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In this collection of provocative and illuminating essays, McPherson offers fresh insight into many of the enduring questions about one of the defining moments in our nation's history. McPherson sheds light on topics large and small, from the average soldier's avid love of newspapers to the postwar creation of the mystique of a Lost Cause in the South. Readers will find in In this collection of provocative and illuminating essays, McPherson offers fresh insight into many of the enduring questions about one of the defining moments in our nation's history. McPherson sheds light on topics large and small, from the average soldier's avid love of newspapers to the postwar creation of the mystique of a Lost Cause in the South. Readers will find insightful pieces on such intriguing figures as Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Jesse James, and William Tecumseh Sherman, and on such vital issues as Confederate military strategy, the failure of peace negotiations to end the war, and the realities and myths of the Confederacy. This Mighty Scourge includes several never-before-published essays--pieces on General Robert E. Lee's goals in the Gettysburg campaign, on Lincoln and Grant in the Vicksburg campaign, and on Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief. All of the essays have been updated and revised to give the volume greater thematic coherence and continuity, so that it can be read in sequence as an interpretive history of the war and its meaning for America and the world. Combining the finest scholarship with luminous prose, and packed with new information and fresh ideas, this book brings together the most recent thinking by the nation's leading authority on the Civil War.


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In this collection of provocative and illuminating essays, McPherson offers fresh insight into many of the enduring questions about one of the defining moments in our nation's history. McPherson sheds light on topics large and small, from the average soldier's avid love of newspapers to the postwar creation of the mystique of a Lost Cause in the South. Readers will find in In this collection of provocative and illuminating essays, McPherson offers fresh insight into many of the enduring questions about one of the defining moments in our nation's history. McPherson sheds light on topics large and small, from the average soldier's avid love of newspapers to the postwar creation of the mystique of a Lost Cause in the South. Readers will find insightful pieces on such intriguing figures as Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Jesse James, and William Tecumseh Sherman, and on such vital issues as Confederate military strategy, the failure of peace negotiations to end the war, and the realities and myths of the Confederacy. This Mighty Scourge includes several never-before-published essays--pieces on General Robert E. Lee's goals in the Gettysburg campaign, on Lincoln and Grant in the Vicksburg campaign, and on Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief. All of the essays have been updated and revised to give the volume greater thematic coherence and continuity, so that it can be read in sequence as an interpretive history of the war and its meaning for America and the world. Combining the finest scholarship with luminous prose, and packed with new information and fresh ideas, this book brings together the most recent thinking by the nation's leading authority on the Civil War.

30 review for This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War

  1. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Why The Civil War Matters "This Mighty Scourge" (2007) is a short collection of sixteen essays by James McPherson that, as its subtitle indicates, offers a variety of perspectives on the American Civil War. The Civil War remains the seminal event in United States history, and McPherson is the leading historian of the War now writing. With his simple writing style, erudition, willingness to explore and consider a variety of positions, and ability to convey the continued importance and significance Why The Civil War Matters "This Mighty Scourge" (2007) is a short collection of sixteen essays by James McPherson that, as its subtitle indicates, offers a variety of perspectives on the American Civil War. The Civil War remains the seminal event in United States history, and McPherson is the leading historian of the War now writing. With his simple writing style, erudition, willingness to explore and consider a variety of positions, and ability to convey the continued importance and significance of his chosen subject, McPherson has taught me a great deal about the Civil War. Although this book of essays can be read with benefit by those new to the study of the Civil War, it is better suited to the reader with a background in the conflict, as might be acquired from McPherson's own magisterial "Battle Cry of Freedom." The essays are arranged in five sections which consider the causes of the Civil War, strategy, tactics, and politics, the commanders on both sides, the War as it lived on in memory in the United States, and, importantly, Lincoln. The first section of the book, "Slavery and the Coming of War", consists of two essays, the first of which emphasizes the underlying importance of slavery as the cause of the Civil War (and summarizes much recent research on the matter), and the second of which examines two famous slaves who escaped to freedom, Harriet Tubman and Harriet Jacobs (the author of a book called "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl") together with John Brown. McPherson offers a thoughtful treatment of the controversy which still surrounds Brown. The second section of the book, "The Lost Cause Revisited" includes six essays which examine a variety of Southern approaches to the Civil War, both during and after the conflict. I was most interested in the essay; "To Conquer a Peace" Lee's Goals in the Gettysburg Campaign" which assesses the various reasons which students of the Civil War have given for Lee's decision to invade the North, leading to the fateful battle of Gettysburg in early July, 1863. A broader essay, "Was the Best Defense a Good Offense" examines Southern strategy and tactics in prosecuting the Civil War and, as McPherson does when at his best, allows the reader to understand the complexity of the question. Other essays explore the impact of the battle of Antietam on the Confederacy's attempt to secure foreign recognition, and the manner in which "Lost Cause" advocates in the South tried to mould history to their own views in the textbooks used to teach the Civil War to high school and even college students. In part III of the book, "Architects of Victory" McPherson focuses on the friendship between Grant and Sherman and the work of these two Union Generals in winning the War. The final essay in this section, "Unvexed to the Sea: Lincoln, Grant, and the Vicksburg Campaign" is an excellent short analysis of the pivotal campaign which, even today, does not get the attention it merits. In "Home Front and the Battle-Front" McPherson offers three essays which examine the courage shown by Boston intellectuals in the war effort (He might have broadened his topic slightly to include Maine's Joshua Chamberlain.), the importance of newspapers to the life of the soldier on both sides of the line, and the various efforts at negotiating a peace which occurred between North and South during the conflict -- why they were initiated and why they ultimately failed. The final section of the book consists of two essays on Lincoln whose presence is felt throughout the study. McPherson suggests more than once that a key reason for the Union's success was that they had Lincoln and the Confederacy did not. The essay "To Remember that he had Lived" is a highlight of this book, and an outstanding short introduction to Lincoln's life and to the important historical sources on his life. The final essay in the book is a short summary of Lincoln's actions in suspending habeas corpus and taking a broad view of Presidential powers in prosecuting the Civil War. This subject has been explored many times, but McPherson offers a good overview. Readers with an interest in the Civil War will learn from and be inspired to learn more from this volume. More important than any fact or controversy about the Civil War, McPherson will help the reader understand why the Civil War deserves study. He teaches how the Civil War matters. Robin Friedman

