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James McPherson's fast-paced narrative fully integrates the political, social, and military events that crowded the two decades from the outbreak of one war in Mexico to the ending of another at Appomattox. Packed with drama and analytical insight, the book vividly recounts the momentous episodes that preceded the Civil War--the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry--and then moves into a masterful chronicle of the war itself--the battles, the strategic maneuvering on both sides, the politics, and the personalities. Particularly notable are McPherson's new views on such matters as the slavery expansion issue in the 1850s, the origins of the Republican Party, the causes of secession, internal dissent and anti-war opposition in the North and the South, and the reasons for the Union's victory.
Review by Reynold Starnes
A reviewer for the New York Times called Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era the best one volume history of the era he had ever read. I have read many Civil War histories; Battle Cry of Freedom may be the best, single volume status notwithstanding.
James M. McPherson’s masterpiece justifiably won the Pulitzer in 1988. It is volume six in the Oxford History of the United States. McPherson is obviously a good scholar; he is also an excellent writer. His narrative style is serious, but clear. The book works in both conception and execution.
The book has several distinguishing characteristics. It is about the era, not just the war and its immediate run up. It is not only a military and social history, it is a political history throughout.
The polarization of the populace and the politicians in the pre-war era is described in detail. Some of the tidbits are fascinating, such as the effort of Southern hardliners to take Cuba forcefully so that it could be added as a slave state.
The observations McPherson brings to light on the effectiveness of different Presidents dealing with the divisions in the country were really interesting, especially given the atmosphere of ‘no compromise’ we are seeing out of Washington today. Andrew Jackson and Zachery Taylor were effective while Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were awful.
While some of the history may be well known to many readers, there is certainly something new here for most of those who have not read this book. Reading Battle Cry of Freedom was fun.