Wiley-Silver Book Prize

The Wiley-Silver Book Prize

The Center for Civil War Research established the Wiley-Silver Prize in Civil War History in 2011. The Center presents the prize to the best first book, thereby recognizing and encouraging new and emerging scholars in the history of the American Civil War. The prize is named for two distinguished former members of the University's History Department faculty, Bell Irvin Wiley and James W. Silver.

Scholars awarded the prize receive an invitation to the University's annual Conference on the Civil War, held in October. At that meeting, the prize and $2000.00 is awarded to the honoree. In addition to press releases, the Center also purchases advertising space in the field's two journals, Civil War History and The Journal of the Civil War Era to announce the winning entry.

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2023 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


David K. Thomson is the recipient of the 2023 Wiley Silver Prize for Best First Book in Civil War History for Bonds of War: How Civil War Financial Agents Sold the World on the Union (University of North Carolina Press).  Dr. Thomson is Associate Professor of History at Sacred Heart University.  He holds a PhD from the University of Georgia.

The prize committee praised Dr. Thomson's book as follows: "With its clear prose, perceptive analysis, and extensive archival research, David Thomson’s Bonds of War explains how the Union financed the Civil War by marketing its securities across the globe and democratizing its debt through public war drives. The international dimensions of Thomson history show us how the cost of the Civil War attracted European investors who owned half of all United States national debt by 1869. Historians who have focused on the neutrality of European governments have missed how these private investors supported the Union war effort. Through impressive archival research in libraries from eight countries, Thomson recovers the stories of these foreign financiers who contributed more than $400 million in war bonds and changed the world financial system by making it interdependent on America’s success. Domestically, Thomson follows agents who sold bonds to every corner of the nation. Middle-class Americans who had opened savings accounts before the war redirected their money to higher interest bonds, thus connecting their personal profits to national patriotism. Investors living behind Confederate lines bought bonds to express allegiance or hedge their bets against a losing cause. While other scholars have stressed how Civil War greenbacks revolutionized American currency, Thomson makes a persuasive case for the importance of bonds as democratic agents and financial instruments. His book shows how war bonds raised confidence not only in the United States government but also in investment banking. Looking beyond the Civil War era to these lasting effects, Bonds of War helps to contextualize the Reconstruction railroad bonds and Gilded Age speculations that built modern Wall Street."


2022 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Kevin Waite has been awarded the 2022 Wiley Silver Prize for Best First Book in Civil War History for West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire (University of North Carolina Press).  Dr. Waite is Assistant Professor of History at Durham University.  He holds a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.

The prize committee praised Dr. Waite’s book as follows:
“Sophisticated and deftly-written, Kevin Waite’s West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire argues that proslavery Southerners and Westerners transformed the American West into the “Continental South,” an empire of unfree labor from sea to sea, during the nineteenth century. By drawing on diverse primary documents and a broad historiography, Waite reveals how proslavery partisans from Virginia to California forged this Continental South before the Civil War, fought to expand its imperial reach during the conflict, and reemerged after defeat to shape Reconstruction politics and the war’s legacy and memory. Waite demonstrates persuasively that slavery was more than a regional aberration that distinguished the South from the North and West. A wide-ranging and adaptable network of unfree labor constituted a national regime with global ambitions. This “Slave Power” was not the monolithic, conspiratorial cabal that anti-slavery partisans stereotyped; it involved Southerners, Midwesterners, Californios, Nuevomexicanos, and Mormons, whose contrasting ideas and goals did not preclude frequent alliances. While Republican policies and the US army reshaped the Desert South during the Civil War and early Reconstruction, a western redemption swiftly mirrored that of the South, reversing free labor victories through political and violent means. Though the subtitle of this remarkable book is the “southern dream,” Waite convincingly demonstrates that this empire was a reality. West of Slavery will influence our understanding of slavery and the West for years to come.”


2021 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Ariel Ron has been awarded the 2021 Wiley Silver Prize for Best First Book in Civil War History for Grassroots Leviathan: Northern Agricultural Reform in the Slaveholding Republic (Johns Hopkins University Press).  Dr. Ron is Glenn M. Linden Assistant Professor of the U.S. Civil War Era at Southern Methodist University.  He holds a PhD from University of California, Berkeley.

