Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
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Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States #6)

4.36 of 5 stars 4.36  ·  rating details  ·  12,022 ratings  ·  584 reviews
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 endi...more
Paperback, 928 pages
Published December 11th 2003 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1988)
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Community Reviews

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Mustafa
Being a 13-year old history buff, it took me 3 weeks and 3 days to read this. That is, 3 weeks of contemplating reading it and proceeding to finish it in 3 days. Damn! Was it good or was it GOOOOOOOOD?! This book is undoubtedly the best 1-volume book on the war that divided and reunited America but ended some of our back-then traditions such as slavery. In other words, the Civil War. It has a good balance of the battles such as Gettysburg and Antietam while it does discuss the social, political,...more
Bryan (Beej) Jones
It is reported that there are 15,000 books on the Civil War in the Library of Congress, so the natural question is where do you start? Furthermore, Most of the "seminal" Civil War works are volumes and thousands of pages. Well in 850 pages, McPherson provides succint, yet thorough historical writing of the highest caliber. It unmuddies the waters as to the reasons for the country's schism and the start of the war and provides the necessary level of detail as to the prosecution of the war without...more
Eric
The times, they change so fast, and the Young People Today know nothing of drive-ins… of paper routes…of bizarrely racist street parades:

Indiana Democrats organized a parade which included young girls in white dresses carrying banners inscribed “Fathers, save us from nigger husbands!”
(p. 159)

A Democratic float in a New York parade carried life-size effigies of Horace Greeley and a “good looking nigger wench, whom he caressed with all the affection of a true Republican.” A banner proclaimed tha
...more
Steven Peterson
If you want detailed discussion of battles, this is not the book for you. If you want detailed descriptions of key actors during the Civil War, this will not be the book for you. But if you want an all encompassing volume, linking the battles, economic issues, social life, culture, and politics, then this book will be a wonderful resource.

Where does the title of the book come from? A Civil War song, "The Battle Cry of Freedom," written in 1862. Illustrative lines:

"The Union forever, Hurrah boys...more
Aaron Arnold
Widely acclaimed as the best single-volume history of the Civil War around, this is another entry in the Oxford History of the United States, which I am enjoying immensely. The preface had an interesting observation: though this book covers the shortest span of all the books in the series (albeit with some significant overlap), it's one of the longest books in the series. The Civil War is the most-written about period in American history simply because there's so much history in it, as it did mo...more
Richard
James McPherson has created a monumental work on the Civil War and its origins. I read it several years ago and recently re-read the first half, which concerns the United States at mid-nineteenth century and the many political and social issues working toward a collision course between the northern and southern states over the cause of slavery. McPherson is very possibly America's highest regarded Civil War author. This book won him the Pulitzer Prize.

The first time I read this book, I was amaz...more
Esdaile
This work is certainly very extensively researched and annotated and abounds in comments from contemporaries-quotations, extracts from diaries etc. This is so much the case that it is arguable that McPherson did not so much write a historical account as piece together as produce a series of quotations from eye-witnesses and those who lived through events and has interspersed them with a linking narrative and his own biased comments. The book is rather like a printed version of popular tv histori...more
Michael Alexander
THE Civil War book. Many thanks to the blogging of Ta-Nehisi Coates to teach me this fact. Reads like Greek myth or Shakespearian tragedy, but with incredible footnotes. And with an unbelievably good first 300 pages about the politics that made war inevitable, and which includes evidence that demolishes the idea that some unsullied struggle for "states' rights" was what spawned the secession.

All I can think about now is who would play Grant in the movie, and how much of a dick McClellan was, and...more
Jeremy Perron
James McPherson's Pulitzer winning work Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era is often referred to as being the best single volume account of the American Civil War*. This book is all it was cracked up to be. It exams the major causes leading up to the conflict and the war itself by exploring them from multiple angles. The book shifts smoothly from the bottom Union ranks to the presidential chair, from radical abolitionists to powerful slave holders. One of the main themes of the book is 'lib...more
Jim
As other reviewers have noted, this magnificent book is almost certainly the best single-volume history of the American Civil War. It is hard to imagine that there will ever be another to match it.

Here is the way that I have heard the question: "I think I might be interested in learning something about the Civil War. If I wanted to read one book and find out for sure, what should I get?" The simple, unequivocal answer to that question is "Battle Cry of Freedom".

