Tuesday, September 13, 2005

West(ern) Virginia Civil War Books

The best military survey of the Civil War's first year in the area that later became the state of West Virginia remains Clayton Newell's Lee Vs. McClellan: The First Campaign (W. Hunter Lesser's more recent book Rebels at the Gate treads similar ground, but, in my opinion, it's a narrative history that doesn't further our understanding of the campaign enough to recommend it over Newell). Lee Vs. McClellan appears to be out of print currently but a number of copies are available on the secondary market.

More general works aside, readers wishing to delve even deeper into the 35th State's Civil War experience will do well to examine the work of authors Tim McKinney and Terry Lowry. McKinney has seven Civil War West Virginia publications to his credit, including a hefty West Virginia Civil War Almanac (vols 1 and 2) that brims with primary source material. His two county histories are equally notable. The Civil War in Fayette County West Virginia (OP) and The Civil War in Greenbrier County West Virginia are at their core even-handed and well researched military histories of the campaigns, battles, and skirmishes fought within their borders. The former contains a highly useful overview of the September 10, 1862 Battle of Fayetteville and W.W. Loring's subsequent reconquest of the Kanawha Valley, while the latter details the Battle of Lewisburg, correcting several errors from previous accounts. On the subject of Loring's campaign, it was very interesting to read of a rather forgotten companion to the more famous 1862 Confederate summer offensives that tapped out at Perryville, Antietam, and Corinth.

However, the civilian experience in these counties is far from ignored and cultural landmarks (such as the White Sulphur Springs Hotel resort) are frequently featured. My only major complaint is the lack of adequate maps in both works. Many writers of county histories don't seem to take into account the fact that there are readers from other parts of the country that are interested in the subject but understandably are entirely unfamiliar with the forests, creeks, roads, and towns of a particular county.

(To Be Continued Tomorrow--With Terry Lowry)


  1. Drew,

    I just picked up LEE VS MCCLELLAN and REBELS AT THE GATE within the last month on eBay. I've been thinking of reading books on the same campaign back to back and commenting on the similarities and differences. That looks like a good campaign to start with. Thanks for the info. Which book do you think it would make more sense to start with?


  2. LEE VS. MCCLELLAN is a decent top down overview of the campaign. I would go with it first.



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