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Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam

Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam

2.7 7
by James M. McPherson

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Few Americans know what happened on September 17, 1862, but, as shown persuasively in Crossroads of Freedom, it was one of the most crucial days in American history. On that day, the Union Army halted General Robert E. Lee's first Northern invasion at Antietam in Maryland. In the bloody encounter (casualties were nine times higher than on D-Day), the Union troops not only repulsed the Confederate forces; they doomed British and Northern Democrat plans to force a peace on Abraham Lincoln. Emboldened by the changing tide, the president issued the preliminary form of the Emancipation Proclamation only five days later. No one could tell the story of this pivotal battle and its consequences better than Pulitzer Prize–winning Civil War historian James McPherson.
Forbes Magazine
Antietam was the pivotal battle of the Civil War. The losses there vastly exceeded those of Sept. 11 and U.S. forces on D-Day. But a victory by Robert E. Lee that day would probably have meant a Confederate victory in the war. Northern morale had been plunging following that summer's shattering losses, and Britain was on the verge of recognizing the Confederacy as an independent nation. Lee's defeat enabled President Abraham Lincoln to credibly issue the Emancipation Proclamation, giving the war a totally different moral dimension. Republicans retained control of Congress in the 1862 elections, which allowed Lincoln to continue vigorously prosecuting the war. (30 Sep 2002)
—Steve Forbes
Library Journal
An appropriate selection for the publisher's "Pivotal Moments in American History" series, this pithy monograph by McPherson (history, Princeton; Battle Cry of Freedom) argues that the bloody clash at Antietam on September 17, 1862, in which over 6000 Union and Rebel troops perished, would ultimately determine the outcome of the Civil War. Earlier in the year, Lincoln's armies appeared near victory with such successful western campaigns as Shiloh and Forts Henry and Donelson and the surrender of New Orleans and Memphis. However, during the summer months, the pendulum of battle swung toward the Confederacy, culminating in the Army of the Potomac's drubbing in the Seven Days Battles and the enemy's drive into Maryland. McPherson brings alive Gen. George McClellan's overtaking of "Bobby" Lee near the village of Sharpsburg, thereby checking his invasion of the North. The Federal victory at Antietam, limited as McPherson concedes it was, blunted Lee's momentum, eclipsed the likelihood that foreign countries would recognize the Confederacy, reversed a disastrous plunge in the morale of Northern troops and civilians, and afforded Lincoln the chance to issue his long-awaited proclamation of emancipation. A fine study; recommended for the classroom and all libraries. John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

"A graceful and engaging blend of McPherson's scholarship and stylish writing.... McPherson's admirers know he amply demonstrated his talent for this style of writing on an epic scale in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Battle Cry of Freedom,' which covered the entire war.... 'Crossroads of Freedom' is a small but valuable gem that similarly teaches and entertains."--Michael J. Larkin, Boston Globe

"Haunting.... In some of the letters of surviving soldiers, there is a sense that the horror would forever escape the capabilities of their language and remain lodged only in their nightmares."--David Remnick, The New Yorker

"In McPherson's hands, the Battle of Antietam gains an urgent immediacy...his brief narrative is driven by an awareness of the element of contingency, the 'what if' of history. By showing how Antietam changed the course of the Civil War, 'Crossroads of Freedom' suggests how the outcome may have shaped world history."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

"McPherson is the preeminent historian of the Civil War.... His mastery extends from military affairs to politics to diplomacy, and he never loses sight of the human beings, both great and small, caught up in the war's vortex.... McPherson is a master of the miniature as well as the panorama, as he made plain in his two previous books about the loyalties and issues that inspired men on both sides of the Civil War. Indeed, by contrast with the earnest, step-by-step and shot-by-shot accounts of Gettysburg now being inflicted upon those of us who simply cannot read enough about the Civil War, 'Crossroads of Freedom' is a model of economy."--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

"A wonderful new book.... In this slim volume, he skillfully weaves military, diplomatic, and political history into a seamless, highly readable narrative. This effort is intended for the general reader, not the academic expert, but the scholar's attention to precision and detail is evident on every page. Books that deal with seminal events in American history while remaining faithful to historical scholarship and readable by laymen do not come along very oftern. But when they do, they should be read. History doesn't get any better than this."--Terry W. Hartle, Christian Science Monitor

"Today, the Antietam battleground is a place of death, sadness and too many monuments. Unlike Gettysburg, there was no brilliant presidential address afterward to give Antietam a wider meaning. Fortunately, readers can turn to 'Crossroads of Freedom' to gain historical perspective about the larger aims of the war."--Herbert Mitgant, Chicago Tribune

"Crossroads of Freedom is what we have come to expect of James McPherson--a compelling account that displays his command of that Civil War era's military and political history. It vividly illuminates a critical turning point in the transformation of the war for the Union into a crusade for emancipation."--Eric Foner, author of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

"Historian James McPherson is a national treasure, and Crossroads of Freedom is his latest gem. Vivid, elegantly written, and superbly rendered, this slender volume brings the momentous events surrounding the fateful battle of Antietam to life as never before. I loved this splendid book!"--Jay Winik, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America

"The battle of Antietam wielded enormous influence over the course of the Civil War. Although not a decisive tactical victory, it boosted the Union cause in profoundly important ways. James M. McPherson's engaging and perceptive narrative places Antietam within the broader context of the war, assessing major commanders, evaluating strategic decisions and movements, and explaining the battle's background as well as its seismic political and diplomatic consequences. Anyone interested in learning about Antietam should begin by reading this book."--Gary W. Gallagher author of The Confederate War

Product Details

Oxford University Press
Publication date:
Pivotal Moments in American History
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Barnes & Noble
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File size:
5 MB

Meet the Author

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History at Princeton University. America's leading historian of the Civil War, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, which was a New York Times best seller, and he won the Lincoln Prize for For Cause and Comrades.

Brief Biography

Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
October 11, 1936
Place of Birth:
Valley City, North Dakota
B.A., Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) 1958; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1963

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Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.