Book Review: “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James McPherson

I finished reading this thick, historical tome last week, and it immediately became one of my favorite books about the American Civil War. James McPherson has long been considered a leading authority on this time and place in history, and he casts an all-encompassing light on a lot dark history.

The first one hundred pages doesn’t even get to the Civil War itself. This first section is all about the state of affairs in the United States in the twenty years leading up to the war. Everyone knows that the Northern states were economic and industrial powerhouses while the South remained agrarian, but McPherson actually shows you why that was.

McPherson also relentlessly attacks the ‘Lost Cause’ narrative that the Southern states seceded merely because they wanted to be left alone. Instead, he shows how the future Confederate states went to great, expensive, often bloody lengths to expand the reach of slavery into the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Then there was the Fugitive Slave Act, which forced every state to partake in their ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery.

Finally, it is refreshing that there appears to be no agenda behind McPherson’s work except for the telling of the truth. No one is placed on a pedestal, not even the Union heroes Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses Grant, as they receive their share of criticism within these pages.

As aforementioned, this is my new favorite book on the American Civil War. I personally give it a 10/10, but the casual reader of history may not enjoy it. It’s nearly 900 pages and can make for pretty dry reading at times.


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