Have You Really Read Battle Cry of Freedom?

McPherson Battle Cry of FreedomThis past week The Daily Beast did an interview with James McPherson to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. As we all know it was a bestseller when it was first published in 1988 and remains the go to book for those looking for a reliable survey of the Civil War Era. That is quite an accomplishment.

While it is likely the single most popular Civil War book published in the past two decades I sometimes wonder how many people, who own it or who throw out the name in polite conversation, have actually read it in its entirety. At just under 900 pages it is quite demanding.

I first purchased the book in 1995. At the time I was just beginning to explore the period and everyone recommended that I start with McPherson.  I don’t mind admitting that I never really got around to reading it in its entirety until I took a graduate school class in historiography in 2004. On numerous occasions I committed myself to reading it only to be distracted by another book or even a shorter McPherson essay that summarized aspects of the larger study. Of course, that did not stop me from recommending the book to others.

Part of why I resisted had to do with the mistaken assumption that Battle Cry is no more than a survey, heavy on narrative and short on analytical rigor. That certainly is not the case.

So, who else is going to come clean?

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12 Years a Slave in Theatres Now

12 Years a SlaveLike many of you I am very much looking forward to seeing this movie. It looks like Hollywood’s sesquicentennial trifecta will go down with Lincoln, Django Unchained, and now 12 Years a Slave. These three movies collectively have both reflected and come to define current thinking about- and memory of the Civil War Era.

This image alone gives me hope that the movie will be both intellectually and emotionally stimulating. In doing so, let’s hope it challenge many of the public’s assumptions about the “peculiar institution.”

Anyone who has read Solomon Northrup’s narrative will agree that his story is worthy of Hollywood’s attention, but it is interesting that it beat Frederick Douglass’s much more popular account of slavery and freedom to the big screen.

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OK, Who Stole the Sherman’s March Marker?

Sherman's March MarkerApparently, somebody decided to have a little fun and steal the memorial marker to Sherman’s March located on North Clark Street in Milledgeville, Georgia. According to the story, it is not the first time the sign has gone missing. Perhaps the guilty party is attempting to revise the narrative. Actually, I suspect it’s a college prank.

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John Green’s Crash Course on the Civil War

A couple of colleagues in my history department utilize a few of John Green’s history video series. I never heard of him before this year, but apparently they are very popular with students. His most recent course is on the Civil War. It’s not a complete disaster. In fact, there are aspects of it that I really like. Green read a little David Goldfield and James McPherson and I really like the way he reinforces the causal importance of slavery.

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Jonathan Jarvis Goes To Washington

Jonathan JarvisI looked forward to sharing video of National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis’s testimony in front of a House committee that took place earlier today. Even though I found full coverage of the hearing I decided against linking to it in any way. As you might expect there was very little opportunity for Jarvis to share anything substantive concerning the implementation of park policies and I didn’t see any reason to give these people an additional platform. [click to continue…]

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