Pub. Date:
Oxford University Press
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era / Edition 1

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era / Edition 1

by James M. McPherson
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Filled with fresh interpretations and information, puncturing old myths and challenging new ones, Battle Cry of Freedom will unquestionably become the standard one-volume history of the Civil War.

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.

The book's title refers to the sentiments that informed both the Northern and Southern views of the conflict: the South seceded in the name of that freedom of self-determination and self-government for which their fathers had fought in 1776, while the North stood fast in defense of the Union founded by those fathers as the bulwark of American liberty. Eventually, the North had to grapple with the underlying cause of the war—slavery—and adopt a policy of emancipation as a second war aim. This "new birth of freedom," as Lincoln called it, constitutes the proudest legacy of America's bloodiest conflict.

This authoritative volume makes sense of that vast and confusing "second American Revolution" we call the Civil War, a war that transformed a nation and expanded our heritage of liberty.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780195038637
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 02/28/1988
Series: Oxford History of the United States Series , #6
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 944
Sales rank: 468,115
Product dimensions: 9.50(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.95(d)
Lexile: 1320L (what's this?)

About the Author

James M. McPherson is Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University. His books include The Struggle for Equality, Marching Toward Freedom, and Ordeal by Fire.


Princeton, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

October 11, 1936

Place of Birth:

Valley City, North Dakota


B.A., Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) 1958; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1963