James McPherson is, for me, one of...more
Carol
This is a book I have long intended to read. The hard bound edition is 860 pages so it was a challenge. I have long had an affinity for books about the Civil War and biographies of Abraham Lincoln. This book starts at the Mexican War in 1847. The politics of this war shows clearly the persistent greed for more land and the lengths we would go to obtain it. More to the point, many of the best who fought in the Mexican War became the officers who would fight against each other in the Civil War. Th...more
Pete Sikora
Any review that starts with "this is the definitive X of Y" has to be suspect. But this really is the definitive history of the civil war.

The political pressure on Lincoln... the battles... the economic conditions... the battles... the run up to the war... the battles... the increasingly impossible slave/free state compromises... the battles... the generalship... and did I mention the battles? It's readable, exciting and insightful.

The most interesting segment of the book is the run up to the...more
Mary JL
Apr 29, 2009 Mary JL rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the Civil War
Recommended to Mary JL by: Read book review--don't recall whose
I have always been interested in the Civil War. So when this book was described as "one of the best one-volume histories of the Civil War", I set out at once to read it.

And I agree. It won the Pulitzer Prize for History and deservedly so. MCPherson's style is easy to follow. No words seem wasted. He takes a history we all know at least some details of and keeps you reading. It is long, but omits very little.

NOt only miltary details are given, but the political and social feelings of the era are...more
Mary
McPherson's book is a wonderful history of the Civil War. He begins by setting the scene describing what was happening politically, culturally, and socially in the United States before the war began. Using this same wide scope he takes readers through the war years, through the end of the war, and Lincoln's death.

I had not read anything about the Civil War since my college American History survey and so I learned a great deal. Although it took me a longtime to read this book, it wasn't because...more
Jerome
I was at Gettysburg yesterday and decided to purchase a copy since I have only a grade-school knowledge of the war.

In "Battle Cry of Freedom", the author does an excellent job portraying the views of all sides and tracing the American Civil War back to General Scott's victory over Mexico 25 years earlier. While slavery was always an issue in America, after the Revolution many felt it would eventually wither on the vine. The constitution prohibited the slave trade after a few years, many northern...more
Amy Kannel
Oct 01, 2012 Amy Kannel marked it as abandoned
Shelves: history, southern
I picked this one up after an awkward conversation with some Southern friends in which this Yankee girl stuck her foot in her mouth :) I wanted to better understand the South's perspective on the "War Between the States," and this is supposed to be the definitive, balanced book on the subject. I didn't realize it was going to be 800 pages. OY. I persevered through 557 of them before I stopped being able to renew it at the library and gave up. And to be honest I still didn't come away from the bo...more
Mark Mortensen
McPherson appears to have written the best single-volume history of the Civil War. The 860 plus pages flow smoothly and chronologically with an abundance of interesting information. Throughout the North / South conflict the author reveals both the political atmosphere as well as the character of generals in a very impartial manner. The often hyped battles are relegated to their proper level of significance, while many other engagements that I was not as familiar with were appropriately reference...more
John
I listened to this as an audiobook. Listening to part 1 of the book during a one-day 13-hour drive was a wrenching experience: 40 years of the Union being slowly pulled apart until Lincoln ordered Fort Sumter resupplied and the Confederates fired.

This book added great meaning to the common American phrase "the Civil War," presenting not just the causes of the war (very interesting), but numerous details about the war that public school never provided: the foreign policy difficulties for the Con...more
Mitchell Szczepanczyk
Mar 08, 2007 Mitchell Szczepanczyk rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Maybe the best history of the U.S. Civil War in print. The book is a joy to read, assumes nothing from no one, goes through a ton of intricate detail, and takes the reader on a great ride through a hugely influential episode in American history.
Stefanebaugh
I would highly recommend this book to anyone whose faith in the character or potential of America is in doubt. This excellent history gives a very compelling account of the events and political tensions that ignited America's bloodiest and deadliest war. After reading the details of a series of merciless battles pitting millions of unflinching Americans against each other, the awe-inspiring resolve of Lincoln's second inaugural address can be better appreciated:
"Fondly do we hope - fervently do...more
Mark
WOW - What a book on the US Civil War! A great single volume on the Civil War era. The author covers this conflict well. From the run up of the South and North competing to extend or deny slavery into western states, to the Lincoln election, secession, the ebb and flow of the war and ultimate Union victory - it’s all here. The author describes battles, emotions and people very well. We see the great battles come to life - Chancellorsville, Antietam, Gettysburg, the siege of Atlanta, Sherman's ma...more
Theo Logos
Widely praised as the best single volume history of the American Civil War, James McPherson's `Battle Cry of Freedom' comes close, but does not quite live up to that high praise. It has many virtues to recommend it, yet it contains flaws that are closely related to its virtues which, to my mind, make it fall short of the admittedly arbitrary "best" status.
The book's strength is in its inclusiveness. Sub titled `The Civil War Era'; it truly lives up to its billing. It begins not with the opening...more
Chris
When I was a child, I read as a child. The War, to my ten-year-old self, was a picture book of generals, ornamented by song. A neighborhood friend (now an Annapolis man and submariner) and I would pummel each other with sofa cushions in styles loosely based on Forrest and Sherman. His dad, a reenactor (Wisconsin), would growl at him for preferring the South. "There should be a Southern song saying 'Them Yankees, they taught us a lesson,'" he said once.

