The Civil War is the most written about event in United States history. There are an extraordinary number of books covering all aspects of the war from large overviews like James McPherson’s Battle Cry Freedom, Gary Gallagher’s books on The Union War and The Confederate War, Allan Nevins 8 volume set on the conflict, and Shelby Foote’s three volume set of books on the war. Like a lot of people, I started with Shelby Foote’s books, but over the years I have drifted towards more academic works. Unsurprisingly, all kinds of different authors have written non-fiction books on the topic. Some of these authors are academic historians such as James McPherson and Gary Gallagher, more literary authors such as Winston Groom (author of fiction works such as Forest Gump and Civil War nonfiction works Shiloh, 1862 and Vicksburg, 1863) and Shelby Foote, and an extraordinary number of independent scholars. I would not be surprised to learn that there are more self-published books on the American Civil War than any other American historical topic.
Creating this list has been both very easy and extraordinarily difficult. It is easy to find great books on Civil War Battles, but it is almost impossible to pick only ten. If you are a stickler and count the books listed, you will notice that the final is little bit higher than 10. Therefore, this list is not comprehensive. That would be impossible. Additionally, it only focuses on specific battles or campaigns of the war. Even when you intentionally restrict the number of total books on the war, you are still left with thousands of book titles. There are over 1,000 books available on Amazon discussing some aspect of the battle of Gettysburg. At the very least, these books are a great place to start an exploration of the Civil War.
The Battle of the Somme or the Somme Offensive was a series of battles that occurred during the Summer and Autumn of 1916. It involved British and French forces launching a massive assault on the German lines in an effort to break the stalemate on the Western Front. The Battle was primarily a battle between the Germans and the British. The offensive achieved very little and both sides suffered heavy casualties. The British only advanced a few miles and the German lines held. The stalemate was not broken by the offensive. Historians have argued whether the Somme was a failure or a partial success. It is clear that the British and French did not secure their main objectives during the battle. Why did the Somme offensive failed to achieve its planners’ primary goals? This failure at the Somme was due to poor leadership, planning and a stubborn German defence.
Since 1914, the war on both the eastern and the western front had become a war of attrition. Both sides had established a series of defensive lines, involving thousands of miles of trenches and they regularly attacked and counter-attacked each other for little or no strategic or tactical advantage. The western military and the governments were eager to end the war or at least to be seen as delivering a victory. There were concerns that the public would not tolerate a war indefinitely.
The resources of France and Britain had become stretched and they needed a victory to demonstrate that they were winning the war to their public. There was a genuine desire to end the stalemate which was costing thousands of lives per week. Then there was the strategic situation on both the eastern and the western front. The Russians had been planning their own assault on the Austro-Hungarians in the east, an attack from the west would mean that the Germans could not come to the aid of their allies in Vienna. Then there were the almost simultaneous massive battles taking place in Verdun. The Germans and the French were engaged in a bloody battle for the fortress of Verdun. The French army had found itself hard pressed and many feared that they would break and this could result in the Germans driving a wedge between the British in the north and the French armies in the south. The Somme was seen as necessary to alleviate the pressure on the French and to assist the Russian offensive.
Before 1870, medicine in the United States was completely unregulated. The lack of regulation and the limited effectiveness of 19th century regular medicine encouraged the development of multiple competing medical sects during the century. The three largest medical sects were regulars(traditional physicians), homeopaths, and eclectics. Even though these three sects were the most prominent, numerous other medical systems were created and survived on the margins. Eclecticism, osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, and hydrotherapy are just a few of the medical sects born during this era of United States history. At the very end of the 19th Century, a new medical system called naturopathy was created by Benedict and Louisa Stroebel Lust. Unlike many of the 19th Century medical sects created, naturopathy has persevered to this day. Naturopathic healing was founded and based on number of influences including botanics, hydrotherapy, eclecticism, temperance and vegetarianism.
John Hopkins University Press has published a new book by Susan E. Cayleff about the history of naturopathic healing entitled Nature’s Path: A History of Naturopathic Healing in America. Her book is a comprehensive account of both the origins of the naturopathy and examination of the controversial views by held naturopathic practitioners such as anti-vivisection, anti-vaccination, and the dangers of processed foods, pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins. Interestingly, women played a role not just in the creation of naturopathy, but were critical to its development and survival into 21st century. Cayleff’s book is an intriguing addition to the medical and social history of the United States.
Susan E. Cayleff is a professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University. She has written Wash and Be Healed: the Water Cure Movement and Women’s Health, Wings of Gauze: Women of Color and he Experience of Health and Illness, Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharis, and co-authored with Susan Stamberg – Babe Didrikson: The Greatest All-Sport Athlete of All Time.