The Imagined Civil War

Popular Literature of the North and South, 1861-1865

By Alice Fahs

424 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 35 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5463-1
    Published: February 2003
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-9929-8
    Published: March 2010

Civil War America

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, 2002 Lincoln Prize, Lincoln and Soldiers Institute

In this groundbreaking work of cultural history, Alice Fahs explores a little-known and fascinating side of the Civil War--the outpouring of popular literature inspired by the conflict. From 1861 to 1865, authors and publishers in both the North and the South produced a remarkable variety of war-related compositions, including poems, songs, children's stories, romances, novels, histories, and even humorous pieces. Fahs mines these rich but long-neglected resources to recover the diversity of the war's political and social meanings.

Instead of narrowly portraying the Civil War as a clash between two great, white armies, popular literature offered a wide range of representations of the conflict and helped shape new modes of imagining the relationships of diverse individuals to the nation. Works that explored the war's devastating impact on white women's lives, for example, proclaimed the importance of their experiences on the home front, while popular writings that celebrated black manhood and heroism in the wake of emancipation helped readers begin to envision new roles for blacks in American life.

Recovering a lost world of popular literature, The Imagined Civil War adds immeasurably to our understanding of American life and letters at a pivotal point in our history.

About the Author

Alice Fahs is associate professor of history at the University of California, Irvine.
For more information about Alice Fahs, visit the Author Page.


"[A] sparkling study. . . . The most intriguing aspect . . . is its discussion of magazine stories and books written for children which not only shaped their perceptions of the earthshaking events of their youth but also influenced their worldview as adults during the postwar era." --James McPherson, The Wall Street Journal, 'Five Best Books on the Civil War away from the battlefield'

"The subject is fascinating. . . . The author finds enduring truths and themes that have evaded historians and novelists who are still waiting, unsatisfied with Gone with the Wind as the great literary epic or novel of the Civil War. . . . Fahs has illuminated a fresh aspect of America's greatest drama."--Washington Times

"[A] fascinating book. . . . One of the major strengths of this fine book is Fahs's insightful discussion of the changing image of black people in Northern popular literature. . . . Fahs has . . . managed to give us new and valuable insights into the wartime South, and her treatment of Northern popular literature is a signal contribution to our understanding of Civil War America."--New York Times Book Review

"Informative, original and engaging."--Southern Literary Journal

"[Earns] a place on every nineteenth-century literary theorist and Civil War historian's bookshelf. . . . Fahs makes a brilliant argument for the significance of popular culture in the war."--American Historical Review

"Alice Fahs makes a valuable contribution to the trend of studying the war in its larger context in The Imagined Civil War."--History of Education Quarterly