Top Ten Books about Army Life 1860’s-80’s

Colored Troops to the Rescue, Frederic Remington
Colored Troops to the Rescue, Frederic Remington

Men, women sex, coffee, war, horses and courts-martials…..fantastically fun reading!

10. On the Border with Crook by John G. Bourke–admittedly obscure–who cares about General Crook nowadays? But I loved Bourke’s breezy, intellectual style. The ultimate in dashing officer material and sometimes funny. This book brings the Apache wars to life and showcases the ambiguities felt by the soldiers themselves when fighting with and  against the Apaches.

9. Wolves for the Blue Soldiers by Thomas Dunlay–more ambiguity here. How did the army get Apache men to turn scout? If a man defines himself based on his warrior skills how can he ever give them up for farming? Turning scout meant staying a man.

8. The Colonel’s Lady on the Western Frontier edited by Shirley Anne Leckie–a great look into the life of Colonel Benjamin Grierson’s wife Alice as she juggled raising a family and living at army posts on the frontier. While her husband commanded the “Buffalo Soldiers” and fought for more humane treatment of Indians, she suffered the loss of two children to disease and two to mental illness.

7. Vanished Arizona by Martha Summerhayes–A New England woman transplanted with her husband to the wilds of Arizona and rattlesnakes, Martha wrote a memoir  so upbeat and plucky and so full of love for her husband and the other soldiers she adopted as family that you’d almost mistake primitive army life in the heat as a bully picnic.

6. Five Years a Cavalryman by H.H. McConnell–another book showing how men can put up with quite a bit of deprivation and drunken hijinks while also writing entertaining memoir. This book made me want to be a cavalryman.

5. Hardtack and Coffee by John D. Billings– This one’s so full of fun military illustrations and manly, good humored stories! There’s even sheet music for the songs the soldiers sang during the war between the states.

4. A Garrison Tangle or anything written by Captain Charles King–if you’re looking for stories written about the manners and lifestyle of Gilded Age soldiers these are a great place to start. The added bonus is that there are a lot of women in his novels, too and they’re perfectly idealized!

3. Life and Manners in the Frontier Army by Oliver Knight– an analysis of Charles King’s books as good as the novels themselves. My edition has a cover illustration by Remington of an army officer and his wife out riding horseback–lovely.

2. The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell by Thomas P. Lowry, MD– All about sex in the Civil War and what the men were getting up to. It’s written with so much humor and compassion for men (and humanity) I felt totally freed from keeping my characters locked in the fake purity of the Victorian Era. People are just people and I love that!

1. Tarnished Eagles by Thomas P. Lowry, MD–The stories in this book are  so funny and modern. I love reading about people getting into  trouble, drinking, fighting and coming up with excuses. I read this in the midst of a divorce and realized I still thought men were pretty interesting and cool–despite the occasional bad egg. Ended up marrying ex-military on the second go (any bad behavior undocumented and lost in the mists of time) and am glad I did.

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