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THIS MIGHTY SCOURGE by James M. McPherson Kirkus Star


Perspectives on the Civil War

by James M. McPherson

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-19-531366-6
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Essays and book reviews by a leading Civil War historian.

The topics that McPherson (History/Princeton; Hallowed Ground, 2003, etc.) covers range from the conflict’s roots in slavery to the postwar Southern campaign to control how history is represented in textbooks. A piece in Section I examines the careers of Harriet Tubman and John Brown, who went beyond mere words in their opposition to slavery. The author questions Tubman’s claim of personally having freed some 300 slaves, as well as other details of her story, but he does not deny her importance as a symbol. Section II, “The Lost Cause Revisited,” looks at Confederate hopes and myths: the European reaction to Antietam (which effectively killed the chance for foreign intervention), Lee’s intentions in the Gettysburg campaign and the true character of Jesse James, whose mythic status as a homegrown Robin Hood survives in spite of ample and irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Section III groups essays on the Union leaders, in particular Grant and Sherman, and the harsher style of warfare they brought to bear on the South. Two particularly illuminating pieces in Section IV concern the Boston Brahmins who led some of the most effective fighting units in the war and the impact of daily newspapers on the soldiers of both sides; some observers reported men on picket duty with a rifle in one hand and a paper in the other. The two final essays consider Lincoln: One reviews several recent biographies, the other examines his suspension of habeas corpus.

Brings a critical intelligence to central questions concerning the war.