This 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?
Nice to have the first full week of school behind me. I’ve got some wonderful students this year, who are respectful, funny, and incredibly curious. I am particularly enjoying my course on the Holocaust. This week we discussed whether the Nazis had achieved gleichschaltung by 1934. We also examined testimony from the Nuremberg Trials to help set the stage for our exploration of the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
It goes without saying that my personal reading time is at a minimum now, though I can always make room for a new book by Alan Taylor.
Ginette Aley and J.L. Anderson eds., Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front during the Civil War (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013).
Bradley S. Keefer, Conflicting Memories on the River of Death: The Chickamauga Battlefield and the Spanish-American War, 1863-1933 (Kent State University Press, 2013). Reviewing for The Journal of the Civil War Era.
Edward T. Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum (Columbia University Press, 1995).
Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (Norton, 2013).
Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (Harper, 2013).
Ted Savas is having a field day marketing his new book about John Bell Hood by author Stephen Hood. He has gone out of his way to emphasize how the book breaks new ground, specifically in reference to the popular claim that Hood was both an alcoholic and drug addict. In one of his latest posts he takes author Allen Guelzo to task for casually referencing this little piece of Hood lore in his new book about Gettysburg. I will let Savas take it from here.
General Hood did not sustain himself or even use alcohol or opiates as Sword and others continue to endlessly prevaricate about, and historians who should know better copy without curiosity or question. Stephen Hood’s John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (2013) unhorses these (and other) untruths and buries them under a flurry of stomping hooves. He does this in two ways: with newly found original firsthand sources, and a simple if time-consuming comparison of the “sources” originally used by Sword and others to characterize Hood as a drunk, crippled, drugged, hack of a leader.
This new book conclusively demonstrates that, even WITHOUT these newly discovered documents, the sources used by Sword and others were all hearsay or misread or intentionally misused (readers can decide, and the plentiful reviews on Amazon and elsewhere demonstrate that they are shocked by the mountain of evidence). The record is one secondary slander built upon another, piled upon a third, each with its own new purple adjectives thrown in for good measure. If Stephen Hood had left this subject alone, there is no doubt some author would have soon described an inebriated General Hood selling crack and meth in an Atlanta ghetto during leave.
The Civil War is filled with little stories that are told and re-told often with little attention to whether there is sufficient evidence. I’ve fallen into that trap on numerous occasions and I suspect that many of you have done so as well. Most historians welcome being corrected. Here’s the problem. Savas seems to be on some kind of crusade with this particular title as if it alone offers the necessary corrective regarding Hood’s drug and alcohol use. Not so fast; in fact, Stephen Hood is fairly late to the game. Continue reading
Most of these books were purchased during my Civil War road trip earlier this month. Some of you may have noticed that I set up an Amazon affiliate page that lists books in my library. As always, my small cut from your purchase comes in the form of a book credit.
Richard Blackett, Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery, (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).
Larry Daniel, Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland, (Louisiana State University Press, 2012).
David Gleeson, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).
Eric Jacobson (with Richard A. Rupp), For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair At Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin, (O’More Publishing, 2008).
John Lundstrom, One Drop in a Sea of Blue: The Liberators of the Ninth Minnesota, (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012).
Mark Schneider, Boston Confronts Jim Crow, 1890-1920, (Northeastern University Press, 1997).
Steven Woodworth, Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, (University of Nebraska Press, 1998).
Donald Yacovone and Charles Fuller eds., Freedom’s Journey: African American Voices of the Civil War, (Lawrence Hill Books, 2004).