Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam / Edition 1by James M. McPherson
Pub. Date: 09/12/2002
Publisher: Oxford University Press
The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single day in American history, with more than 6,000 soldiers killed--four times the number lost on D-Day, and twice the number killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. In Crossroads of Freedom, America's most eminent Civil War historian, James M. McPherson, paints a masterful/em>… See more details below
The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single day in American history, with more than 6,000 soldiers killed--four times the number lost on D-Day, and twice the number killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. In Crossroads of Freedom, America's most eminent Civil War historian, James M. McPherson, paints a masterful account of this pivotal battle, the events that led up to it, and its aftermath.
As McPherson shows, by September 1862 the survival of the United States was in doubt. The Union had suffered a string of defeats, and Robert E. Lee's army was in Maryland, poised to threaten Washington. The British government was openly talking of recognizing the Confederacy and brokering a peace between North and South. Northern armies and voters were demoralized. And Lincoln had shelved his proposed edict of emancipation months before, waiting for a victory that had not come--that some thought would never come.
Both Confederate and Union troops knew the war was at a crossroads, that they were marching toward a decisive battle. It came along the ridges and in the woods and cornfields between Antietam Creek and the Potomac River. Valor, misjudgment, and astonishing coincidence all played a role in the outcome. McPherson vividly describes a day of savage fighting in locales that became forever famous--The Cornfield, the Dunkard Church, the West Woods, and Bloody Lane. Lee's battered army escaped to fight another day, but Antietam was a critical victory for the Union. It restored morale in the North and kept Lincoln's party in control of Congress. It crushed Confederate hopes of British intervention. And it freed Lincoln to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation, which instantly changed the character of the war.
McPherson brilliantly weaves these strands of diplomatic, political, and military history into a compact, swift-moving narrative that shows why America's bloodiest day is, indeed, a turning point in our history.
Table of Contents
|List of Maps|
|Introduction: Death in September||3|
|1||The Pendulum of War: 1861-1862||11|
|2||Taking Off the Kid Gloves: June-July 1862||41|
|3||"The Federals Got a Very Complete Smashing": August-September 1862||73|
|4||Showdown at Sharpsburg||97|
|5||The Beginning of the End||133|
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One would think a book entitled "Antietam" would be all about the famous battle of Antietam, but upon reading this well overpriced piece of literature I found its purpose was anything but what the title suggested. You have to piece through many chapters of the book -- which are nothing but hundreds of strung together quotes -- just to get to a point where the novel even remotely addresses the battle. When one finally reaches the battle, it is poorly explained, and McPherson offers no additional insight what-so-ever. Just a few basic facts, confusing maps, and unrelated explinations that almost leaves the reader knowing less about the battle then when s/he started reading it. I don't suggest the book for anyone, as there are much better stories of Antietam available.
This book is part of an excellent series called Pivotal Moments in American History, and it shows why the Battle of Antietam was one of those moments. Not just another book about military tactics, it tells a gripping story but puts the fighting in the overall context of the war. I couldn't put this down and I learned more from it than from many longer tomes.
As usual, McPherson turns in a very well written and impeccably researched piece of History. The problem is that this short snapshot of the battle of Antietam provides no new insights into the battle than is already widely known and well documented. In fact his description of the actual battle is short and almost besides the point. I would have loved to learn more about A.P. Hill's forced march from Harper's Ferry and his valiant assault on Burnside's left flank or more about what was going on at Lee's command position when his army was in danger of annihilation. Why didn't McClellan advance with his reserve forces, where was he during the battle and what was happening with the cavalry forces from both sides? That is not to say McPherson's descriptions of the political and sociological precursors and effects of the battle aren't of value. It is just that a history of the battle would have been better served by detailing more of the finer points of the tactics and strategies employed. All-in-all, a very good book for the novice reader of Civil War history, but not of great value to those of us who have been over this ground once or twice already.
Overall it was good. However, only a small portion (~15%) dealt with the actual battle/campaign, and that portion was the boring part. But the overview of the war up to Sept 1862 was pretty interesting.
I would like to echo Mike C's review. There is nothing new here, only a rehash of quotes from letters and newspaper accounts of the time. At only 156 pages of text total, a short and expensive rehash at that, the actual battle text consumes but 34 pages accompanied by confusing military maps. Too bad that there is nothing new to learn from this book.