing a sensation upon its publication, Keckley breached the divide between private and public life, and in doing so, provided one of the most intimate portrait of the Lincolns ever published.

  • March 2022, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James McPherson. Why did soldiers fight in the American Civil War? What motivated them to risk their lives? Historian James McPherson's For Cause and Comrades evaluates the letters and lives of soldiers, from the United States and the Confederacy, to find answers to these pressing questions.

  • December 2021, A Worse Place Than Hell by John Matteson. Explore the lives of five people in John Matteson’s A Worse Place Than Hell, and discuss how these individuals’ experiences surrounding the Battle of Fredericksburg reflect a changed America born out of the Civil War.

  • November 2021, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. Published in 1861, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is the autobiography of Harriet Jacobs. In it, she recounts her experiences as an enslaved person, and how she obtained freedom for herself and her children. Public domain, available in print, and online: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself by Harriet A. Jacobs - Free Ebook (

  • October 2021, Ambrose Bierce Short Stories: "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "Killed at Resaca," "What I Saw of Shiloh". A Civil War veteran, Ambrose Bierce used his service as a soldier to write his dark and realist works. We will discuss three of his short stories - two fictional, one autobiographical, and all perfect for October reading. Available in Ambrose Bierce's Civil War (New York: Wings Books, 1996) or download the stories here: Three Stories by Ambrose Bierce (pdf).

  • September 2021, Hospital Days by Jane Woolsey. Public domain, available at In her superbly written memoir, Jane Woolsey recounts her experiences as a matron and nurse at a Civil War hospital.

Last updated: March 28, 2024

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120 Chatham Ln
Fredericksburg, VA 22405


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