Some of these books focus on specific events or people in the battle, such as Pickett’s Charge or the generals who led the soldiers on the field, while others are overviews of the entire three-day battle.
With so many books to choose from it can be hard to know where to start. To help you out, I’ve created a list of the best books about Gettysburg.
These books have great reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, many of them are best-sellers and they have great reviews from critics.
I’ve also used many of these books in my research for this website so I can personally say they are some of the best on the topic.
The following is a list of the best books about Gettysburg:
(Disclaimer: This article contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
1.The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command by Edwin Coddington
First published in 1968, this book by Edwin Coddington is about the leadership behind the battle of Gettysburg.
The book argues that Gettysburg was a crucial Union victory, primarily because of the effective leadership of Union forces not, as most historians argue, solely because the Union army benefited from General Lee’s mistakes.
Even though it was published over 50 years ago, the book is still considered by many scholars to be the definitive one-volume history of the battle.
The book received positive reviews when it was first published. The Journal of American History declared that it would become a standard work on the subject and praised its attention to detail:
“The late Edwin Coddington’s book is likely to be a standard work for a long time, if only because of its comprehensive character. It truly concerns the campaign, not just the battle; fully one third of the work is devoted to the operations prior to the first meeting of the armies at Gettysburg. It gives good attention as well to logistical problems and to a comparison of the numbers and quality of the arms and men on each side.”
A review by Kirkus Review also predicted it would become a must-read book on the subject:
“As such, the [Gettysburg] campaign has produced a deluge of books over the last hundred years, ranging from the puerile efforts of the Count of Paris to the solid popularizations of Bruce Catton to the unabashedly scholarly works of such men as Andrew Brown, Robert Beechman and–more recently–of James Bellah, N. A. Meligakes, and Glenn Tucker. To the latter category must now be added, and perhaps preeminently, Mr. Coddington’s Gettysburg Campaign, which surpasses frequently, and equals consistently, other available works on the subject, from the standpoint of thoroughness, of treatment, exhaustiveness of research, depth of analysis, and because of the author’s concentration on the Campaign as a ‘study in command,’ which affords a comprehensive view not only of Gettysburg itself but of the personalities on the scene–Lee, Ewell, Long-street, Hill, Stuart, Heth, and Pickett on the one side, and Meade, Reynolds, Buford, Hancock and Gregg on the other. Such considerable qualities so far outweigh the author’s prosodic opaqueness as to warrant the opinion that The Gettysburg Campaign may well come to be regarded as the ‘standard work’ on the subject.”
A review in the Pennsylvania History journal stated that no other book on Gettysburg compares to it:
“More than that, as a study in the command of both armies it is in a class by itself; no other rounded study of the campaign, seeking to discover the motives and actions of both headquarters, can match it. Coddington not only combed the Official Records with the care of a Kenneth P. Williams, but beyond that – and making his work superior to William’s as a study of the Union command – he traveled the country to ferret out manuscript collections, using them with a thoroughness unparalled in histories of this campaign.”
Edwin B. Coddington, who died in 1967, was an author, professor and the chair of Lafayette College’s history department.
Coddington wrote a number of articles about the Civil War for various historical journals in addition to his first and only book, The Gettysburg Campaign, which was published posthumously.
2. Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears
Published in 2003, this book by Stephen W. Sears is a blow-by-blow account of this infamous three-day battle and the effect it had on the war.
The book received positive reviews when it was published. Kirkus Reviews called it a “a fine study, detailed and challenging” while Publisher’s Weekly called it “an outstanding battle study.”
A review in the New York Times praised Sears for “giving us a panoramic view, and in his vivid portrayal the day unfolds in all its horrible detail.”
A review in the Los Angeles Times also praised Sears’s storytelling skills:
“‘Gettysburg’ confirms his reputation as a master storyteller and a historian smart enough to keep the specialists happy. He gives us the sweep of the campaign — from the early strategizing of the Confederate high command through the delivery of the Gettysburg Address.”
A review in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography also praised the book for being both compelling and comprehensive:
“In Gettysburg, Stephen W. Sears has reaffirmed his mastery of the campaign study, with a logical sequel to his highly praised books on Antietam, the Peninsula, and Chancellorsville. His graceful writing gives satisfaction to both novice and professional history readers alike. The sizeable campaign study rewards the reader with an engaging style, evocative descriptions, and penetrating character analysis of key participants.”
A review in the Wall Street Journal declared it the best book on Gettysburg:
“A first-class writer and splendid historian–a combination to be cherished–gives us the best book on America’s most famous battle.”
