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Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (Pivotal Moments in American History) [Hardcover]

by James M. McPherson
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 12, 2002 0195135210 978-0195135213 First Edition
The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single day in American history, with more than 6,000 soldiers killed--four times the number lost on D-Day, and twice the number killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. In Crossroads of Freedom, America's most eminent Civil War historian, James M. McPherson, paints a masterful account of this pivotal battle, the events that led up to it, and its aftermath.

As McPherson shows, by September 1862 the survival of the United States was in doubt. The Union had suffered a string of defeats, and Robert E. Lee's army was in Maryland, poised to threaten Washington. The British government was openly talking of recognizing the Confederacy and brokering a peace between North and South. Northern armies and voters were demoralized. And Lincoln had shelved his proposed edict of emancipation months before, waiting for a victory that had not come--that some thought would never come.

Both Confederate and Union troops knew the war was at a crossroads, that they were marching toward a decisive battle. It came along the ridges and in the woods and cornfields between Antietam Creek and the Potomac River. Valor, misjudgment, and astonishing coincidence all played a role in the outcome. McPherson vividly describes a day of savage fighting in locales that became forever famous--The Cornfield, the Dunkard Church, the West Woods, and Bloody Lane. Lee's battered army escaped to fight another day, but Antietam was a critical victory for the Union. It restored morale in the North and kept Lincoln's party in control of Congress. It crushed Confederate hopes of British intervention. And it freed Lincoln to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation, which instantly changed the character of the war.

McPherson brilliantly weaves these strands of diplomatic, political, and military history into a compact, swift-moving narrative that shows why America's bloodiest day is, indeed, a turning point in our history.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.

Product Details

  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; First Edition edition (September 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195135210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195135213
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #689,485 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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Overview of an Epic Battle 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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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Birth of Freedom and its Cost 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 26 people found the following review helpful
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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small masterpiece August 20, 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the best books I've ever read about the Civil War--it's amazing how much detail and drama McPherson fits into a small number of pages. He really shows why the battle of Antietam was a turning point of the war, not just in military terms but also because of its effect on politics and diplomacy. (Many people don't know it but before Antietam the South came close to being recognized by Britain, which probably would have forced the North to agree to a peace treaty.)
The story follows well-known figures like Lincoln, Lee, and
McClellan, but also shows us men in the ranks. And the chapters on the fighting itself are as gripping as you'd expect from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. This is a must-read for anyone interested in Civil War history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars CHARGE!
I needed this book for a school report. It arrived in plenty of time for me to read and reference in my report. I received an "A" on my paper. Thank you.
Published 2 months ago by Christopher Harward
5.0 out of 5 stars The book was a gift given to a person that likes books like this.
It was a gift and the recipient liked it that much. I don't have anymore words to contribute to this.
Published 5 months ago by Bainbridge Island Girl
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief, not detailed, but covers a lot of ground
To begin, there are 156 pages of actual text (excluding bibliography) in this work by one of the Civil War's most notable historians. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Codie E
4.0 out of 5 stars Quick and enjoyable read.
McPherson writes in a fashion that makes his books incredibly enjoyable and easy to read. This book served as a starting point for me in better understanding this critical battle... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Douglas Mader
5.0 out of 5 stars An indecisive but pivotal event
James McPherson. Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (Pivotal Moments in American History). New York. Oxford University Press, Inc. 2002. Read more
Published 11 months ago by arthur banner
3.0 out of 5 stars Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam
I read this book for a history class and it was so dry. However, it did make me understand the battle of Antietam.
Published 12 months ago by Amber
5.0 out of 5 stars Accurate Review
Quality exceeded expectations. Much cheaper than buying at Barnes and Noble! I'm reading this in preparation for orders as the future Weapons Officer onboard USS ANTIETAM (CG-54)... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Shawn
3.0 out of 5 stars Accurate but lacks detail
I read this book after reading McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" expecting it to be on the same level. Read more
Published 16 months ago by MS HSKR
4.0 out of 5 stars Good of this type
Actually, I would give it a 4.5, but there is no mechanism for that.

This is excellent of this type, focusing on the event (Antietam) as a contingency point of history —... Read more
Published 16 months ago by William T. Buckley
3.0 out of 5 stars It was ok
I had a list of books to choose from for a class. I choose this one because the reviews made it sound very exciting. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Talysha09
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