In this little series of books covering different aspects of the Civil War, it would have been possible to have chosen any number by James McPherson, arguably the premier writer of the American Civil war, including and especially Battle Cry of Freedom.
Of all the books I have reviewed with the heading ‘of books you should know about but may never read! this is the one book I would say that you must read if you are a genuine student of the American Civil War.
This book tries to find out ‘why they fought.’ James McPherson demonstrates to show that the soldiers of the Civil War remained powerfully convinced of the ideals for which they fought throughout the conflict. They were motivated by duty, honour and religious faith. They fought for the principles of liberty, freedom, justice and patriotism. On both sides they referred to the ideals of the American Revolution. They fought to defend their manhood and honour where death was better than disgrace. After three years of bloody battles, more than half Union soldiers re-enlisted voluntarily.
To do this McPherson draws on 250,000 letters and 250 private diaries. We are lucky that Civil War soldiers were so literate. The private letters were also uncensored. To write this book McPherson was careful to eliminate bias of any sort. Letters in which there might have had a motive other than honest comment were discarded. The letters remaining come from the soul and reach the soul of the Civil War soldier.
In many ways, of the seven books I have chosen to demonstrate the essence of the Civil War this one is the most moving.
All of us who study the American Civil War do so because deep down we are aware that it is different. If you want to know why - read this book!