This is a grown-up's book, full of those les...more
Donna
If you only choose to read one (challenging and sizable) resource on the American Civil War, this is the one. It won the Pulitzer, and although it is a large piece of work, it is immensely readable. It begins with the Mexican-American War because that is where much of the Civil War's military leadership is forged. It also makes it much more interesting to see whose fortunes rise, and whose fall (although these are, naturally, secondary to the issue of the war itself).

This is unquestionably the m...more
Ryan
A great single-volume history of the Civil War. I hard a hard time putting it down. Even though it was 867 pages, and a little daunting to start, it turned out to be very easy to read.

The author begins by describing the state of America in the middle of the 19th century, then about the events leading up to the secession crisis (Mexican-American War, Wilmot Proviso, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, etc), before starting the Civil War itself. Then he recounts the strategy and tactics of the...more
Greg
This is the best overall book dealing with the Civil War that I am aware of. It wasn't just a bunch of facts and dates strung together, but a well told narration of this great struggle. McPherson outlined everything from the economy, politics, philosophies, manufacturing, home building, currency, and the ‘movers and shakers’ that leveraged and molded these into war strategies, tendencies, and actual battles from the start to the end of the war.
I came away surprised by some of the things that I...more
Gerald Sinstadt
This is no ordinary account of America;s civil war. Meticulously researched, scrupulously balanced, all the essentials are here, not just the ebb and flow of the battles but the context, political, economic,statistical, international, and personal.

The major personalities - politicians and generals - are here in all their strengths and weaknesses. The loss of life is horrific, though the emergence of women's role in tending casualties is powerfully drawn.

Of the principal figures, Lincoln can be s...more
Travis (Home of Reading)
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 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’...more
Dan
A delightfully well-paced and thoroughly interesting account of the Civil War era. I cannot say that it's the best Civil War book ever, because it's my first. But I doubt there are many Civil War books out there like this one. Although he may slog a bit in the battle details, McPherson always has interesting facts and quotes interspersed in these places to keep me going. And don't let the 800+ pages of text intimidate you: McPherson's careful pacing and excellent writing style prevents things fr...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
Comprehensive, entertaining, passionately pro-northern though not disrespectful nor detrimental to the South. I liked the fact of the author implicating himself with the North's cause, since a impartial attitude could only be expected by a non-American or a pedant. There's respect though, even sincere admiration for the capacity for fight and the stubbornness to never give up of the South. Plus the book is readable enough for the amount of pages it has, what else can one wish for?

The book covers...more
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  • The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861
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  • The Civil War, Vol. 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian
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  • Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam
  • A Stillness at Appomattox
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  • Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877
  • Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815
  • From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 (Oxford History of the United States)
  • Mary Chesnut's Civil War
  • April 1865: The Month That Saved America
  • Personal Memoirs
  • General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier
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James M. McPherson (born October 11, 1936) is an American Civil War historian, and is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, his most famous book. He was the president of the American Historical Association in 2003, and is a member of the editorial board of Encyclopædia Britannica.

Bor...more
More about James M. McPherson...
Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life

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“Lincoln said of the Know Nothings, "Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where depotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” 3 likes
“The casualties at Antietam numbered four times the total suffered by American soldiers at the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. More than twice as many Americans lost their lives in one day at Sharpsburg as fell in combat in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined.” 0 likes
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