Customer Review

169 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellently written account with superb breadth of vision, January 13, 1999
This review is from: Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Paperback)
As a British reader, McPherson's book was an introduction to Civil War history for the purposes of coursework, and I found it superb.
The initial three hundred pages provide a sweeping overview of the social and political pressures that led to war. There is then a hundred or so pages that vividly paints the attitudes of a nation faced with war, and finally the military narrative kicks in.
McPherson writes with exceptional poise, balancing the chronological and thematic threads of his work to near perfection. Events in the west, east and political spheres of the war are detailed with the intricate interconnections intact due to excellent arrangement. This narrative is well scattered with analysis and presentation of different viewpoints, as well as sections of broad thematic interest eg. POW camps. There are more than enough quotations, both from primary and secondary sources.
As for bias, I happened to think the bravery of the Southern soldiers, and the pride of the Southern people, came across well. Some reviewer's comments lead me to believe they had read a different book to me!
"nothern soldiers...had no love for slavery. They fought for the Union and against treason...whilst some Yanks treated contrabrands with a degree of equity...the more typical response was indifference, contempt or cruelty."
The reader is constantly reminded of the vein of racism of Northern society, ranging from the poorest immigrant fearing for his job, to the Democrat politicians who persisted in playing the 'race' card until the very end. The leftward shift of Lincoln is also noted. As for Southern motives:
"slavery and independence were each a means as well as an end in symbiotic relationship with each other, each essential for the survival of both"
In no way does McPherson cite slavery as the lone cause, he (sensibly) notes that it was the clash (via all the issues eg. Kansas, California, Dred Scoott which he details in the early chapters) that was at the centre of the "perceived nothern threat" to "preserve (the South's) vision of the republic of the founding fathers - a government of limited powers that protected the rights of property."
The most I would concede that he could perhaps hammer home the state rights point a tiny bit more, but I cannot credit that he paints a polarised picture as suggested by some other reviews. In fact, some of the counter-arguments look to me as though they have been lifted straight from 'Battle-Cry of Freedom's text!
My only (minor) complaint was that the epilogue, an analytical overview, was so useful and interesting it should have been a lot longer!
This is one of the best historical works I have ever read and was supremely useful to me.
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