Literature and war are intimately connected. As Ian Frederick Finseth has observed, “the violence of war is one of the most powerful of stimuli to the creative imagination,” Not surprisingly, then, much has been written about the literary cultures of the American Civil War era. But if the writers’ war has captured the imagination of scholars, the readers’ war has been understudied. In this talk, I’ll focus on two distinct reading communities to illustrate how a number of factors, including markets and distribution networks; content and genre; personal experiences and past readings; and, the physical and cultural spaces in which reading occurred influenced reception. I’ll conclude by suggesting that readers created an alternative canon of Civil War literature, one that does not include any of the likely suspects.