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Karraker

    Each chapter commented or critiqued on different aspects of the Civil War that various authors have written about. The chapter describing how over time the South has changed its view as to the causes of the Civil War was interesting. Author assets that early on, Southerners staunchly defended slavery; but later on when winning the war was seeming impossible justified their efforts as defending states rights. Having grown up in the South and being taught the war was all about states rights, it wa Each chapter commented or critiqued on different aspects of the Civil War that various authors have written about. The chapter describing how over time the South has changed its view as to the causes of the Civil War was interesting. Author assets that early on, Southerners staunchly defended slavery; but later on when winning the war was seeming impossible justified their efforts as defending states rights. Having grown up in the South and being taught the war was all about states rights, it was interesting to read first sources quoted and explore the causes more thoroughly. The chapter about Jesse James was also interesting. Authors asserts they weren't noble Robin Hood-like characters but ruthless killers mentored as young men by William Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson, and Archie Clement, guerrilla fighters for the confederacy involved in the antebellum Kansas wars between pro and antislavery forces. The chapter describing why the North won the war was interesting. Author asserts it wasn't the fact that the North had more resources (men and materials), that the cause of freedom was more noble than slavery, but that Grant employed better military strategy and tactics which enabled him to capitalize on these other areas. Being a Southerner and growing up in a place where Robert E Lee is viewed with almost godlike status, this assertion about Grant's superior abilities was interesting. Another chapter asserted that Grant's drinking was not as bad as reported, that it was an attempt by Southerners to vilify this Yankee general who was not the gentleman general that Lee was. Grant drank when bored and never overindulged when leading his troops. I was impressed that Grant seemed to have an accurate assessment of his strengths and liabilities and accurately assessed his enemies and fellow commanders. I liked the quote by Sherman: "He stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now, sir, we stand by each other always." Interesting chapter in which author gives credence to writings of William Herndon, a fellow Illinois lawyer who wrote much about Lincoln, esp about his early years. Much of Herndon's writings have been discredited bc he asserted Lincoln had an unhappy marriage, due to an earlier romance w Ann Rutledge who died. Author asserts yes, Lincoln did have a relationship w this woman, that this didn't doom his marriage with Mary Todd, and that Herndon's other writings shouldn't be discredited bc of this assertion about his marriage that seems to be false. Just becoming a new student of the Civil War and of Lincoln, it was encouraging to learn that this author encouraged Don Fehrenbacher, one of the foremost experts on Lincoln's life to document, classify, and evaluate over 1,900 quotations of Lincoln by 513 people. The resultant Recollected Works of Lincoln (1996) helps separate the truth from myth about his life. In reading this book, you need to have a good grasp of the war and people involved. I'm not there yet, so often needed to research more to understand what the author was getting it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Lally