Stephen W. Sears is an author who has written a number of highly acclaimed books on the Civil War including, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam; Chancellorsville; and Lincoln’s Lieutenants: the High Command of the Army of the Potomac.
Sears also worked as the editor of the Educational Department at the American Heritage Publishing Company.
3. Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg by Earl J. Hess
Published in 2001, this book by Earl J. Ross is a full tactical study of the infamous Pickett’s Charge which took place on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
In the preface, Hess argues that the actual events of Pickett’s Charge have become distorted over time and his goal is to clarify it by writing a detailed case study:
“I want to examine it to understand its military reality. Enthusiasts and scholars alike are so aware of the charge that they tend to take it for granted. I propose to treat the operation in the same way that military historians treat any other engagement, by writing a ‘battle book’ based on thorough research in primary and secondary sources, published and unpublished. My purpose is not only to write a narrative account of the attack but to offer slightly new interpretations of how it took places, so as to blend storytelling with analysis. Every aspect of the operation will be examined, from the initial conception and planning for the attack to the cleanup of the battlefield. Moreover, the story of the participants is vital in understanding the immense human drama of the charge. The background of their war experiences before July 3 and what happened to them after that fateful day are thus part of the story. This book is a detailed tactical study of the assault with special emphasis on combat morale.”
The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in the Washington Times declared that Hess succeeded in his goal of writing an old-fashioned battle book:
“Earl J. Hess, a history professor at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., aimed at writing an old-fashioned ‘battle book,’ relying on primary and secondary sources to fashion a detailed study of what really happened in the climactic conflict of the three-day battle. His aim is accurate…The writing is crisp and clear. ‘Pickett’s Charge’ is a valuable addition to the Civil War shelf.”
A review in the Journal of Military history declared that it is probably the best book on Pickett’s Charge and a must-read for any Gettysburg enthusiast:
“This book is probably the best book on Pickett’s Charge that has been written to date. . . . Hess’s writing is clear and lucid, and very descriptive of the horrible battlefield conditions during this storied attack and repulse. . . . His book will stand on its own merit for a long time to come. It’s a must-have title for any Gettysburg collection.”
A review in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography took a few minor issues with the book, particularly that Pickett’s charge was not the last attack at Gettysburg, as Hess’s title states, and argues that Hess dismisses some veteran’s memories of the charge yet accepts others with no clear reason why, yet the magazine still declared it a solid book:
“Despite these issues, Hess’s work does provide Civil War enthusiasts with a solid single-volume work on a very popular topic. Beyond the engaging narrative, however, Hess offers an interesting bonus. The epilogue of the book, ‘Making Sense of Pickett’s Charge,’ lays out the reasoned opinions of the author on some of the major topics of debate on his subject.”
Earl J. Hess is Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University and has written a number of books on Civil War battles, including Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West; The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta; Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign; The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee, among others.
4. Retreat from Gettysburg by Kent Masterson Brown
Published in 2005, this book by Kent Masterson Brown is about the Confederate’s retreat from the Battle of Gettysburg.
Brown argues that even though the battle was a defeat for the Confederates, the retreat was a victory because it helped the Confederates hold on to whatever they had left, which ensured that the war would continue:
“Gettysburg cannot be viewed as the turning point of the Civil War or even a turning point of the eastern theater of war after Lee’s remarkable retreat.”
The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in the Pennsylvania History journal praised the book for its unique thesis and great research:
“Kent Masterson Brown presents a well researched, well documented study of Lee’s retreat, which is complemented by a series of excellent maps. This is a work I would unhesitatingly recommend to any student of the Civil War, but for those interested in the battle of Gettysburg or the army of Northern Virginia it is a must.”
A review in the Journal of American History also praised the book for its great writing and research and unique perspective:
“There is everything to praise in this book, for the concept and execution are very good. Brown’s arguments are on the mark, and he is to be congratulated for focusing on topics that have been overlooked far too long in the historiography.”
A review in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography said it was captivating and a must-read for any Civil War student:
“Captures the reader from beginning to end. . . . Should be in the library of every serious student and scholar of Civil War history.”
Kent Masterson Brown is an attorney and the author of three books about the Civil War, including Retreat From Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign; Cushing of Gettysburg: The Story of a Union Artillery Commander and Confederacy’s First Battle Flag: The Story of the Southern Cross.
5. Gettysburg The Second Day by Harry W. Pfanz
Published in 1987, this book by Harry W. Pfanz is the first in a trilogy he wrote on the famous battle and is considered the best of the series.
