Kids studying the American Civil War benefit from reading nonfiction and historical fiction Civil War books because the details, the ambiance, and the significant events become more real through the lens of memorable stories and books. Here you’ll find my picks for Civil War books for readers ages 6 – 13.
Your older children interested in factual military history or more detailed accounts might want to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson. It’s a dense volume about the war and is considered to be the most accurate account of the War.
For some reason, the Civil War era doesn’t have a wealth of historical fiction middle grade books. Weird, right? But I’ll continue to add to this list if and when I discover more books. (Please let me know any other titles you know in the comments.)
Civil War Books for Kids
John Lincoln Clem Civil War Drummer Boy: Based on a True Story by E.F. Abbott
(ages 6 – 9)
Johnny leads home at age nine to fight in the Civil War. He begins as a drummer boy and later becomes a soldier. This is an exciting, well-written story made even more interesting because it’s based on a real story.
The Civil War on Sunday by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca
(ages 6 – 9)
I love this chapter book series! It shows kids snapshots of important parts of world history, this time The American Civil War. Jack and Annie travel back in time to the Civil War, where they help a nurse named Clara Barton care for wounded soldiers.
I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 by Lauren Tarshis
(ages 7 – 10)
Thomas and his sister Birdie are following the North Star to escape their lives of slavery when they meet a Union soldier. The siblings meet up with the Union army and stay with the soldiers, even when the army is ordered to Gettysburg, where they’ll fight a horrifying battle. Fortunately, the battle isn’t depicted as bloody as it was and is an age-appropriate depiction. The story gives readers information about major events and issues of the Civil War, including slavery. Back matter includes more factual information and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
My America: My Brother’s Keeper: Virginia’s Civil War Diary, Book One by Mary Pope Osborne
(ages 8 – 12)
Did you see the author? Yes, the Magic Tree House author wrote this story. It’s out of print, so you’ll have to find it at the library or used. Virginia “Ginny” writes in her journal about her life and her experience living near the location of The Battle of Gettysburg, where her brother, Jed, is injured.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale
(ages 9 – 12)
Boy readers especially like this graphic novel series much more than me, but it’s just personal preference –the more sarcastic tone and the violence of the books do not appeal to me personally. And yet, so many kids like these books that I finally decided to add them to this book list. No doubt, these introduce kids to history and can motivate kids to read, so those are good things. This particular story takes place during the American Civil War focusing on the ironclad steam warships with the battles, other military aspects of the war, and real people like William Cushing.
Bull Run by Paul Fleischman
(ages 8 – 12)
This is one of my favorite Civil War books. It shows events leading up to it and the actual battle of The Battle of Bull Run from 16 fictional characters’ voices. Each chapter is short, written from one person’s perspective, making it a fast-paced read. The different voices give readers a unique, three-dimensional view of what happened. It’s also an easier read than some of the other middle grade books on this list.
Calico Girl by Jerdine Nolen
(ages 8 – 12)
Learn about a little-known part of history at the beginning of the Civil War when Fort Sumter (in the Confederate Army territory) became a safe refuge for slaves, dubbed “Freedom’s Fortress.” In this story about Callie, a slave with a freeman father, she learns that Fort Sumter shelters them and they’ll be free, so Callie and her family flee their plantation home for the Fort. There, the family loses her little brother to a sickness yet manages to make themselves a new home. Callie even goes to school for the first time!
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older
(ages 8 – 12)
Take a thrilling ride through Civil War history — with DINOSAURS! In this exciting adventure with diversity, slavers kidnap most of the orphans in NYC’s Colored Orphan Asylum, but the small group of kids escapes to join the Vigilance Committee, where they fight back and eventually rescue their kidnapped friends. I love everything about this Civil War book–it’s so clever!
Like a River: A Civil War Novel by Kathy Cannon Wiechman (ages 10 – 13)
This book follows the intersecting stories of two underage kids, Leander and Polly, who enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War for different reasons. Their journeys are hard: battles, prison, hospitals, and suffering. The teens learn more than they ever imagined about loyalty, friendship, family, and most of call, courage.
Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen (ages 12+)
“War is always, in all ways appalling,” Paulsen writes in the forward. He explains that most men who fought came home profoundly changed (what we now call PTSD), and said to have “soldier’s heart.” This is the fictional story of 15-year-old Charley who joins the Minnesota Volunteers, not even knowing what he was fighting for but hoping for excitement. He doesn’t get excitement, only drills, horrors, and survival. Later, at age 19, he’ll return home a very different person. Vivid descriptions set the different scenes — which in a war is nothing pleasant. Be aware that there is a LOT of gruesomeness.
Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
Have you read this Newbery Medal-winning middle grade book? It’s a classic, well-researched historical fiction story about a 16-year-old boy named Jeff who joins the Union Army in Kansas. Month after month, Jeff’s former eagerness about fighting turns into weariness and permanent hunger. He sees battles and death. Then, he finds himself on the other side with the Stand Watie rebel who led the Cherokee Indian Nation. Jeff’s experiences show the complexities of the two warring sides and the motivations for each group. Warning: There is, not surprisingly, a lot of violence as well as the use of the “n” word.
Nonfiction Civil War Books for Kids
Guts & Glory by Ben Thompson, illustrated by C.M. Butzer
(ages 8 – 12)
If you’re looking for a nonfiction Civil War book, this is the one to buy for middle-grade readers who like a bit of sass with their nonfiction. It’s action-packed, humorous, and exciting, filled with information about the war, including major battles, significant people, and details about the food, music, and spies.
Blood and Germs The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease by Gail Jarrow
Well-researched, detailed, informative, and interesting, discover the history of (terrible) medicine during the Civil War. The format of this Civil War book, with sidebars, news stories, photographs, and original documents make it appealing to read.