The Civil War Library

A collection of short stories, books, essays, letters, poems, and speeches about the American Civil War (1861 - 1865).

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The Veteran by Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane takes up the question of courage again, this time in a short story that is the "unknown sequel" to The Red Badge of Courage. The author re-introduces Henry Fleming later in life, adds some more depth to the character and makes a final commentary on the question of courage.

The Story of a Conscience by Ambrose Bierce

In this Civil War story a confederate spy, Dramer Brune, is captured behind enemy lines with a forged pass. Anyone abusing the privilege of the pass is to be "summarily shot." But there's a twist that tweaks the captor's conscience when he realizes that the spy before him had saved his own life years earlier. Will the favor be returned?

A Horseman in the Sky by Ambrose Bierce

In this Civil War story, Carter Druse, a young soldier from a wealthy Virginia family elects to fight for the Union. We find him posted on sentry duty, guarding the valley where five regiments of Union soldiers are hunkered down and hiding. Carter's orders are to prevent a rebel scout from discovering their whereabouts. How far would you go to fulfill your mission?

The Affair at Coulter's Notch by Ambrose Bierce

This is a story that is rife with deeper symbolism as a white officer and his men, working their artillery, are transformed into 'black' men by their work. But do not focus on the literary techniques to distraction or you will miss the real art of the story, which first emerges with a soldier's hesitation.

The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale

After an outburst at a trial, Union Army Lieutenant Philip Nolan is sentenced to a live of exile; to live out his days as a passanger on U.S. Navy warships where he is to learn no news of his country and other are forbidden to mention the "United States." This pro-union story was an effective morale booster for the Union cause.

The Story of a Year by Henry James

A young Henry James, who was conscripted to fight but was excused due to a back injury, what empathetic to the plights of those that were drafted into the bloody war. He was sympathetic to their many hardships, including ones of the heart. In this story, the young solider John Ford urges his fiancee to form other relationships while he goes off to fight in the war.

The Brothers by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame served as a nurse during the war. In this short story she takes up questions of dignity, honor and loyalty and also sheds light on women's participation in the war.

O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman's plaintive poem lamenting the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Letter to Sarah Ballou by Sullivan Ballou

A lawyer and politician turned Civil War soldier, Major Sullivan Ballou was torn between love for his wife and family and his feelings of devotion and duty to his country. He penned his now famous letter on July 14, 1861. He was mortally wounded a week later at the First Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas as the Confederates called it). He passed away on July 29th, just fifteen days after authoring the letter.

The Coup de Grace by Ambrose Bierce

Yep, Bierce again. This time, a trio of characters are involved; the Halcrow brothers and Captain Madwell. Yep, "madwell," it seems like a loaded name to me too. In reply to an insult from one of the Halcrow brothers, Madwell replies, "Sir, I invite you to accompany the movement. A mounted officer would be a conspicuous mark, and I have long held the opinion that it would be better if you were dead."


The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Published in 1895, a full thirty years after the American Civil War had ended, The Red Badge of Courage follows the trials and tribulations of Henry Fleming, a recruit in the American Civil War struggling with ideas of bravery and courage. Although Stephen Crane was born after the war and never participated in battle himself, he produced one of the most influential war novels of all time and veterans praised his ability to capture the true nature of the battles he described.

Uncle Tom's Cabin or Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe

An anti-slavery novel published in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin had a profound impact on the American landscape and is widely credited with fueling the abolitionist movement, and contributing materially to the the tensions leading up to the American Civil War.

Speeches and Historical Documents

The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln

It was on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863 that American President Abraham Lincoln took the stage and delivered one of the most famous speeches in American History, The Gettysburg Address. In a speech lasting just over two minutes, President Lincoln gave a stirring address that covered the founding principals of the country, acknowledged the great sacrifice of life, and then importantly, cast the conflict into a moral dimension that redefined the struggle as a battle to bring equality to all the country's citizens.

Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln by Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural on March 4th, 1865. The end of the war was approaching, but the president did not strike a triumphal tone, choosing instead to question why Providence had visited the terrible war on the American people and using biblical allusion to ponder some of the painful and troubling questions the war had wrought. The Second Inaugural is a masterpiece of solemn oratory. "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right . . ." Lincoln was assassinated within weeks of this speech; and the country mourned -- "O Captain! My Captain!"

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.