The book is about the second day of the battle, and explores why some soldiers fought better than others. Pfanz explains in the preface that this is important to know because it can help understand how to better motivate troops in the future wars:
“It seems to me that while there is some value in understanding why a certain officer did or did not conduct his part of an action according to accepted doctrines of warfare, there is more to be gained from learning why men were motivated to fight poorly or superbly. This knowledge might then be applied with advantage in the leadership of our armed forces today. If nothing else, the knowledge of what was done by our forefathers on this field should provide us with perspective, inspire us to emulate their greatness, and warn us to avoid the weaknesses that led to some of them to blunders and tarnished reputations.”
The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in the New York Times praised the book for its great research and compelling narrative:
“Mr. Pfanz, who retired in 1981 as chief historian of the National Park Service, put in a 10-year stint at Gettysburg, and he knows the ground there about as well as it is possible to know it. He brings this knowledge to ‘Gettysburg: The Second Day,’ and along with it meticulous research and a vigorous, lucid sense of narrative. His close tactical study of the events is exhaustive, but for all the detail he never loses sight of the story he is telling. As a result, what at first might seem to be solely an accretion of military minutiae takes on volume and resonance and it culminates in a rich view of why things happen the way they do in battle.”
Harry W. Pfanz, who died in 2015, was a chief historian of the National Park Service and the author of a trilogy of books on Gettysburg, which include Gettysburg The First Day; Gettysburg the Second Day; and Gettysburg Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill.
6. Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory by Carol Reardon
Published in 1997, this book by Carol Reardon is about how distorted the story of Pickett’s Charge has become over time.
Reardon explains in the preface that the book explores the myths surrounding Pickett’s Charge and how they formed:
“As these individual memories of one small episode reveal, much of what history tells us is ‘true’ about Pickett’s Charge may not rest on a strong foundation of fact. From the very start, in its efforts to answer questions about the formation of the attacking column, the number of lines, who broke first, who advanced farthest, who stayed the longest, and who fell back fighting, history has competed with, been obscured by, even attacked by, memory, Every narrative of Pickett’s Charge we read today includes this subtle subtext, and the student of history must be wary of memory’s introduction of the fog of war. Myth and history intertwine freely on those fields, and some of their tendrils always will defy untangling.”
The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in the Washington Post praised the book for the way it clearly explains this complicated subject:
“Exceptionally lucid. . . . This fine book provides vivid evidence of just how far we will go to alchemize fantasy into fact.”
A review in the Journal of Military History also praised the book for the way it explores and analyzes the mythology surrounding the battle:
“Reardon has done a wonderful job of bringing together the various threads of most of the contemporary and historical arguments surrounding the charge. . . . Her subject is not Gettysburg: it is American mythology, and she illuminates it in a thoughtful way.”
A review in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine also liked the way the book handled the subject:
“Quite apart from its notable historical interest, Ms. Reardon’s work is a splendidly lively study of the manipulation, not necessarily deliberate or malign, of public opinion.”
A review in the Orlando Sentinel called the book “thought provoking”:
“Thought provoking and highly interesting, Reardon’s book is a pleasure to read.”
Carol Reardon is a history professor at Pennsylvania State University and is the author of numerous books about the Civil War, including A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield Through Its History, Places and People; and With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini In The Other: The Problem of Military Thought in Civil War North.
7. Gettysburg: A Journey in Time by William A. Frassanito
Published in 1974, this is a book of historic photographs of the Gettysburg battlefield.
The book recreates the famous battle using more than 100 wet plate historic photos, scene by scene, which were created on the battlefield between July of 1863 and 1866. The photos are arranged geographically so the reader can actually follow the movements of the troops as well as individual soldiers.
The book was a first of its kind when it was published and received many positive reviews. A review in Kirkus Reviews called it “essential for Civil War buffs” while Publisher’s Weekly described it as “sobering and memorable” and the New York Post declared it “The first definitive photo-historical record of that great battle.”
A review in the Washington Post described it as a “fascinating read”:
“Fascinating reading… a remarkable book …will delight Civil War buffs, those interested in the history of photography, and all who have ever walked over an historic battlefield. It should also provide a thoughtful lesson for historians who tend to underestimate what can be learned from a close study of photographs, for Frassanito has given us more than a book of pictures; he has produced a valuable work of scholarship…. He is perhaps uniquely qualified to do this: not only does he have a vast knowledge of early photography and of this particular battle, but he also has an intimate knowledge of the terrain and possesses a detective skill that would be a credit to Lieutenant Columbo.”
