The Western Theater, 1861-1862

I’ve been asked to assemble a list of the top half-dozen books on the Western Theater (left somewhat undefined in terms of the Trans-Mississippi) for the period 1861-1862.  So tell me what books you think should be included on a list of essential reading … and why.

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18 thoughts on “The Western Theater, 1861-1862

  1. I come at this from the perspective of being an amateur student of history and occasional tour guide. When I go lead tours and staff rides these are the books I recommend. They are all excellent reads, well researched, have good maps (ESSENTIAL!!!!) as well as excellent bibliographies for further research as needed.

    Wilson’s Creek by William Piston. Great overview of the buildup of both forces in Missouri culminating in their moves to SW MO and the resulting battle. Excellent explanation on tactical as well as operational level.

    Pea Ridge by Shea & Hess A fantastic study of this battle. Very well researched and easy to follow the battle.

    Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry—Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862 by Kendal Gott

    Shiloh: In Hell Before Midnight by James McDonough.

    SHILOH AND THE WESTERN CAMPAIGN OF 1862. Edward Cunningham

    2 by Peter Cozzens

    The Darkest Days of the War: Iuka and Corinth and No Beter Place To Die: The Battle of Stones River

    Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle Ken Noe

  2. I have read a couple of chapters of Earl Hess’ brand new book, “The Civil War in the West” from UNC Press. It is part of the Littlefield Series. The quality of analysis and writing is of the high degree one would expect of this author. It does strike the topic you are being asked to consider in the bull’s eye pretty much.

    On the other hand, it covers an enormous topic in 392 pages (Shiloh in 4 pages for example). There can’t be too much original research in it. I guess it depends what you are being asked for, but Hess looks to be an excellent overview.

  3. The obvious choice is Thomas Connelly’s ARMY OF THE HEARTLAND – The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862. This is THE book you begin with. Connely’s two volumes on the Army of Tennessee are to the history of the Western Theater, what Coddington’s THE GETTYSBURG CAMPAIGN is to the Battle of Gettysburg – the bible.

    Other choices which are not limited to the time frame of 1861-1862 which really limits choice would be in my opinion:

    CIVIL WAR ON THE WESTERN BORDER, 1854-1865 by Jay Monaghan. This book covers the real beginning of the Civil War, which continues today with the annual Kansas – Missouri football game.
    THE CIVIL WAR IN THE WESTERN TERRITORIES BY RAY COLTON and BLOOD & TREASURE – Confederate Empire in the Soutwest byh Donald Frazier. There is a bit of overlap with these two books, so you won’t miss much if you read only one, as they cover the side show of the Civil War.

    • Complementing Connelly would be Prokopowicz’s All for the Regiment, with its focus on building an army from scratch. It’s well-written, focused and fits neatly into the time-frame, while giving an overview of many of the important campaigns in 1861-2 and the issues faced in the theater.

      I’m tempted to recommend Donald Connelly’s John M. Schofield and the Politics of Command for its treatment of the political infighting within Missouri’s Unionists.

      I’m not entirely happy with Donald Frazier’s Fire in the Canefield, but New Orleans and the subsequent operations in Louisiana and Texas were vitally important.

      Perhaps we could generally attach Steven Woodworth? But if forced to choose, his edited collection Grant’s Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg together with the first two hundred pages of Jefferson Davis and His Generals would get you started on evaluating leadership.

  4. Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle by Kenneth Noe should be a strong candidate due to its discussion of that battle and the campaign that led to it. This battle sometimes does not get a lot of attention as 2nd Bull Run and Antietam had just taken place weeks before it, though I guess that just makes it like many other western theater battles.

    Craig Symonds’ biography of Patrick Cleburne (Stonewall of the West) was another one I enjoyed and learned quite a bit from.

  5. A number of years ago I found a book in our local library detailing the Civil War conflict west of the Mississippi. That was the first time I heard of the Battle of Glorita Pass and the conflict among the civilized tribes of the Indian Territory now part of Oklahoma. It has been so long ago that I read that book that I don’t remember the title and author. In searching on Amazon tonight , I found “Civil War in the American West” by Alvin M. Josephy Jr. (1993), and it is probable that is the book I read. I would recommend it as a book that along with those that have already been mentioned would give a more full picture of the wider continental scope of the conflict, specifically in the territories west of the Mississippi..

    • After posting my comment, I realized you are asking specifically about the 1861- 1862 time period. As Josephy’s book covers the span of the whole war, I can not speak for what it can contribute regarding that specific period of the war.

  6. I agree with Buck that Piston’s book is excellent, a true modern classic on Wilson’s creek. Donald Frazier’s Blood and Treasure about the Confederate invasion of New Mexico is good as well.

  7. Hello

    Since your parameters are 1861-1862 I would start with:

    Thomas Connelly’s ARMY OF THE HEARTLAND – The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862
    This is where anyone interested in the confederacy in the west must start.

    Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle by Kenneth Noe
    An excellent campaign study on a overlooked battle.

    Jefferson Davis and His Generals – Woodworth, Steven
    For the time period specified this provides some thorough analysis

    Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry—Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862 by Kendal Gott
    A very good study of what could be considered the opening campaign in the western theater.

    The Darkest Days of the War: Iuka and Corinth – Cozzens, Peter
    Tim Smith’s new study on Corinth will be released in a couple months. However, I think this is Cozzens best book and there is not much on Iuka.

    Pea Ridge by Shea & Hess
    One of the best campaign studies I’ve read

    Wilson’s Creek by William Piston & Richard Hatcher III
    Just finished reading this and it will likely be a long time before anything new will outdo this.

    Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign – Shea, William
    The best study of this overlooked battle.

    I’ve not read SHILOH AND THE WESTERN CAMPAIGN OF 1862. Edward Cunningham, but heard it was very good. For Shiloh there are a number of good books.

    I think No Beter Place To Die: The Battle of Stones River – Cozzens, Peter is the best book on that campaign. However, I’ve heard there is someone else working on a new book, but i can’t remember who it was.

    Hopefully at a later time you will ask for other recommendation for the last 3 years of the war.

    Don

  8. To the mix of books already listed, I’d toss in (1) Hughes’ Battle of Belmont, for a well-written study of a minor battle which was nionetheless important for time and place and as Grant’s first real Civil War combat, and (2) Hearn’s Capture of New Orleans, a significant event in April, 1862 which generally gets overlooked.. Pick six (and cheat by eliminating the 1862 New Mexico campaign, but keeping the Pea Ridge/Belmont suibject matter – to me, the “Trans-Mississippi” only became the “Trans-Mississippi’ once the River was Union again.

  9. OK, given the parameters, here is my list:

    Prokopowicz’s All for the Regiment
    Connelly’s Army of the Heartland
    Cunningham’s Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862
    Williams/Grimsley, Grant Rises in the West: The First Year, 1861-1862
    Cooling on Henry/Donelson
    Hughes’s The Battle of Belmont: Grant Strikes South

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