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 1988 book on the American Civil War, written 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. It won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for History.[1]


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."[2]

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."[3]


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.[3] Dudley T. Cornish cited the lack of naval history as the book's "only discernable flaw" and further commented by saying "the book's strongest connecting themes are the comprehensive discussions of diplomatic, economic, industrial, political, and social aspects of the nation's travail."[4] Michael P. Johnson regarded the book as an overarching synthesis of works refuting Walt Whitman's claim that the real war was of the sufferers of battle and everything else flanges; he asserts it classifies the Civil War period revolved around the politics of slavery and its title "invites the conceptual miscalculation: Victory = Freedom", this characterization being Johnson's main contention. Though he praises it for being "as a narrative of wartime maneuvers-both political and military-[...] unsurpassed".[5] Robert Franklin Durden noted McPhearson as "in the nationalist tradition of Rhodes and Nevins" and his borrowed view of southerners as "preemptive counterrevolutionaries" from Arno Mayer.[6] Harold Hyman positively compared its compactness to Peter Parish's America's Civil War (1975), but criticized its misleading phraseology regarding geographic mobility of wage earners, his use of "women of questionable virtue", "troop train" when referring to events in 1861, the exclusive riding prowess of "the sons of Virginia gentry", and including the greying of Robert E. Lee's beard instead of expanding on important issues such as slave marriage. However, he concluded readers "will nevertheless reap large rewards from its pages."[7] 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."[2]

Steven Sund, the former US Capitol Police Chief, was asked during his January 2023 book tour what book he would recommend, he answered “James M. McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era"[8]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History". Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Hugh Brogan (December 6, 1998). "The Bloodiest of Wars: Review of Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson". New York Times.
  3. ^ a b "25 Years of Battle Cry of Freedom: An Interview with James M. McPherson". The Daily Beast.
  4. ^ Cornish, Dudley T. (1989). "Review of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era". The Journal of American History. 75 (4): 1334. doi:10.2307/1908702. ISSN 0021-8723. JSTOR 1908702.
  5. ^ Johnson, Michael P. (1989). "Battle Cry of Freedom?". Reviews in American History. 17 (2): 214–218. doi:10.2307/2702921. ISSN 0048-7511. JSTOR 2702921.
  6. ^ Durden, Robert F. (1989). "Review of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era". The Journal of Southern History. 55 (3): 460–461. doi:10.2307/2208406. ISSN 0022-4642. JSTOR 2208406.
  7. ^ Hyman, Harold M. (1990). "Review of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era". The American Historical Review. 95 (1): 261–262. doi:10.2307/2163143. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 2163143.
  8. ^ Breunig, John (January 14, 2023). "John Breunig (opinion): Ex-Capitol police chief's silent hero". CT Insider. Retrieved January 14, 2023.

External links[edit]

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