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DRAWN WITH THE SWORD by James M. McPherson


Reflections on the American Civil War

by James M. McPherson

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-19-509679-7
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Thoughtful essays on the Civil War by one of its foremost contemporary students. Princeton historian McPherson (Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, 1990, etc.) takes a synoptic view of the Civil War and its lessons. He traces, for instance, the growth of the concept of "total war," involving civilians and combatants alike, in the border-state guerrilla operations that preceded the main war, when abolitionist and slaveholder bands seemingly vied with each other to inflict the greatest number of atrocities on innocents. He also charts the evolution of the war from a conflict meant, on the federal side, to restore the old Union into a war of republican virtues meant to impress the cause of industrial democracy upon an agrarian civilization. In discussing this change of purpose, he examines the notion of "Southern exceptionalism" advanced by many other students of the war, arguing that in many cases the commonalities between South and North outweighed their regional differences, save that "the North--along with a few countries in northwestern Europe--hurtled forward eagerly toward a future of industrial capitalism that many Southerners found distasteful if not frightening." Occasionally, in an effort to make the Civil War meaningful to modern readers, the historian makes anachronistic stretches: "George Orwell need not have created the fictional world of 1984 to describe Newspeak. He could have found it in the South Carolina of 1861." Still, McPherson is successful in explaining why popular interest in the Civil War endures, and indeed why it should endure. Fine historical writing, and required reading for both Civil War buffs and scholars--divided audiences, as McPherson notes.