A review in the Pennsylvania History journal wasn’t as impressed though and said that although the photos are interesting, the book provides little historical value:
“Frassanito makes only a limited effort to explore their value as historical sources. His work relates the pictures to a good many anecdotes about the battle and the field on which it was fought, but it adds surprisingly little to our knowledge of the three day struggle.”
William A. Frassanito is an author who has written a number of books on Civil War battles, including Early Photography at Gettysburg; Grant and Lee: The Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865; Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day; and The Gettysburg Then and Now Companion.
8. A Field Guide to Gettysburg by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler
Published in 2013, this book by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler is a guidebook for the Gettysburg battlefield.
In the preface, the authors explain that exploring the historic battlefield is one of the best ways to learn about the battle:
“The best way to explore Gettysburg’s rich battle history is to spend time out on the battlefield itself. This field guide – with thirty-five tour stops, each offering a detailed account of a specific element of the three-day engagement – is designed to help you discover for yourself the action, the heroism, and the tragedy that unfolded in and around this modest Pennsylvania town during the first days of July 1863.”
The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review on the Humanities and Social Sciences Online website called the book an “instant classic”:
“Reardon and Vossler have provided an instant classic in a single volume that is both eminently readable and exceptionally useable, ideal for those participating in staff rides, educational tours, or a self-guided exploration of the battlefield.”
A review in the Civil War Monitor praised the book for its usefulness and great storytelling:
“It is both an extremely useful resource for making one’s way intelligently across the battleground as well as a stirring account of the battle and its varied meanings in the past and present…Indeed, one strength of this book is how it weaves together guidance for moving through the battle ground with vivid interpretations of what happened.”
Carol Reardon is a history professor at Pennsylvania State University and is the author of numerous books about the Civil War, such as Places and People; and With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini In The Other: The Problem of Military Thought in Civil War North.
Tom Vossler is the former director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Pennsylvania and is also a licensed battlefield tour guide. Vossler is the author of two battlefield guides: A Field Guide to Antietam and a Field Guide to Gettysburg.
9. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Published in 1974, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Michael Shaara is a historical novel about the Battle of Gettysburg.
Shaara explains in the preface that the book is told from the perspective of the people who fought in the battle in order to help the reader better understand what it was like to be there:
“This is the story of Gettysburg, told from the viewpoints of Robert E, Lee and James Longstreet and some of the other men who fought there. Stephen Crane once said that he wrote The Red Badge of Courage because reading the cold history was not enough; he wanted to know what it was like to be there, what the weather was like, what men’s faces looked like. In order to live it he had to write it. This book was written for much the same reason.”
Shaara goes on to explain that he wrote the book using letters and personal documents written by the generals and soldiers themselves in order to make the book as genuine, personal and historically accurate as possible.
The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in Kirkus Review described it as “a strong, spirited, bloody book, equal to its subject” while Forbes called it “Utterly absorbing.”
The Christian Science Monitor listed it at number one on its list of the top 10 best novels about the Civil War.
The novel went on to sell three million copies, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975 and was adapted into a movie, called Gettysburg, in 1993.
Michael Shaara, who died in 1988, primarily wrote short stories for science fiction magazines but was inspired to write The Killer Angels after a family trip to the Gettysburg battlefield. He went on to write more novels, including Soldier Boy, For the Love of the Game; and The Rebel in Autumn.
10. High Tide at Gettysburg: The Campaign in Pennsylvania by Glenn Tucker
Published in 1958, this book by Glenn Tucker is a battle study on how this famous battle unfolded the way it did.
Tucker explains in the book’s foreward that the goal of the book is to provide a comprehensive overview of the battle:
“While I do not presume to disclose many new facts at this late date, those presented probably have not been assembled before in the same volume. From them I have made my own, at times perhaps unconventional, evaluations. I have attempted to show dispassionately how the battle was won and lost, and why they Gettysburg campaign remains such an appealing study to large numbers even after the passing of nearly a century.”
It is difficult to find reviews for the book because it was published so long ago but it is considered a classic and is frequently mentioned as a great resource on Gettysburg. Historian Allen C. Guezlo listed it at number two on his list of the best Gettysburg books in an article in the Civil War Monitor and many Gettysburg enthusiasts still highly recommend the book.
Glenn Tucker, who died in 1976, was a reporter who worked for a number of newspapers in the Midwest and also worked as a White House Correspondent for the New York World.
Tucker later became an author, after retiring from news journalism, and began writing about history, publishing several books, such as Hancock the Superb; Front Rank; Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg; The War of 1812: A Compact History; Mad Anthony Wayne and the New Nation; and writing numerous articles in Civil War Times Illustrated and the North Carolina Historical Review.
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