Monday, April 30, 2018

Five Books on the Civil War in Southern Appalachia

1. Civil War In Appalachia: Collected Essays (1997) edited by Kenneth W. Noe and
    Shannon H. Wilson.
I try to place a general overview of some kind at the top of each list in this series. I don't know of any comprehensive narrative survey of the entire region (that would be a big job, especially at this point), but this anthology has more than enough geographic and thematic range to serve as a useful introduction. If you go here, you can scroll down and view the table of contents. Of course, this book didn't mark the beginning of modern Civil War in Southern Appalachia studies, but I think it deserves credit for helping spark wider interest in the topic among both scholars and readers.
2. Clash of Loyalties: A Border County in the Civil War (2003) by John W. Shaffer.
The next four books represent a north to south geographical swing through titles representative of the best modern scholarship of Southern Appalachia's Civil War. Shaffer's book is a microstudy of Barbour County, West Virginia, which is located in the northern part of the state, not too far from the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia borders. Its young men of fighting age joined the opposing armies in evenly split numbers, and patterns of deeply divided loyalties across every class and bitter internecine Civil War violence established here would continue down the spine of Southern Appalachia.
3. Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia
   (2006) by Brian D. McKnight.
McKnight's book provides an in-depth perspective on the back and forth fighting over the strategically important mountain gaps separating SE Kentucky and SW Virginia, emphasizing the resources targeted by both sides and the suffering of civilians caught in the middle. The study also demonstrates the plastic nature of the local population's loyalties, their allegiance shifts an essential coping mechanism to off and on occupation by both sides and for dealing with threats to life and property from frequent battles, raids, and guerrilla action.
4. The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War
    (2000) by John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney.
An across the board examination of the Civil War in western North Carolina (with chapters covering politics, loyalty, Unionism, guerrilla warfare, slavery, economics, women at war, and more) Inscoe and McKinney's book is rightly regarded as a new classic and model for other local and regional Appalachian Civil War studies to follow. Like the Noe and Wilson volume mentioned earlier, it has proven highly influential.
5. A Separate Civil War: Communities in Conflict in the Mountain South (2006)
    by Jonathan Dean Sarris.
Finally, Jonathan Sarris takes a closer look at two North Georgia counties straddling the Blue Ridge. As other scholars have discovered, Sarris finds that localism very often superseded ideological concerns and national, or even state, loyalties for many citizens living in the more isolated areas of the Confederacy. The inner war was the Civil War for a great many Fannin and Lumpkin county Georgians.

Yes, I know I left out the part of Appalachia arguably best covered in the literature, East Tennessee, as a standalone entry (to compensate, it is pretty well covered in the essay collection) as well as some other regions associated with the terminal run of the Appalachian uplands stretching across the far northern parts of more Deep South states, but I'm limited to five books here!


  1. Drew,

    I agree the Barbor County Book is excellent. Also McKnight's study on the war for the gaps in SW VA & SE KY. I have William Trotter's Book Bushwhackers: The Civil War in North Carolina: The Mountains (which I have not gotten around to reading.) Sounds like you overall pick for a generalized study on the low level guerilla conflict in the Western NC Mountains is Inscoe & Mc Kinney's Book. Is this your view. I can't remember if it was on your website or another website that mentioned Trotter himself referred to his book as "beach reading". Your opinion? Thanks Curt

    1. Hi Curtis,
      For some reason, I didn't get a notification of your comment and didn't see it in the moderation pile until day. Sorry about that.

      I think if you were going to read only one book about the CW in western NC Inscoe & McKinney would be the one that I would recommend.

      Trotter's book on the Russo-Finnish War was a well regarded treatment at the time (and maybe still today), but he did tell me that he views his own NC trilogy as lighter, pop history type fare. I haven't read any of them, so I don't know if he was just being modest.


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