Battle Cry of Freedom

by James McPherson (1988)


I can’t add much to the encomia already written about this book. It’s fascinating, impressive, logical and crucial. My only gripe is that McPherson spent more time on the periphery of the war — especially political and economical — than I would have preferred. (Of course others may value the book even more highly because of it.)

That said, one of the great values of the book is that it sheds light on how controversial all of the decisions were leading up to and including the war itself, and how fraught the Union effort was due to political upheaval. It’s not at all the simple story that most of us were taught in school. Most impressively, the man we now unanimously regard as the greatest of U.S. presidents was hated by a solid majority of his country while living. I believe there’s a lesson in there for us today: doing the right thing in the face of grave injustice is seldom popular, but that doesn’t make it less right. (Trust in history to judge you kindly.)

Ultimately, I believe it should be read by every U.S. resident, and it’s more timely now than at perhaps any point since the turn of the 20th century.

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