Quick Picks: First Bull Run Books

Library of Congress
The Battle of Bull Run

Looking to do some reading on the First Battle of Bull Run? We asked Harry Smeltzer, proprietor of the website Bull Runnings, for his five essential books on the war’s first major battle. Below are his selections.

1. John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence (H.E. Howard Inc., 1989; Stackpole, 2015) Since 1989, Hennessy’s study of the battle remains the best. It’s concise, well written, and insightful. Be sure to get the revised 2015 edition from Stackpole Books. It’s not a reprint, but a complete reworking of the earlier H.E. Howard publication, with significant amendments to interpretation.

2. Robert M. Johnston, Bull Run: Its Strategy and Tactics (Houghton Mifflin, 1913; Palata Press, 2016) Though somewhat dated (it was originally published in 1913), Johnston’s book, the first in-depth study of the campaign, is still valuable. It’s also a good primer on the use of the Official Records as a resource.

3. Alan Gaff, If This Is War: A History of the Campaign of Bull’s Run by the Wisconsin Regiment Thereafter Known as the Ragged Ass Second (Morningside Bookshop, 1991) Get down and dirty with the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry as it marches off to war and sees the elephant. Gaff makes extensive use of soldier correspondence in his study.
4. David Detzer, Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861 (Harcourt, 2004) This one’s a real joy to read—I’ve long said that the field of Civil War literature is a target-rich environment for good writers, and Detzer is one. Definitely not a slog.

5. Ethan Rafuse, Manassas: A Battlefield Guide (University of Nebraska Press, 2014) No study of any battle is complete without a visit to the site. This is a standard guide of Bull Run in staff-ride format, no bells or whistles. It’s the best of its kind we have … for now.

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BRASHER: The Peninsula Campaign (2012)

The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom by Glenn David Brasher. University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Cloth, ISBN: 0807835447. $39.95. The subject…