The prize committee praised Dr. Ron’s book as follows:
“Ariel Ron’s engagingly written Grassroots Leviathan is an agricultural, political, economic, and intellectual history that is also informed by soil science, chemistry, education, and legal studies. Covering a region he defines as the “Greater Northeast” from the Early Republic to the Civil War, Ron presents a broad analytical study offering an original and creative contribution by reminding us that the North, like the South, was also profoundly rural and that this fact shaped the coming of the Civil War. Ron deploys a social history approach, examining agricultural organizations, writings, and fairs. He describes the ensuing massive reform movement as one that shaped the emergence of the Republican Party, grew the northern economy, and contributed to sectionalism. While recent books have examined the agrarian underpinnings of the Republican Party, little attention has been paid to the connections between grassroots agricultural activism and state building. Ron rectifies this by tracing the movement to the emergence of the USDA and the land-grant university system, critical pathways of thought for political, economic, and environmental historians alike. His skillful command of diverse sources depicts a northern rural majority realizing that as individuals, they did not stand a chance of influencing policy or politics; collectively, they could wield an usually strong influence in promoting a powerful and explicit program for agricultural education and reform, culminating in the passage of vital pieces of legislation that secured their vision and validated their collective efforts. Finally, Grassroots Leviathan depicts farmers as agents of state development in this period, complicating our understanding of northern free labor by looking beyond wage earners to include a much larger demographic—farmers—within this transformative ideology and political economy.”


2020 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Christopher R. Mortenson has been awarded this year’s Wiley Silver Prize for Best First Book in Civil War History for Politician in Uniform: General Lew Wallace and the Civil War (University of Oklahoma Press). Mortenson is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of History, at Ouachita Baptist University.  He holds a PhD in History from Texas A&M University, College Station.

The prize committee praised Politician in Uniform as follows:
"Christopher Mortenson's well sourced, engaging account of political general Lew Wallace’s military career offers a trenchant reassessment of his contributions to the Union war effort, arguing that despite stumbles and misjudgments, he emerged as one of the Union's most influential military leaders. President Lincoln needed to curry nationwide support and thus offered commissions to prominent men who solidified the support of states, ethnicities, or political constituencies. Deftly combining military and political history, Politician in Uniform depicts Wallace, a lawyer and former state senator from Indiana, as an exceptionally able political general, who actually proved more valuable than many middling West Pointers. Major-General Wallace showed his mettle in important battles such as Fort Donelson and Monocacy; as an able defender of Cincinnati; and with his post-war service on the military commissions that tried the Lincoln assassins and Andersonville’s commandant, Henry Wirz. The monograph’s crisp and critical narrative also includes many instances of Wallace’s self-defeating behavior, creating tumultuous relationships with his superiors, such as U.S. Grant. Christopher Mortenson nimbly interweaves Lew Wallace’s fascinating and complicated wartime record with much needed insight and analysis of the vital importance to the Union’s cause of appointing a “Politician in Uniform.”


2019 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Erin Mauldin has been awarded the Wiley-Silver Prize for 2019. Her work Unredeemed Land: An Environmental History of Civil War and Emancipation in the Cotton South, was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press. Using insights from environmental history to re-examine the crucial decades between 1840 and 1880, Mauldin reveals new ways to conceive of the war's place in the trajectory of southern agriculture. The four-year conflict and its emancipation of slaves dramatically transformed how farmers thought about, manipulated, and organized their land. Altered methods of land use and rapidly shifting natural processes amplified the well-known dislocations of the postbellum era: shortages of capital, racial prejudice, and repressive crop legislation. All these elements are essential to understanding postwar developments and, ultimately, the outlines of the New South. Restoring the land to the study of land and labor recovers an important piece of a large and complicated narrative. Dr. Mauldin is a graduate of Georgetown University and currently is an assistant professor of history at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.


2018 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Matthew Stanley is the recipient of the 2018 Wiley-Silver Prize for best first book in Civil War history. Stanley's book, The Loyal West: Civil War and Reunion in Middle America, was published by the University of Illinois Press in 2016. Stanley's book examines the role the Lower Middle West played in the development of white reunion at the end of Reconstruction. This area was significant in the development of white reunion because of the prevalence of anti-black, anti-eastern, and anti-rebel attitudes. The region's rejection of Reconstruction also influenced politics throughout America. Dr. Stanley earned his Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati in 2013, and is currently an Assistant Professor of History at Albany State University.


