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James M. McPherson is acclaimed as one of the finest historians writing today and a preeminent commentator on the Civil War. Battle Cry of Freedom, his Pulitzer Prize-winning account of that conflict, was a national bestseller that Hugh Brogan, in The New York Times, called 'history writing of the highest order.' Now, McPherson has brilliantly recreated the war and battle experience of that war from the point of view of the soldiers themselves, drawing on at least 25,000 letters written by over 1000 soldiers, both Union and Confederate. He shows that, contrary to what many scholars believe, these men remained highly motivated and idealistic about the cause for which they fought, regardless of the obstacles and deprivation that they faced.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780195124996
ISBN-10: 0195124995
Format: Paperback
(204mm x 136mm x 13mm)
Pages: 256
Imprint: Oxford University Press Inc
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Publish Date: 1-Sep-1998
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » A grunt's-eye account of the Civil War. Drawing on some 25,000 letters and 250 diaries from 1,000 Yankee and Rebel soldiers, Pulitzer Prize - winning historian McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom, 1989; Drawn with the Sword, 1996; etc.) examines what it was that kept these men engaged in a horribly bloody, and often mismanaged, conflict. Pondering the suicidal assault at Gettysburg that history remembers as Pickett's Charge, McPherson asks at the outset: Why did these soldiers "go forward despite the high odds against coming out safely"? Why, despite frequent opportunities, did they not all cut and run for home, North and South alike? Comparing his findings to data from other wars, especially Vietnam and WW II, McPherson concludes that the seemingly quaint concepts of duty and personal honor motivated the fighters far more effectively than did ideas of patriotism, states' rights, or abolitionism, although those concepts were certainly powerful; and, he notes, "the motivating power of soldiers' ideals of manhood and honor seemed to increase rather than decrease during the last terrible year of the war." Brave though these men were, their letters and diaries, filled with expressions of the loneliness and terror of combat, make for sobering reading. Many of the young writers (the median age of the combatants was about 24) did not outlive the war, and it is touching to read their hopeful words, even at strange turns, as when a Confederate officer urges his wife to buy another slave, remarking that, if the South loses, the money spent would be worthless anyway, while if the South wins, the slave's value would certainly increase. McPherson's own narrative is somewhat flat, but he touches on many points of interest, not least of them a thoughtful exploration of combat stress and the madness wrought by unrelenting battle. McPherson's newest addition to a long roster of books is valuable not only for Civil War aficionados but for students of military history generally. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - James M. McPherson

James McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History at Princeton University where he has taught since 1962. The author of eleven books on the Civil War era of American History, he won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1989 for Battle Cry of Freedom.

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