Bless you, James McPherson… I LOVED this book! Though I don’t consider myself a Civil War enthusiast, I do enjoy learning about the battles and the individuals who lived through that turbulent times. When I say individuals, I don’t necessarily mean the Lincolns or the Lees, but the lay soldiers, and those ‘ordinary people’ who witnessed what was going on and felt direct effects. One of the things that makes this book so great is McPherson’s attention to these individuals. He doesn’t sacrifice the little man to focus on the big players. In every event, McPherson attempts to capture just what the experience meant for all walks of life.
Battle Cry of Freedom’s first chapter paints a picture of life in the US leading up to the war. In an effort to understand underlying factors for decisions made during the war, McPherson outlines significant cultural, economic, and political changes that took place in the US before the war. I really like McPherson’s approach because so many non fiction writers tend to look at the past through modern lenses. At one point McPherson reminds readers that when the people sang Battle Hymn of the Republic, the third verse, “as He died to make men holy, let us live to make them free” they were a people that believed what they were singing. I’d also like to address McPherson’s credentials. A HISTORIAN, hallelujah! Not a journalist, or a novelist trying his hand at non-fiction, but an actual historian who knows about original sources, the importance of research, and how to write an academically critical book.
One of the things I most enjoyed while reading this book was McPherson’s attempt to understand and explain actions of key players that in retrospect seem so silly. Why was McClellan so hesitant to attack? How did foreign involvement influence policy changes during the war? Did economy really make such a difference? The author put forth his own theories, and those of others thus giving the reader a chance to make up his own mind, with a decent amount of evidence. Those who enjoy well-written and well-researched academic papers will LOVE this book.