Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War

Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War

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By (author) James M. McPherson

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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Paperback | 272 pages
  • Dimensions: 118mm x 202mm x 24mm | 322g
  • Publication date: 18 December 1997
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0195117964
  • ISBN 13: 9780195117967
  • Edition statement: Revised ed.
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations
  • Sales rank: 558,423

Product description

James M. McPherson is acclaimed as one of the finest historians writing today and a preeminent commentator on the Civil War. Battle Cry of Freedom, his Pulitzer Prize-winning account of that conflict, was a national bestseller that Hugh Brogan, in The New York Times, called "history writing of the highest order." Now, in Drawn With the Sword, McPherson offers a series of thoughtful and engaging essays on some of the most enduring questions of the Civil War, written in the masterful prose that has become his trademark. Filled with fresh interpretations, puncturing old myths and challenging new ones, Drawn With the Sword explores such questions as why the North won and why the South lost (emphasizing the role of contingency in the Northern victory), whether Southern or Northern aggression began the war, and who really freed the slaves, Abraham Lincoln or the slaves themselves. McPherson offers memorable portraits of the great leaders who people the landscape of the Civil War: Ulysses S. Grant, struggling to write his memoirs with the same courage and determination that marked his successes on the battlefield; Robert E. Lee, a brilliant general and a true gentleman, yet still a product of his time and place; and Abraham Lincoln, the leader and orator whose mythical figure still looms large over our cultural landscape. And McPherson discusses often-ignored issues such as the development of the Civil War into a modern "total war" against both soldiers and civilians, and the international impact of the American Civil War in advancing the cause of republicanism and democracy in countries from Brazil and Cuba to France and England. Of special interest is the final essay, entitled "What's the Matter With History?," a trenchant critique of the field of history today, which McPherson describes here as "more and more about less and less." He writes that professional historians have abandoned narrative history written for the greater audience of educated general readers in favor of impenetrable tomes on minor historical details which serve only to edify other academics, thus leaving the historical education of the general public to films and television programs such as Glory and Ken Burns's PBS documentary The Civil War. Each essay in Drawn With the Sword reveals McPherson's own profound knowledge of the Civil War and of the controversies among historians, presenting all sides in clear and lucid prose and concluding with his own measured and eloquent opinions. Readers will rejoice that McPherson has once again proven by example that history can be both accurate and interesting, informative and well-written. Mark Twain wrote that the Civil War "wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations." In Drawn With the Sword, McPherson gracefully and brilliantly illuminates this momentous conflict.

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Author information

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History at Princeton University where he has taught since 1962. The author of ten books on the Civil War era of American History, he won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1989 for Battle Cry of Freedom.

Review quote

"McPherson takes the latest professional thinking on the war and gives it clear and popular shape."--American Heritage"Not merely is McPherson the leading living historian of the Civil War, but he is a scholar whose knowledge and authority are unsurpassed; when McPherson speaks, even in a minor key, people listen.... McPherson is uniformly interesting and, to the general reader's eternal relief, both lucid and uncondescending."--Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post"These essays present some very complex ideas in vigorous, succinct prose. Whether he is discussing the persistent appeal of the Civil War, tracing the manner in which a war of limited goals evolved into the first total war, evaluating competing theories on the causes of the Confederate defeat, or explaining the genesis of Ulysses S. Grant's military strategy, Mr. McPherson is exact, convincing, and judicious.... These pieces provide a lively reminder that the best scholarship is also often a pleasure to read."--The New York Times Book Review"McPherson has compiled a series of thoughtful essays on some of the most thought-provoking questions of the Civil War.... In these essays the author has proven that history can be accurate, informative, and interesting."--Library Journal

Editorial reviews

Thoughtful essays on the Civil War by one of its foremost contemporary students. Princeton historian McPherson (Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, 1990, etc.) takes a synoptic view of the Civil War and its lessons. He traces, for instance, the growth of the concept of "total war," involving civilians and combatants alike, in the border-state guerrilla operations that preceded the main war, when abolitionist and slaveholder bands seemingly vied with each other to inflict the greatest number of atrocities on innocents. He also charts the evolution of the war from a conflict meant, on the federal side, to restore the old Union into a war of republican virtues meant to impress the cause of industrial democracy upon an agrarian civilization. In discussing this change of purpose, he examines the notion of "Southern exceptionalism" advanced by many other students of the war, arguing that in many cases the commonalities between South and North outweighed their regional differences, save that "the North - along with a few countries in northwestern Europe - hurtled forward eagerly toward a future of industrial capitalism that many Southerners found distasteful if not frightening." Occasionally, in an effort to make the Civil War meaningful to modern readers, the historian makes anachronistic stretches: "George Orwell need not have created the fictional world of 1984 to describe Newspeak. He could have found it in the South Carolina of 1861." Still, McPherson is successful in explaining why popular interest in the Civil War endures, and indeed why it should endure. Fine historical writing, and required reading for both Civil War buffs and scholars - divided audiences, as McPherson notes. (Kirkus Reviews)