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Battle Cry of Freedom 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 119 reviews.
Amela_Renee More than 1 year ago
James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom is an epic tome that provides an in-depth view of the Civil War. He gives a detailed analysis of the battles, along with the significant political and social activities that surrounded this conflict. Because McPherson's research is scholarly (not to mention a Pulitzer Prize winning book, with an author who is the Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton) this volume is invaluable to the student of American history as a reputable research tool. McPherson includes quotes, maps, tables and several pages of compelling Civil War photographs within the pages of his narrative. The structure McPherson uses is for the most part chronological, however, the scope of the conflict is such that chronology alone is not fully possible. There is significant overlap of time, especially as he gives full measure to the intricacies of the sectional conflict and the political scene for both sections of the country. McPherson is easy to read and entertaining, even when tackling this comprehensive exploration of the subject of the Civil War. Not for the faint-hearted though, or for someone wanting a casual weekend read; this volume is a whopping 867 pages not including the bibliography or notes. With an emphasis on Civil War battles, this book is an excellent resource for the student of American history, and an excellent companion to books that focus on the Social history of the same era.
MikeBeachBum More than 1 year ago
I am a history book fan in general but have just started reading about the Civil War. I picked up Shelby Foote's 3 volumn set, but got a little bogged down and decided I needed something a little more brief. I am so glad that I picked up "Battle Cry of Freedom". It does a great job of condensing a huge amount of material into a single book. It also tells a good deal about the elements that lead up to the war itself. It does not have a tremendous amount of detail about the individual battles (it couldn't and still be in one book) but I think gives a great overall view of the war. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about this conflict.
Father_of_5_Boys More than 1 year ago
This book was on my shelf for a while because I was a little intimidated by it's length, but it was well worth the time invested! This book would really be great for someone who didn't know much about the Civil War and wanted a comprehensive overview or for someone like me who has read a bunch of different stuff on the Civil War and can always use something like this to pull it all back together and put the pieces in context again. What always amazes me when reading things like this is, given the almost mythological status that Lincoln has achieved in U.S. history, how unpopular he was with so many people at the time and how close he came to almost losing the election against McClellan in 1864. The other thing that always amazes me is how the Confederate leaders like Joe Johnston and Jefferson Davis refused to acknowledge that they were going to lose the war, even as late as December 1864-January 1865.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This outstanding book starts at the beginning, and I don't mean secession or Fort Sumter' but the REAL beginning ... and covers all of the multitude of socio-economic and political reasons for the Civil War before ever getting into what happened between 1861-1865. If you want a have a stronger understanding of how it came to pass that we slaightered each other by the many thousands for all of those four years, and you read nothing else on the subject, you should read 'Battle Cry of Freedom'! You still probably won't completely accept that it actually had to happen, but you will have a much better handle on how and why it did take place ...
Danmark More than 1 year ago
This the first-ever book I read about the Civil War, many years ago. McPherson captures the build-up to the conflict, the fascinating events leading to secession, and then describes each battle and the progression towards the inevitable victory of Union forces - as if McPherson actually was there, himself, and the reader feels the same. The rare gift of making historic event alive is a skill, McPherson masters. If you're a new student of the Civil War, or want to understand, what USA is made of, this is - hands down - the best single volume, you can get your hands on. Once you've read and want to 'trade up', I recommend Shelby Foote's trilogy above all, before you launch yourself into the ever-expanding sea of stunningly well-written books about each battle, or even very detailed accounts of parts of a battle, etc.
RobertP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It would not do to argue with the Pulitzer Prize committee. This is a superb work. I am a Canadian, and do not have an internalized sense of the Civil War. This book with remarkable brevity and clarity gave me a good sense of what the war was about, how it was waged, and why it went the way it did. McPherson can write, he seems pretty fair - not with too north or south a bias - and he left me with the best bibliography I'll ever get of the Civil War. A must read.
lateinnings on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An all-time classic.
workingwriter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is widely recognized as the best one-volume summary of the Civil War to date. More than just a recounting of battles and strategies, McPherson covers both the politics of the era (both Union and Confederate) and the impact of the war on folks not on the battlefield. I learned much, and though it's a hefty book (862 pages of narrative!), it is an excellent starting point for anyone's celebration of the 150th anniversary of the war.
billiecat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It takes almost 300 pages for McPhereson to get to Fort Sumter, but that long slow burn is needed to set the rest of the book into context. Not just the story of battles, this book is the story of why those battles were fought. As such, it does much to dispel the nostalgic mooning so many Civil War enthusiasts indulge in. McPhereson's work on the origins of the war should leave no serious person with any doubt what caused it and what the South was fighting for - slavery. Nor does he whitewash the Northern ambivalence toward race that resulted in such episodes as the New York draft riots. And as you read his accounts of the battles and strategic decisions of the war itself, a lot of the luster fades from the men of marble like Lee, while the weaknesses of the stream of Northern generals preceding Grant, and Grant himself, are not diminished. Everyone says this is the best single volume treatment of the Civil War, well, it appears for once everyone may be right.