- Hardcover: 232 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 12, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199375771
- ISBN-13: 978-0199375776
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 180 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters 1st Edition
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"McPherson's mastery of the Civil War literature and the field's historiographic debates allows him to present nuanced answers to those questions and many others, and his gift for narrative clarifies even the most obscure scholarly disputes." -Foreign Affairs
"Brisk and engrossing "The War That Forged a Nation" [McPherson] distills a lifetime of scrupulous scholarship into 12 essays--two new, the others extensively revised from previously published versions. Yet the book has none of the haphazard feel of an anthology, and readers will finish it with the sense that they have received a succinct history of the whole struggle, as well as numerous fresh and occasionally controversial observations." --Wall Street Journal
Previous praise for Battle Cry of Freedom:
"Deftly coordinated, gracefully composed, charitably argued and suspensefully paid out, McPherson's book is just the compass of the tumultuous middle years of the 19th century it was intended to be, and as narrative history it is surpassing. Bright with details and fresh quotations, solid with carefully-arrived-at conclusions, it must surely be, of the 50,000 books written on the Civil War, the finest compression of that national paroxysm ever fitted between two covers." --Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The best one-volume treatment of [the Civil War era] I have ever come across. It may actually be the best ever published.... I was swept away, feeling as if I had never heard the saga before.... Omitting nothing important, whether military, political, or economic, he yet manages to make everything he touches drive the narrative forward. This is historical writing of the highest order." --Hugh Brogan, The New York Times Book Review
"The finest single volume on the war and its background." --The Washington Post Book World
About the Author
James M. McPherson is an American Civil War historian, and is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University. He is the author of many works of history, including Battle Cry of Freedom, which won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize.
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There are some new offerings in this collection. The origins of the war are pushed back to 1846, the North-South divide on slavery in the lands gained from the Mexican War. Two essays are dashing stories about crucial Civil War naval battles. Subterfuge and exploits of Confederate agents in procuring warships from neutral shipyards. Highly exciting, dramatic reading, like 19th century novels of derring-do on the high seas, the coastal ports and rivers of the South. Also new, and a real eye-opener, is the story of what happened after the war. How the South won the Reconstruction. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in 1866, guerrilla militias composed of Confederate veterans, terrorism. The legal court system overwhelmed. Local, ineffectual counter-attacks from police and state militias, martial law declared in North Carolina. It was like a mini-Civil War fought in the South, finally put down by President Grant with federal troops. But it was a temporary peace, unable to be politically sustained and McPherson tells that part of the story well.
"Blacks voted in solid numbers in the 1872 election, which was the fairest and most democratic presidential election in the South until 1968" This last essay in the book on how the South lost the war but won the Reconstruction takes the reader right up to modern times. This story alone satisfies McPherson's subtitle, Why the Civil War Still Matters, but there is plenty more besides this. For anyone wishing to enter the modern-day debate on Lincoln's role (if any) in freeing the slaves, McPherson is obligatory reading. In this book he devotes much text to the crucial role played by recruited black soldiers. Blacks, mostly freed slaves, comprised fully 10% of the Union Army in 1864-65, and McPherson makes the case how that changed everything.
He also deplores the trend among modern academic Civil War historians, starting in the 1960's, to ignore the role of Lincoln as commander-in-chief of US forces, and to downplay the centrality of the military campaigns. Perhaps it is time, writes McPherson, to recognize the truth expressed by Lincoln himself in his second inaugural address when the Civil War had been raging for almost four years:
On the progress of our arms, said Lincoln, all else chiefly depends. "All else" included many of the questions and developments that social historians consider important today: the fate of slavery, the definition of freedom, the destruction of the Old South's socioeconomic system and the triumph of entrepreneurial free-labor capitalism, a new system of race relations, the very survival of the United States, laying the foundations for the nation's emergence as a world power, the first democracy to do so.
With the exception of two chapters, the essays have all been previously published and cover a multitude of aspects of the conflict. Each is well written and informative but as some others have noted don't really answer the central question posed by the subtitle.
McPherson fans will have likely already read most of the material here but for others, there is much to be learned in the vignettes. But I think the subtitle does the book a disservice since it is not an accurate representation of its contents and anyone looking for an answer to that question, particularly in light of the tension-filled race relations of today, will be left wondering why the Civil War still matters.
If you forget about the subtitle and read this as an introduction to McPherson's insightful essays on the Civil War, you will not be disappointed.
McPherson in some regards brushes over the issue of secession as though it were, in his words, a "settled matter," but as one who regularly visits Civil War web sites and blogs, I can tell you that for some the issue is still as alive today as it was in 1860. There are even people today who question that the U.S. Constitution is a binding document because the original intent of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was to amend the Articles of Confederation. They are sometimes the same people who denigrate Lincoln as a "dictator" and they are not confined to the southern states, but rather represent a political point of view that, in my opinion, is antithetical to the aims of the original Republican Party. This is an issue that could have been covered in real depth in this book, but was not. It, along with the 20th century near deification of Confederate General R. E. Lee and the denigration of Union General U. Grant, has been explored in greater depth in other works, but are glossed over in McPherson's latest book.
The chapter on the Mexican War and the conflict over the expansion of slavery into the territories was one of the best sections of the book, as the compromisers (Henry Clay being the most famous) began to fall away, either due to death or what some have said was just people getting tired of talking to each other and never getting a permanent fix. The fact that pro-slavery Southerners dominated in so many aspects of national government, coupled with weak presidents, is covered fairly extensively for such a slender book. The section on the concept of a just war is covered as well -- the justification for going to war and the conduct during the war. In the popular imagination, Union General Sherman generally gets the brunt of criticism for the famous march to the sea, while the average person probably knows little or nothing about the massacre of the United States Colored Troops by confederate troops at Ft Pillow and at Petersburg. McPherson points out that in the case of Ft Pillow confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was present and did not stop his troops, any more than did Lee in the aftermath of the Battle of the Crater. The issue of civilian casualties vs military casualties, one of the reasons why Sherman's march tends to linger in the popular imagination, is covered briefly.
McPherson explores the always controversial issue of Lincoln and his views on slavery, which is still today being debated in some quarters. Those who dislike Lincoln tend to endlessly comb his writings and what he said, or was supposed to have said, about "the Negro race" as it was called then. Was Lincoln a racist is discussed is discussed in this chapter, although not in depth because it is a short book, with what I see as McPherson coming down on the side of "no, he was not," but rather a political strategist .. a point of view that Frederick Douglass came to appreciate in his later years. There are other chapters on military aspects that those who are interested in the battles over the political and social aspects on the conflict will perhaps enjoy more and have your own set of opinions to debate.
While I give this book four stars, I think that I am somewhat disappointed that more links to the controversies of today were not explored by the author. The election of the first bi-racial president in 2008, while of great important, has not brought about the post-racial society that many though it would..and race has once again become a major political and social issue in the 21st century. I recommend this book as a jumping off place for more in depth discussions of the war and its continued resonance in our country.
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