James McPherson’s award-winning book, Battle Cry of Freedom, is akin to a comprehensive, one-volume history of the American Civil War. The author recounts events preceding the War, from the Mexican-American War starting in 1846, then chronicles the war itself, explaining both sides, while analyzing topics such as politics and economics and the parts played by personalities, all in a general, broad-spectrum way.
The title for this Battle Cry of Freedom book refers to how both sides felt, as both sides felt they were crying out for freedom: the north feeling they were defending the union founded by their forefathers which for them was the root of American liberty. And the south cried for freedom in wanting self- government for which they claimed their fathers fought in 1776. Ultimately the Union wins, and with it the real freedom—which was the beginning of the end of slavery. We have no other option than to include that wonderful book in our selection of the best civil was books.
Battle Cry of Freedom book begins with the context into which the civil war took place, beginning with the Mexican War, slavery, the problems in Kansas, and the election in 1860. He summarizes both situations in north and south, detailing the respective economies, and issues regarding the social, cultural, and political. From this vast general context and backdrop, he begins the battles.
This focus on context and backdrop takes the reader into an understanding of how and why the war happened, rather than into details about what did happen. And this understanding, facilitated by McPherson, provides the key to understanding why the United States is as it is right now. We covered one of the books written by McPherson in our article about the best civil was books for kids. Check it out!
He writes with a fast pace and in the style of a novel, which helps propel the reader to marathon his way through all the hurdles of facts and battles and events. It is acclaimed for not being a detailed book on the civil war itself, but as a one-volume excellent overview, starting before its origins and all the way through to the end. It is a comprehensive volume, covering [but not in depth] battles, politics, personalities, the politics and culture of the time, economic issues, and the historical events in a general way.
In his own words, the author describes his intent:
‘I have tried to integrate the political and military events of this era with important social and economic developments to form a seamless web synthesizing up-to-date scholarship with my own research and interpretations.’
He uses quotes from historians and extracts from diaries and eye-witness accounts and, like Faust, he blends this well into his own narrative, piecing pieces together like a jigsaw, allowing the reader to see the whole picture once all the pieces are set. It is a bright and lively narrative, more of an interesting documentary than a historical work. If you want to learn more about his books, check out our Fields of Fury book review.
The award-winning McPherson is known as an outspoken activist, seeing his role as historian as a bringer of truth in many ways, rather than of an interpretation of stories, as he once said:
‘…one job of the historian is to try to cut through … myths and get closer to some kind of reality. So that people can face their current situation realistically, rather than mythically… that’s my sense of what a historian ought to do.’
The author attempts to explain comprehensively the American Civil War: the events preceding the battles, the battles, the reasons, and the consequences. By understanding the scenario he so beautifully depicts, the reader is then in a good position to do exactly as he as a historian wants: to understand why America is as it is now post-American Civil War. It is widely held, in this Battle Cry for Freedom book review, that the author does more than that.