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was so comprehensive it's hard to know where to begin. This book covers quite comprehensively the American Civil War from the events of the ¿pending crisis¿ ¿especially during the presidency of James Buchanan¿through the war itself to the ending of the war and a discussion of how the war changed the way our government functioned, changed the economy of our country and the economic balance of the North and South. The ramifications of this conflict are still felt in our society today. I enjoyed the comprehensiveness of it, especially showing how the military aspects, including the battles, related to the political aspects of the war and how the "fortunes" of the war affected each side in turn. I think McPherson's narrative style made this book very accessible to those seriously interested in the Civil War without feeling like it was at all "dumbed down" to appeal to the casual reader. I read this book to get an overview of the Civil War to prepare me for my 999 category. I have a feeling as I read in depth about more limited aspects of the war I will be looking back to see what McPherson had to say about the event! This book will definitely help me in my further reading about the Civil War.Here¿s one of my favorite passages: At the end of the war General John B. Gordon, at this time commander of Stonewall Jackson's old corps, surrenders to General Joshua L. Chamberlain: "As Gordon approached ¿with 'his chin drooped to his breast, downhearted and dejected in appearance,' Chamberlain gave a brief order, and a bugle call rang out. Instantly the Union soldiers shifted from order arms to carry arms, the salute of honor. Hearing the sound General Gordon looked up in surprise, and with sudden realization turned smartly to Chamberlain, dipped his sword in salute, and ordered his own men to carry arms. These enemies in many a bloody battle ended the war not with shame on one side and exultation on the other but with a soldier's 'mutual salutation and farewell.'" After 800 pages of war, hatred, political shenanigans, inept commanders, bloodshed, and seeing often worse side of humanity with only a few redeeming episodes, what an inspiring and gracious way to handle victory and defeat when a "family" has been fighting.
wrmjr66 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very thorough, single-volume treatment of the American Civil war. It's still a hefty read (at over 850) pages, but it manages to cover not only the major battles but also the politics of the period and even some of the social history. I would give this book 5 stars but for two things: McPherson's coverage of the battles could have been better, and in particular the maps could have been easier to read; second, McPherson seems to have pulled every word from his vocabulary and every allusion to literary and cliched sayings, and too often the words clunk on the page. In a work as ambitious in scope as this, he would have been better off trying to keep to a more even style.
foof2you on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very comprehensive look at the causes, the battles and finish of the Civil War. This book is the ultimate place to start if you are interested in the Civil War and just don't know where to start.
koalamom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book - easy to read, but will take time. Good synopsis of the Civil War.
TadAD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are certainly more detailed histories of the Civil War out there¿looking at the 2946 pages of Shelby Foote's work I have sitting on my shelf makes that clear. However, it's hard to imagine something approximating this scope that does a better job of explaining the Civil War than McPherson's Pulitzer Prize-winning book.Starting in 1847 with the Mexican War, and ending with 1865, the book cycles between political, social, economic and military aspects of these years. Setting the war against the socio-economic backdrop explains not only the war, itself, but gives the reader insight into many of the aspects of what our country has become. This book allows the reader to see quite clearly the premise that the United States of today owes more to the Civil War than it does to the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. In fact, in his Epilogue, McPherson argues that the South (despite being a slave-owning society) was a better representation of the social order of our European roots, and that the Civil War changed America's future to the less mainstream, Northern vision of society.McPherson brings the major players of the time to life for the reader. Of course, the result of this was often a feeling of incredulity at how much insubordination, incompetence, timidity and plain old-fashioned back-biting went on in both armies and governments. There were many times in the book where the reader cannot help but wonder if a more decisive general couldn't have ended the war sooner. Though, this may or may not have been a positive thing: had the South not been so completely beaten, then the Northern determination to alter the Southern way of life, by force if necessary, may not have had time to become so fixed in the minds of Lincoln, Republicans and the population who gave them a mandate, and the conflict might have erupted anew later on.McPherson's easy writing style, seldom dry or pedantic, occasionally humorous, makes this book extremely readable. Though it is long and chock full of content, it never felt slow or dense.Highly recommended.
sergerca on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I never cease to be amazed by authors, such as James McPherson, who are able to synthesize an era of such magnitude and consequence into a single volume. And actually pull it off. The Battle Cry of Freedom has been on my shelf for a few years, but it took a backseat to Shelby Foote¿s The Civil War: A Narrative which I read two years ago. I had always heard that McPherson¿s work was the standard one volume treatment of the Civil War, and I now know why. Unlike Foote, McPherson covers much more than the battles. He ably tells the story of post-Mexican War America and all the political battles that were waged before the shooting battles began. Even after the shots on Fort Sumpter, he doesn¿t neglect that politics continued to affect the decisions made in Washing, Richmond, and the field.In 800+ pages, one cannot cover every event of a war that was fought in ¿ten thousand places¿, as Ken Burns¿ documentary begins. However, McPherson adeptly weaves in most of the major campaigns of the war, and most of the significant battles less famous than Gettysburg and Antietam. One glaring omission was the absence of any overage of the campaigns west of the Mississippi (Valverde, NM, for example).Due to the need to fit into one volume, much of the ¿character development¿ is missing. This didn¿t bother me too much because Shelby Foote does this masterfully. However, if you haven¿t read Foote, you miss much of the human element of the War.This book is worth reading by anyone with an interest in the Civil War, regardless of how much other reading one has done. Closing notes:The argument that the South was not fighting for slavery has always been ridiculous to me. Chapters 3-5 should put that argument to rest definitively, but I know that will never be the case. A great quote from Frederick Olmsted on Surgeon General Clement Finley: ¿He knows nothing, and does nothing, and is capable of knowing nothing and doing nothing but quibble about matters of form and precedent.¿ (482)And, from Lincoln, in response to being told that Charles I had entered into negotiations with English rebels during the English Civil War: ¿I do not profess to be posted in history. All I distinctly recollect about the case of Charles I, is, that he lost his head.¿ (823)
