William B. Hesseltine

William Best Hesseltine (February 21, 1902 in Brucetown, Virginia - 1963) was an American historian known for his work on the Civil War, the Reconstruction Era, the American South, and mid-19th century United States history. He was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


Originally from Virginia, Hesseltine studied at the Ohio State University.[1] He was for a time an active member of the Socialist Party of the United States, accepting its nomination for U.S. vice president in 1948. He opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt's foreign policy in the years before the United States entered World War II.[2]

Scholarly Impact

A number of his doctoral students at Madison went on to be influential historians in their own right, including Kenneth M. Stampp, Frank Freidel, Richard N. Current, Stephen E. Ambrose, and T. Harry Williams.[3] In addition, Hesseltine influenced the development of the field of rhetoric through his mentoring of Robert G. Gunderson.[4][5]

In 1945 Hesseltine wrote ""Writing intellectual history is like trying to nail jelly to the wall."[6]


Selected works

  • Civil War Prisons (1930) Read online.
  • Ulysses S. Grant: Politician (1935) Read online.
  • A History of the South : 1607-1936 (1936) Read online.
  • Lincoln and the War Governors (1948) Read online.
  • The Rise and Fall of Third Parties from Anti-Masonry to Wallace (1948) Read online.
  • Confederate Leaders in the New South (1950) Read online.
  • Pioneer's Mission: The Story of Lyman Copeland Draper (1954) Read online.
  • The South in American History (1960) Read online.
  • Lincoln's Plan of Reconstruction (1960) Read online.
  • The Blue and the Gray on the Nile (1961) with Hazel Catherine Wolf Read online.
  • Third-Party Movements in the United States (1962) Read online.
  • The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction (1962) Read online.


  1. Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge, 1988): 226
  2. Novick, p. 245, 247.
  3. Novick, p. 15
  4. Kurt Ritter, "Robert Gray Gunderson: The Historian as Civic Rhetorician" in Jim A. Kuypers and Andrew King, eds., Twentieth-Century Roots of Rhetorical Studies (Praeger, 2001): 178
  5. Robert G. Gunderson, "William Best Hesseltine and the Profession of History: A Retrospective--Dutch Uncle to a Profession". The Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 66, no. 2 (Winter 1982-1983): 106-110.
  6. www.barrypopik.com
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