2017 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Matthew Hulbert is the recipient of the 2017 Wiley-Silver Prize for best first book in Civil War history. Hulbert’s book, The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West, was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2016. It is the first book to analyze the memory of the guerrilla Civil War on the Missouri- Kansas border, connecting Confederate bushwackers to American imperialism in the west. Dr. Hulbert earned his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in 2015, and is currently a lecturer of History at Texas A & M - Kingsville.


2015 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Dr. Shauna Devine is the 2015 recipient of the Wiley-Silver Prize for her book Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science. Devine's research argues for the importance of Union physicians and surgeons, the "unsung heroes" of the Civil War, to both the war effort and the development of modern medical science. These army physicians pioneered new techniques of diagnosis, treatment, and experimentation during a period of unprecedented military and health crisis. Devine makes the case that these innovations not only saved lives and ameliorated suffering, but provided the crucial foundation for modern medical studies and practice. Dr. Devine received her doctorate from The University of Western Ontario in 2010 and is currently an assistant professor at Western University.


2014 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Dr. Kathryn Shively Meier is the 2014 recipient of the Wiley-Silver Prize for her book Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia. Meier's work provides a fresh new perspective on the Shenandoah and Peninsula Campaigns, detailing the unfamiliar and harsh environmental conditions both Union and Confederate troops faced as they attempted to wage war. As soldiers built informal networks of healthcare rooted in their prewar experiences, they likewise had to adjust their ideas of race, class, and masculinity in order to survive amidst arduous conditions. Meier argues that soldiers often relied on self-care rather than the unreliable military medical infrastructure- a decision that challenged army discipline and changed definitions of health care. Dr. Meier received her doctorate from The University of Virginia in 2010 and is currently an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.  


2013 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Dr. Glenn David Brasher is the 2013 recipient of the Wiley-Silver Prize for his book The Peninsula Campaign & the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans & the Fight for Freedom. Brasher's research is a powerful reevaluation of the Peninsula Campaign and the push for emancipation. The campaign was General George B. McClellan's failed attempt to take Richmond, the Confederate capital. Brasher argues that the participation of enslaved African Americans in the campaign did more to enact emancipation than the Battle of Antietam, as previous historians have asserted. Northerners became increasingly sympathetic to emancipation as a necessity of the war effort after the Peninsula Campaign. The military action also spurred President Abraham Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Brasher successfully demonstrates the importance of the Peninsula Campaign and the participation of the enslaved in the war for their freedom.


2012 Wiley-Silver Prize Winner


Dr. Barbara Gannon recieved the Wiley-Silver Prize for her book, The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic. Her book explores the role of comradeship in fostering interracial cooperation in the GAR. Their sense of camaraderie, she says, was strong enough to overcome racism and even facilitated the creation of a new, interracial Civil War memory in opposition to the Lost Cause—the “Won Cause.”  Together, black and white veterans came to remember the Civil War as a war not only for the Union, but for emancipation as well. Gannon received her doctorate from Penn State in 2005 and is currently an assistant professor of history at the University of Central Florida.


About Bell Wiley and James Silver

Bell Irvin Wiley


Bell Irvin Wiley, born in 1906, joined the University of Mississippi's history department in 1938 and worked alongside Silver until departing for military service in 1943. Wiley served as a First Lieutenant and historical office in the Army Ground Forces Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Wiley is renowned for his The Life of Johnny Reb (1943) and The Life of Billy Yank (1952), as well as a number of other influential works in Civil War and southern history. By the time of his death in 1980, Wiley had accumulated more than 50 years of classroom experience and had authored, co-authored, and edited 24 books while serving at universities such as the University of Southern Miss, Louisiana State University, and Emory University.


James W. Silver


Serving as a history professor at the University of Mississippi from 1936 to 1964, James W. Silver was an established and respected figure on campus. Silver, born in 1907, served as chair of the department from 1946 to 1957. Although Silver is best known for his influential Mississippi: The Closed Society (1964), Silver was also a historian of the Civil War. He is the author of Confederate Morale and Church Propaganda (1957) and A Life for the Confederacy (1959). Silver would end his teaching career at Notre Dame.


















Bonds of War Cover














West of Slavery Cover