Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam


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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Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam

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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 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

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.
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

  • ISBN-13: 9780195173307
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/29/2004
  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 252,988
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History at Princeton University. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, which was a New York Times bestseller, and the Lincoln Prize for For Cause and Comrades. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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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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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 19, 2010

    Look elsewhere

    I found Mr. McPherson's book of no value in learning about what I believe to be the pivotal battle of the Civil War. His narrative provides no insight into the cause and affect of the conflict. I would recommend "Landscape Turned Red", or The Gleam of Bayonets" as prime sources for those new to the topic. McPherson's book is must NOT read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2006

    A solid effort

    Mr. Linder, in his review of 11/25/02, is rather unfair to McPherson. First of all, the book is not a novel. Secondly, it is entitled 'Crossroads of Freedom' with 'Antietam' as the subtitle. The book's aim is to place the battle in the larger context of events during 1861-62. Third, the maps are by no means confusing, assuming one knows how to read a map. One hopes that Mr. Linder moved on intellectually from the undergraduate wisdom displayed in his review. This book is a solid effort, perhaps overpraised but valuable for anyone interested in the period.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 4, 2008

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    Posted July 15, 2013

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