Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam: The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War


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 ...

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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 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 todeliver 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641790621
  • Publication date: 2/15/2007
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 0.64 (d)

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.

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

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Editor's Note
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
Notes 157
Bibliographical Essay 185
Acknowledgments 191
Index 193
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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
Confederate president Jefferson Davis felt "very low down" after the battle of Antietam, reported his secretary of war, because the South's "maximum strength has been mobilized, while the enemy is just beginning to put forth his might." Davis's pessimistic appraisal was correct. Although the Civil War would last two and one-half more years, never again did the Confederacy come so close to victory as it did on the eve of that bloody September day in 1862 near the previously sleepy village of Sharpsburg, Maryland.

More than 6,000 men were killed or mortally wounded at Antietam, making September 17, 1862, by far the bloodiest single day in American history. It was also the most important turning point in the Civil War. During the previous three months, Confederate arms had won victory after victory. Many in the North had become profoundly discouraged. Antiwar Democrats looked forward to capturing control of the House of Representatives in the fall elections of 1862 and to forcing the Lincoln administration to open peace negotiations with the Confederacy.

General Robert E. Lee decided to force the issue by invading Maryland. Another Confederate victory, this time on Union soil, would boost the prospects of the antiwar faction in the North. It might win Maryland for the Confederacy. It would also achieve foreign diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy as an independent nation. The British and French governments were awaiting the expected success of Lee's invasion to offer mediation to end the war between a defeated United States and a victorious Confederate States of America. Two months earlier, President Lincoln had shelved his proposed Emancipation Proclamation in expectation of a Northern military victory that now seemed like it would never come.

But Antietam turned out to be that victory. After the battle, Lee's crippled army was forced to retreat across the Potomac to Virginia without accomplishing his goals. Maryland remained in the Union. Northern morale shot upward. The Lincoln administration retained control of the House. Britain and France backed away from intervention and from recognition of the Confederacy. Five days after the battle, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, giving the United States a new birth of freedom. Looking back nearly three years later, when Union victory in the war was assured, Northern general Winfield Scott Hancock said that "the battle of Antietam was the heaviest disappointment the rebels had met with. They then felt certain of success and felt that they should carry the war so far into the Northern states that the recognition of the Confederacy would have been a necessity." And 20 years after the war, Confederate general James Longstreet wrote: "At Sharpsburg was sprung the keystone of the arch upon which the Confederate cause rested."

The Battle of Antietam has been the subject of many books. No single one of them, however, places it in the deep context of events in 1862 and weaves together the military, political, diplomatic, and emancipation stories as I have tried to do in Crossroads of Freedom, which also relates these developments to home-front morale in both the North and South in a way that no other study has done. I have thus tried to show how Antietam was truly one of the key pivotal moments in American history. (James McPherson)

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