wildbill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is part of the Oxford History of the United States series. I have seen it called the best one volume history of the Civil War and it lives up to that reputation. James McPherson also lives up to his reputation as one of the finest contemporary authors on the Civil War. What makes this book exceptional is that it is about the Civil War era, not just about the Civil War. The author displays a comprehensive knowledge of the material in an excellent narration of the events of the era that is thorough and skillfully written. While the book is touted as a book about the Civil War the war starts on page 273 of 862 pages of text.The book begins with Winfield Scott's entry into Mexico City which marked the end of the fighting in the Mexican War in 1847. The results of the Mexican War accelerated the sectional conflict in America that culminated in the Civil War. The growth of the Southern economy that gave rise to slave power as a potent force in American politics was the prime factor in the growth of the sectional conflict. As much as the Southerners portrayed themselves as underdogs in the years of the 1850's they exercised political power in greater proportion than their numbers. It was the politicians from the South who consistently made the greatest demands during this period. Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, the presidents of the 1850's all favored the South.Popular sovereignty, the Dred Scott decision and Bleeding Kansas were all examples of slave power. The United States postmasters under the democratic presidents refused to deliver abolitionists tracts mailed into the South because of Southern protests of attacks on their peculiar institution. As the Whig party was driven apart by the issue of slavery the Republicans were formed as the party that opposed the slave power.Two events mobilized the popular feeling on each side. John Brown, who was first known as Osawatomie Brown for his cold blooded murder of Southern sympathizers in Kansas, led a raid that took over the armory at Harper's Ferry in 1859. His ill-conceived plan to start a slave rebellion backed by the conspiracy of rich northerners known as "The Secret Six" convinced Southerners that the North was bent on their destruction. In the North Brown was lionized as a hero. The book Uncle Tom's Cabin was a national bestseller that raised popular feeling in the North against slavery and struck a raw nerve in the South. It is said that when Lincoln was later introduced to Harriet Beecher Stowe he said "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war." The animosity between North and South became too great to be contained by the political institutions.In 1860 the Democratic party split at the Charleston convention and the Republicans nominated Lincoln in the Wigwam at Chicago.With the split of the democrats Lincoln was elected without carrying any Southern state and immediately South Carolina seceded from the Union. They had waited for cooperative action at the Nashville Convention in 1850 and would not wait this time. By February 1, 1861 six more states had seceded and Jefferson Davis was named Provisional President of the Confederacy in Mongomery, Alabama on February 16, 1861.The lame duck congress in Washington was still trying to reach a compromise but the politicians of the North would not accede to the Southern demands. Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861 and Fort Sumter fired upon April 12. The Civil War had begun. When Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers four more states seceded and the battle lines were drawn.McPherson covers the military action in the war but also covers many other aspects of the conflict. Examples of the topics discussed include Confederate diplomacy, the development of the minie ball and the beginning of modern nursing in the efforts of each side to care for vast numbers of casualties. The author provides interesting details of the methods each side used to finance the war.The military si
PaolaF on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book - very clear account of key events, causes and consequences. Also very 'human' in the telling. Only let down slightly by the poor quality of some of the maps.
BookMarkMe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best one volume edition on the American Civil War, a compelling read that has given me a thirst to read further on the subject that is little known to me
Ogmin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was my introduction to the Civil War. Twenty years ago, I was in the midst of moving to Tennessee from New England, when I noticed an unread copy which had arrived unbidden from a book club kicking around my parents house. I grabbed it and have not been the same since... Perhaps the best one-volume treatment of the Civil War to date.
varrus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very well written, even for non-history readers. It is not bias and makes logical deductions from the time period, as well as thourogh doctumentation from primary sources.
Schneider on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If I could only have one book on the Civil War this would be my choice. McPherson¿s work has been called the "best one-volume treatment of [the Civil War era]" and it lives up to all of its billing...and then some. This is 952 pages of wonderfully written prose that you¿ll finish far too quickly.
thequestingvole on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1988, the Battlecry of Freedom is a remarkable synthesis of diverse fields by a remarkable historian. The book itself covers two decades of American history, beginning in the 1840s where McPherson examines the tensions created by the Mexican War to the Reconstruction of the 1860s.This approach (the readers is two hundred pages into an eight hundred page book before Fort Sumter is shelled) is central to McPherson's thesis, that the Civil War was the result of the irreconcilabledifferences inherent in a political system that operated under two radically different economic systems. McPherson comes from a background with the civil rights movement and has been criticized for over emphasizing the role of race in the Civil War, which I would argue is missing his point.His point seems to me to be that the war began because of a perceived shift in the balance of power between the North and the South and itwas subsequently transformed by (and in turn transformed) the issue of race. McPherson's broad treatment of the subject is especially valuable for those who've done some reading on the war because it seats conventional battle books within a socio-political context.Another admirable characteristic of the Battle Cry of Freedom is the deftness and humour of the writing. McPherson's prose is clear andclean and he tells a story well, which made Battle Cry a very easy read despite having significantly fewer guns and trumpets than I'm used too.In short, the Battle Cry of Freedom is probably the best single volume history of the Civil War, so if you buy just one book on the subject, make it this one.
wenestvedt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Definitive and big.I read this book and then Moe's book on the 1st Minnesota in quick succession, and the macro-to-micro change was interesting and a little breath-taking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice compilation of many factors of the time period and war, and not one specific realm.
anonymous10TX More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book. It gives an overview of the civil war. It often reads like a school text book but it is easy to read. It discusses some of the social an economical issues associated with the civil war. For books about the military aspect of the war, I recommend Shelby Foote's Civil War Trilogies.