Updated: Dec 6, 2022
I believe that very few of us actually have the adequate space for our book collections. Most are probably spread throughout the house, divided between home and office (or classroom), or worse yet, in the attic. I am sad to say that I only have one book shelf (The kind with four shelves) that was intended to be shared with my wife's collection of fiction books. I have made some gains in that front, as I have slowly conquered all but half of the bottom shelf for my own use. The remainder of my precious books are tucked away in the attic above the garage in several storage totes. It hasn't always been this way, but as children came along, my private space dwindled as well. "Office" rooms turned into nursery and play rooms, and my several book shelves gave way to cribs and toy chests. Now...just the one stands.
Like I mentioned earlier, my attic is full of books that I have collected since I was a teenager. I went through a World War Two phase in high school and college, and so my Ost Front books are now tucked away in storage totes, along with every possible book I could lay my hands on that concerned the boys of Easy Company in the 506th PIR. Several of these totes have a majority of my Civil War books. Middle school is where my fascination with the Civil War really took hold, and when I actually started to read all that I could on the war. I remember buying Not War but Murder: Cold Harbor 1864 by Ernst Ferguson at a Barnes and Noble for my 15th birthday, and then began to devour all I could. Not having a Civil War scholar mentor, or the internet in my home, I was left to decide for myself what should be read. Most of the "intro" books I read mostly discussed the Eastern Theater, so I snatched up books on the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg, etc. I hardly knew a Western Theater existed except for what I saw on Ken Burns, which isn't too much.
Fast forward several years and I slowly started to realize that the West is where my heart was truly at. I had visited Gettysburg and Antietam, but nothing quite grabbed me like the Western battlefields did (Don't get me wrong...Walking those fields is akin to walking on sacred ground). There was just something about standing in the fields where my ancestors fought that really tugged at my heart strings. I think that's why I have so many books on Shiloh, Tim Smith's being my favorite. I had two ancestors in the 26th Kentucky that were both killed on April 7, near the Davis wheat field. My "Western Theater" list on Amazon is already about a mile long. I have 9 books in the mail as I am writing this...all having to do with the Western Theater. Several others will probably be ordered over Christmas break. I do have a problem when it comes to books. When I see one that I want to read in the future, whether that is within a few days or even years, I want in on my shelf!
So how do I organize my Civil War books? I do it mostly by theater and then place the books in chronological order based on the topics. Army and unit histories, like the Orphan Brigade or the Indiana Legion, I place before the books on the battles and campaigns. First person accounts and diaries/memoirs I place all together, and organize them by side, Union or Confederate and then theater. Biographies are similarly organized. To save space (I have to leave a lot of room for the several books I have to read for my master's degree), I mostly just have Western Theater material on my shelf...the rest, unfortunately, are in the storage totes in the attic. When I get new books, I have to choose which books remain on the shelf and which are banished to my book gulag above the garage.
Hopefully when we move out of this house, our first home which we are rapidly outgrowing, I can have my own library room. That last part is a stretch, but I would definitely love to have more space for shelves so all of my books can break free of their storage tote imprisonment. Also, a place where my two year old and five year old will not be able to so easily grab my Civil War books and pretend to read them. For some reason, they constantly grab the Chickamauga books. Easy height, I reckon. One day perhaps.
Note to the reader: The Western Theater library in my house has grown exponentially since this was published in
Derrick Lindow is an author, historian, teacher, and creator of the WTCW site. His first book, published by Savas Beatie, will be released in Spring 2023. Go HERE to read more posts by Derrick and HERE to visit his personal page. Follow Derrick on different social media platforms (Instagram and Twitter) to get more Western Theater and Kentucky Civil War Content.