    Pulitzer prize-winner James McPherson tackles here some of the more enduring questions around the most central event in American historical consciousness. While it’s far from being a comprehensive overview of the civil war, McPherson’s collection of 16 essays deals with plenty of the crucial touchpoints of the period as well as some more peripheral yet intriguing ones including the role of John brown, Jesse James and Harriet Tubman, the Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate defence strategies and the Pulitzer prize-winner James McPherson tackles here some of the more enduring questions around the most central event in American historical consciousness. While it’s far from being a comprehensive overview of the civil war, McPherson’s collection of 16 essays deals with plenty of the crucial touchpoints of the period as well as some more peripheral yet intriguing ones including the role of John brown, Jesse James and Harriet Tubman, the Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate defence strategies and the impact of Antietam abroad. A piece on the concerted efforts of the UCV (United Confederate Veterans) to dictate the school curriculum as well as the social discourse around the Confederacy’s ‘true’ motives also gives us an interesting insight into the Confederate legacy as well as the negationist ‘lost cause’ ideology. “This Mighty Scourge” would work wonderfully as a companion piece to a more thorough examination of the period. The topics, though somewhat disparate, are covered with thoughtful and measured analysis, and McPherson’s skill is such that you will be left wanting more.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Baer

    My selection of this book for my reading list was a consequence of reading We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy: he mentions it as a superior study of the Civil War. As a recent immigrant from Canada, I don’t mind admitting that I have had my eyes opened; that my understanding of American history has progressed beyond the facile hagiographical stories that America has exported to such great effect over the years. My reading projects since 2016 have featured a strong theme of history My selection of this book for my reading list was a consequence of reading We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy: he mentions it as a superior study of the Civil War. As a recent immigrant from Canada, I don’t mind admitting that I have had my eyes opened; that my understanding of American history has progressed beyond the facile hagiographical stories that America has exported to such great effect over the years. My reading projects since 2016 have featured a strong theme of history and sociology. One of the things I have come to appreciate is how the history of race relations permeates American life and discourse. Like Coates, for a time I was of the naïve opinion that, with the election of Barack Obama as President, the era of post-racialism was at last upon us. Alas, like Coates, and partly resulting from my absorption of his analysis, I have come to understand Trumpism as equal admixture of class and race backlash. (To be fair to Coates, I understand his position is that Trump is “the first White President”, and he tends to discount the poor-white working-class analysis. My synthesis would be that people intuitively feel rage against their elites in consequence of the creeping emergence of radical libertarian policies since Reagan, and this rage interacted with basic and often unacknowledged racism on the part of many, possibly a majority of, white Americans. This toxic interaction led to a powerful sub-majority belief that the best thing to do was to vote for someone who would tear it all down and burn the furniture too.) With my newly acquired understanding of my social landscape, I find that the most likely form of racism I am to encounter is the misunderstanding, willful or otherwise, of the Civil War. The challenge will (and has) come in the form of a blithe assertion that the Civil War “wasn’t really about slavery, you know.” Really the most likely way that I can contribute microscopically to improvement of the social fabric, is to have at ready my reasons for believing otherwise. As I begin McPherson’s book, my main strategy is to quote the authority of Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which I read from the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The Lincoln Memorial, by the way, triggered a sense of numinous awe for me. Although there is not much to see but a great big statue, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural address, chiseled in two-foot high letters and towering above you, its very simplicity emphasizes the power of those words. The Second Inaugural in particular admits no doubt concerning what the war was “about.” “…On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it. All sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war, seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came. One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war, while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.” I cannot understand how anyone can read these words and still hold the opinion that the war was not about slavery. To paraphrase Lincoln: “we were going to let you have your slaves, but you had to go and insist on extending slavery into new territories.” I think people get confused because Lincoln admits here and in many other quotes that a compromise was always available whereby the existing slave states could continue with their “peculiar institution.” As the second inaugural quote above shows, the southern states would accept no such compromise. “And the war came.” Back to McPherson’s book. Having quoted so extensively from Lincoln’s second inaugural above, I must point out that the “mighty scourge” title consciously echoes a line from Lincoln’s address:“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”How did it happen that so many people believe that the Civil War was about something other than slavery? McPherson gets right to this in the first chapter. He quotes the same lines I noted above from Lincoln’s second inaugural as “an interpretation of the causes of the war.” McPherson says that in the 1860s, few people would have dissented from the premise that slavery was the cause of the war. “After all, had not Jefferson Davis … justified secession in 1861 as an act of self-defense against the incoming Lincoln administration, whose announced policy of excluding slavery from the territories would make “property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless, thereby annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars.” And had not the new vice president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander H Stevens, said in a speech in Savannah, March 21, 1861, that slavery was “the immediate cause of the late rupture and the present revolution of Southern independence.” The old confederation of the United States, said Stevens, “had been founded on the false idea that all men are created equal.” The Confederacy, in contrast, “is founded on exactly the opposite idea: its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the White Man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This our new government is the first in the history of the world based on this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” "By the time Davis and Stevens wrote their histories of the Confederation, however, slavery was gone with the wind, a dead and discredited institution. To concede that the Confederacy had broken up the United States and launched a war that had killed 620,000 Americans in a vain attempt to keep four million people in slavery, would not confer honor upon their lost cause – therefore they set to work to purge that cause of any association with human bondage." Davis and Stevens originated the line that secession occurred not to protect slavery, but to vindicate state sovereignty. Slavery was just one issue among many. Over the years many historians have chosen to rely on their post-war claims, rather than their writings from 1861. Ken and Rick Burns’ PBS documentary from 1990 provoked a hostile response from southerners who did not like the portrayal of the war as having been fought for slavery. A member of Sons of Confederate Veterans stated “the cause of the war could have been any number of things… state’s rights, agrarianism, aristocracy, and habits of mind including individualism, personalism toward God and man, provincialism, and romanticism.” Anything, that is, but slavery. Lincoln won the election of 1860 at the head of a Republican party that grew out of the Free Soil Party, which came into being explicitly in advocacy of anti-slavery policies in new territories. Lincoln received not a single electoral vote from the South. The simple election of Lincoln was considered by southerners as “... a deliberate cold-blooded insult and outrage that must be replied to by the challenge of secession. No other overt act can so imperitavely demand resistance on our part as the simple election of their candidate” (a North Carolina congressman). The resistance he had in mind, secession, did not necessarily mean war. The cause of secession was one specific thing: the southern response to the election of a President and party they feared as a threat to slavery. The cause of the war was indeed secession, but it did not make war inevitable. Lincoln received advice to let the Confederates have Fort Sumpter as a gesture of goodwill, but decided that to do so would rather discourage the unionists. He announced that he would resupply the fort: “food for hungry men”, and Jefferson Davis made the decision to fire on the resupply ships. All this, friends, is what I retain merely from Chapter One of this engrossing book. Other topics include Harriet Tubman and Harriet Jacobs, John Brown, military strategy of North and South, motivating factors of both Northern and Southern soldiers, international diplomacy, Lincoln's leadership versus that of Jefferson Davis, the failure of the policy of conciliation, the genesis and impact of the Emancipation Proclamation, and more. McPherson weaves in references to numerous other related books, a few of which I have added to my "to read" list. As a Civil War neophyte, I found this book allowed me to gain a much better grasp of the totality of the war: from its origins, through pivotal moments that could have gone either way, almost up to the end of the war. There are no doubt many books that provide more detailed narratives, but this one is a great way to approach those details with an overall sense of "perspective."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Penelope

