Battle Cry of Freedom (book)

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Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
Battle Cry of Freedom (book) cover.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorJames M. McPherson
SeriesOxford History of the United States
SubjectU.S. history
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date
February 25, 1988
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Preceded byWhat Hath God Wrought: the Transformation of America, 1815–1848 
Followed byThe Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865–1896 (2017) by Richard White 

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era is a Pulitzer Prize-winning work on the American Civil War, published in 1988, by James M. McPherson. It is the sixth volume of the Oxford History of the United States series. An abridged, illustrated version of the book was published in 2003.


Battle Cry of Freedom covers two decades, the period from the outbreak of the Mexican–American War to the Civil War's ending at Appomattox. Thus, it examined the Civil War era, not just the war, as it combined the social, military and political events of the period within a single narrative framework. Historian Hugh Brogan, reviewing the book, commends McPherson for initially describing "the republic at midcentury" as "a divided society, certainly, and a violent one, but not one in which so appalling a phenomenon as civil war is likely. So it must have seemed to most Americans at the time. Slowly, slowly the remote possibility became horrible actuality; and Mr. McPherson sees to it that it steals up on his readers in the same way."[1]

A central concern of this work is the multiple interpretations of freedom. In an interview, McPherson claimed: "Both sides in the Civil War professed to be fighting for the same 'freedoms' established by the American Revolution and the Constitution their forefathers fought for in the Revolution—individual freedom, democracy, a republican form of government, majority rule, free elections, etc. For Southerners, the Revolution was a war of secession from the tyranny of the British Empire, just as their war was a war of secession from Yankee tyranny. For Northerners, their fight was to sustain the government established by the Constitution with its guaranties of rights and liberties."[2]


The book was an immediate commercial and critical success, an unexpected achievement for a 900-page narrative. It spent 16 weeks on The New York Times hardcover bestseller list with an additional 12 weeks on the paperback list.[2] Writing for The New York Times, Brogan described it as "...the best one-volume treatment of its subject I have ever come across. It may actually be the best ever published."[1]


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Preceded by Pulitzer Prize for History
1989 (shared with Parting the Waters)
Succeeded by