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Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (Pivotal Moments in American History) 1st Edition

103 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195135213
ISBN-10: 0195135210
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Editorial Reviews Review

The bloodiest day in United States history was September 17, 1862, when, during the Civil War battle at Antietam, close to 6,500 soldiers were killed or mortally wounded and another 15,000 were seriously wounded. Moreover, James M. McPherson states in his concise chronicle of the event Crossroads of Freedom, it may well have been the pivotal moment of the war and possibly of the young republic itself. The South, after a series of setbacks in the spring of 1862, had reversed the war's momentum during the summer, and was on not only on the "brink of military victory" but about to achieve diplomatic recognition by European nations, most notably England and France. Though the bulk of his book concerns itself with the details--and incredible carnage--of the battle itself, McPherson raises it above typical military histories by placing it in its socio-political context: The victory prodded Abraham Lincoln to announce his "preliminary" Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves. England and France deferred their economic alliance with the battered secessionists. Most importantly, it kept Lincoln's party, the Republicans, in control of Congress. McPherson's account is accessible, elegant, and economical. --H. O'Billovich

From Publishers Weekly

Contributing significantly to Oxford's new academic series Pivotal Moments in American History and to the literature on the Civil War, McPherson convincingly establishes the Battle of Antietam as the conflict's pivotal moment militarily, politically and morally. His depiction of the spring 1862 Confederacy shows it reeling under blockade while the North was learning how to practice "hard war." Yet McPherson tracks Robert E. Lee in the Seven Days' Battles and the Second Manassas campaign, placing him, by September, in Maryland and threatening Washington. Foreign nations were poised to recognize the Confederacy, and Lincoln had postponed his plans to liberate its slaves. With an election coming in November, demoralized Northern voters were in position to give control of Congress to a Democratic party with a vocal peace wing. The Union general George B. McClellan never took a risk he could avoid; on September 17, at Antietam, he failed to commit his full force, yet managed to get a defeated, demoralized army to the field at the end of the single bloodiest day in American history: over 6,000 men from both sides dead. Before the battle, McPherson carefully demonstrates (with the aid of 30 duotones and seven maps), the Civil War's outcome had been disputable. In Antietam's aftermath, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. France and Britain discreetly backed away from recognition. The Republicans kept control of Congress and of most state governments. The war was now the Union's to lose.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195135210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195135213
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 0.9 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #769,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He has published numerous volumes on the Civil War, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom, Crossroads of Freedom (which was a New York Times bestseller), Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, and For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, which won the Lincoln Prize.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on September 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Don't buy James McPherson's "Antietam" expecting a detailed blow-by-blow account of the battle itself. As he showed in his classic account of the entire Civil War, "Battle Cry of Freedom," McPherson is more interested in the political, social and even diplomatic aspects of America's deadliest conflict. The point of the book is to argue that Antietam, not Gettysburg, was the pivital battle of the war. McPhereson makes his argument by describing the events that led up to the battle and demonstrating how it affected what came after.
Antietam, McPherson argues was the moment when the South came the closest to winning diplomatic recognition from the European powers and a resulting negotiated settlement that would have secured its independence. The aftermath of the Union "victory" at Antitam also persuaded Abraham Lincoln to finally issue the Emancipation Proclamation, turning the war once and for all into a battle against slavery.
McPherson is a first rate writer and historian, and his book is well reasearched and highly readable. What it is short on, however, is accounts of the actual fighting, which resulted in the single bloodiest day in American history (far worse than even Pearl Harbor or September 11th). The narrative clocks in at a brief 155 pages, only about a third of which are devoted to the battle. Yet the book is well worth reading despite this flaw.

Overall, a brief historical overview of an epic moment in American history by one of our most distinguished historians.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
On September 17, 1862, the Army of the Potomac commanded by General George B. McClellan met the Army of Northern Virgina commanded by Robert E. Lee in the fields near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The result was the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American History and a pivotal moment of the Civil War. The battle ended the Confederacy's first invasion of the North and gave President Lincoln the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
In his short study, "Crossroads of Freedom" Professor McPherson weaves together many strands in discussing the significance of the battle. First, he places the battle against the backdrop of the prior military course of the war, both in the Eastern and the Western Theatres. He points out how Union successes in the early part of 1862 were followed by serious defeats in the Seven Days Battle and Second Manassas with the tide of the war turning to the Confederacy. Although the South would again invade the North culminating in the Battle of Gettysberg, Antietam was a clear check to Southern momentum. It gave the Union the courage, will and political force to fight on.
Second, Professor McPherson emphasizes the role of the European powers -- England and France -- in the Civil War. These nations followed events in America closely and were economically at risk from the loss of Southern cotton for their textile mills. They likely would have recognized the Confederacy if the results of the first invasion of the North had favored the Cofederacy.
Third, and probably most importantly to his theme, Professor McPherson discusses the role of Antietam in the changing character of the Civil War. President Lincoln was opposed to slavery, but his initial war aims did not include freeing the slaves. Rather he wished to hold the Union together.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Q. Publius VINE VOICE on November 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Dr. McPherson is unmatched in writing highly readable books which at the same time manifest an unparalleled academic knowledge of Civil War sources. This book reads as well as his Pulitzer prize-winning "Battle Cry of Freedom" (the best one volume history of the Civil War), and simultaneously reflects the highest level of expertise. While other books treat the battle of Antietam itself in far greater detail (e.g., "Landscape Turned Red," by Stephen Sears), no other work goes into such detail on the reaction in Northern, Southern, and European newspapers to the events before and after the battle. The author sets the context for Sharpsburg by reviewing battles leading up to Lee's invasion of the north and the resulting bloodiest day in American history. The politics of the Confederacy's seeking British recognition, the economics of King Cotton, the politics of slavery and auspicious timing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the mid-term election of 1862--this background and aftermath of the battle are analyzed comprehensively with a thoroughness not found elsewhere. I'm not a historian, but a serious buff who has read hundreds of Civil War books. There are only two authors on the recent unpleasantness whose books I haven't been able to put down once opening the cover. One is Bruce Catton, who captured the romanticism of the common soldier; the other is James McPherson, who writes clear, succint prose reflecting the deepest levels of scholarship. After Battle Cry of Freedom, this book is his best work, and is a must for readers who want to understand the social and political context of this most intensely violent of American battles.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By David K. Taggart on June 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
James McPherson is a great historian and writer. And that's what makes this book so disappointing -- the propect of what could have been...
Looking forward to the story of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history, as told by the premier Civil War historian of our time? I was, but what I got was warmer over chapters of his epic BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM, repackaged in a new wrapper.
Well over half of the book is a review of the first 15 months of the war. Interesting, well-written, but not really all that relevant -- why so much about Fort Donelson and New Orleans in a book about what is supposed to be a pivotal moment of American history?
The battle of Antietam itself barely makes a ripple in the book -- Septermber 17th dawns on page 117, and the sun sets on page 129. The pivotal moment of American history, done in 12 pages, with no feel for the action at all.
Totally disappointing -- a big name author recycling material, lending his name to a series of works he's promoting. Stick with LANDSCAPE TURNED RED.
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