Book Review: Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson is one of the volumes of the Oxford History of the United States series. I’m in the process of working my way through the series chronologically (not in the order in which they were published); this book covers the period from just before the Civil War to the end of the Civil War in 1865. Previous books in the series are The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood, and What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe. It’s a long book at 965 pages, but it is a thorough political and military history of the Civil War. It explores what caused the division of the United States of the American Civil War and caused the Civil War. It explores the politics of the Confederacy and the Union, what influenced the decision-makers in each, and the differences between the political parties and factions in both. It covers the major campaigns and theaters of the war and explains how military events and political events influenced each other. It also has an interesting afterword in which the author revisits the book 15 years after its original publication in light of more recent scholarship. Those of the Lost Cause School may not like it because slavery is the central point of the book, but McPherson does an excellent job of supporting it. He also does an excellent job of explaining that not all of the Union was pro-abolition and explains how that caused many problems in how the Union prosecuted the war. The book also shows how over the course of the War, the United States was transformed and how “Union victory in the war destroyed the southern vision of America and ensured that the northern vision would become the American vision.”

This is an excellent book on the Civil War and a great book to begin one’s reading about the Civil War. You can find books that may go deeper into the politics of the war and you may find books that good deeper into the military actions of the war, but I don’t know that you’ll find a book that weaves the two together quite like this one does. It’s very engaging, I frequently found that I had to force myself to put it down. It appears very well researched and has extensive endnotes and an extensive bibliography. It has well placed and easy to read maps in sections describing campaigns and battles. It’s quite possibly the best general history of the American Civil War that I’ve read and well worth the five stars I’ve given it. It really is a must-read book on the American Civil War.



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Categories: Books, Civil War, History

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