Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam

Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam

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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 masterfulSee 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.

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Editorial Reviews

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

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Product Details

Oxford University Press
Publication date:
Pivotal Moments in American History Series
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Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 6.10(h) x 0.70(d)

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