Battle Cry of Freedom

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom. Read by Jonathan Davis. New York: Recorded Books, 2007.

Reason read: I am cheating a little with the reading of this book. It’s in two volumes and over 900 pages long. There is no way I can finish a 900 book in 30 days so I’m stretching it a little: in May I’m reading it in honor of May 26th, 1865 being the day conditions of surrender were offered to E. Kirby Smith. In June I am reading it in honor of June 2nd, 1865, the day Smith officially accepted those conditions. Another reason for May: the first officer was killed on May 24th 1861. Another reason for the May-June reading: the battle of the Pines took place from May 31 to June 1st, 1862.

Every single time I start to write a review for Battle Cry for Freedom I come up with the same damned word – “comprehensive”. It seems as if everyone and their brother uses this same word when writing a review. I guess it’s an appropriate word because it definitely fits. Said another way: if the era, the climate of the times before, during and after the Civil War was an inanimate object it’s as if McPherson studied it from every possible angle; getting on his knees, using a ladder to stand over it, circling around and around it to describe every little thing he sees, careful to leave not a single observation out. The end result is a comprehensive (there’s that word again) view of what our fledgling country looked like. You’ll meet Fire Eaters, Know Nothings, Butternuts, Copperheads, Knights of the Golden Circle, Whigs and the Free Soil Party in addition to the usual suspects like Robert E. Lee, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and John Brown, just to name a few. You’ll see the country from an early economic and sociological standpoint. Industry and religion find their way into patriotism and what it meant to be independent.

Best parts: learning that some military maneuvers were so successful they are still taught in military schools to this day. I also enjoyed reading about how women went from being wives who were just supposed to comfort their returned from battle husbands to respected nurses on the battlefield (thanks to Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, to name two).

Book trivia: Battle Cry won a Pulitzer.

Lines I liked, “The United States has usually prepared for its wars after getting into them” (p 312). Yup. This quote gave me a chuckle since I just finished walking 60 miles for Just ‘Cause, “Few of these southern soldiers had made a one-day march of twenty miles…(p 406).

Author fact: McPherson is an professor emeritus of U.S. History at Princeton. As an aside, my grandfather graduated from Princeton and gave me a stuffed leopard he insist I name after his alma mater. I wonder if I still have “Princeton” somewhere?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the super straightforward chapter called “Civil War Nonfiction” (p 58). Duh.

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