Drawn with the sword : reflections on the American Civil War

by James M. McPherson

Paper Book, 1996




New York : Oxford University Press, 1996.


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 writingof 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 whoreally 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 thebattlefield; 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 theCivil 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 theMatter 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 ofimpenetrable 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 againproven 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bezoar44
This book collects essays mostly published between 1990 and 1995, with a couple earlier outliers (1983, 1989). Fifteen years later, the essays remain timely and thoughtful, a reflection of McPherson's excellent style and good sense. Essays I found most compelling were "Antebellum Southern Exceptionalism" (arguing that the rapidly-developing North and West were exceptional and the South resembled much of the rest of the world), "From Limited to Total War" (tracing the growing harshness of both sides in the war), "Who Freed the Slaves" (arguing that Lincoln's role was vital); and "Grant's Final Victory" (a moving sketch of Ulysses S. Grant with special attention to his dogged effort to finish his memoirs, which he completed just before dying of throat cancer in 1885).… (more)
LibraryThing member franoscar
Read on Kindle. Interesting essays on civil war history.
LibraryThing member msaucier818
This book is a collection of essays written by the eminent Civil War historian James McPherson. I really enjoyed this book. Most of the essays deal with the historiography of the time period, or about specific books/topics of the Civil War. You cannot help but want to read more about the War as McPherson's love of the timer period is infectious. These essays also really make me want to continue my study of history and become more of an academic.… (more)


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