For some of us with the Civil War addiction, one event years ago was at least as important as the Ken Burns series on PBS, great as that was (and is). This was the publication of James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. The book, one in the Oxford U.S. history series, recounted the run-up to the war and the war itself. It is hard to believe a quarter century has passed since its publication.
I grew up on Bruce Catton and later devoured the Stephen W. Sears books on McClellan and the war in the east, but Battle Cry was also a milestone on the journey.
|James M. McPherson|
For The Daily Beast website, Marc Wortman interviewed McPherson on the silver anniversary of his book. Among other questions, Wortman asked what McPherson would do differently if he were writing the book today. Here are samples of McPherson's views, but you can read the whole interview here.
On how he responds to criticism that Battle Cry is anti-Confederacy and overstates slavery as a cause for the war:
I try to respond to that criticism by pointing to the unfolding of events that caused increasing polarization between North and South in the 1850s, all of which centered on slavery and the issue of its expansion, and to the contemporary statements by Southerners themselves about the salience of slavery in the coming of the war and in their statements about why their states were seceding.
On what he thinks Americans outside academia should know about the war and why they should care:
The outcome of the Civil War assured that the United States would remain one nation, indivisible, and that the issue of slavery, which had plagued the republic since its founding, would plague it no more. The war shaped modern America by assuring the survival and preeminence of a dynamic and democratic capitalist society rather than a plantation slave society. . . . To understand the society in which they live, Americans need to understand how it got that way, and the Civil War determined a large part of how it got that way.
On what the Civil War accomplished:
We are one country rather than two or more countries. Civil rights took a century or more to accomplish, but freedom came immediately and from 1865 onward black children could no longer be sold apart from their parents or husbands and wives from each other. Civil rights based on the constitutional amendments and legislation that grew out of the war were finally achieved.