    I really liked the parts where the author wrote about the Civil War, but I didn't like the parts where he veered off to critique books by other authors and evaluate their worth. Since it's essays it doesn't happen throughout, but I still found it impeded the flow of information.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    The historian James McPherson is an accomplished author and a hard-eyed student of his subjects. This volume, containing a series of some works already previously published and some that had not yet appeared in print, leaves one asking for more. The issue? The "chapters" are quite brief, and the insights and wisdom of the author only cover so much territory. Chapters run to maybe 10-15 pages each, for the most part. And that can only give one a taste that leaves one desiring yet more. At that, t The historian James McPherson is an accomplished author and a hard-eyed student of his subjects. This volume, containing a series of some works already previously published and some that had not yet appeared in print, leaves one asking for more. The issue? The "chapters" are quite brief, and the insights and wisdom of the author only cover so much territory. Chapters run to maybe 10-15 pages each, for the most part. And that can only give one a taste that leaves one desiring yet more. At that, this is still an interesting volume. McPherson does not rant; he raises thoughtful points and encourages readers to think about the issues that he raises. Key questions that various segments of the book address (page ix): "Why did the war come? What were the war aims of each side? What strategies did they employ to achieve their aims? Did the war's outcome justify the immense sacrifice of life? What impact did the experience of war have on the people who lived through it? How did later generations remember and commemorate that experience?" Let's consider a handful of the essays. Chapter 4: "Was the best defense a good offense?" explores the variety of views on the Confederacy's strategy. Should it be a defensive policy only, given the need for Union forces to occupy a vast territory? A Fabian strategy was advocated by some (such as Joe Johnston). Others, like Robert E. Lee, favored a more offensive strategy (perhaps best described, in terms of this chapter, as an "offensive defensive" strategy). This chapter examines the internal debate lucidly. Chapter 5 is intriguingly entitled "The Saratoga that Wasn't: The Impact of Antietam Abroad." The South wanted recognition by other countries, in order to receive active foreign support and nurture their revolution. They came tantalizingly close on a handful of occasions, as they scored impressive victories over Union forces. However, Antietam, which some had looked forward to as a potential Saratoga--when foreign governments began to proffer aid to the rebels in the Revolutionary War. But Lee's forces did not prevail and, with the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation, any real hope for European intervention on behalf of the South dissipated. There is consideration elsewhere of "The Lost Cause" notion. McPherson handles this well. He also considers the relationship between Generals Grant and Sherman, the Vicksburg Campaign, and so on. All in all, a most literate work, but one that leaves this reader a bit dissatisfied, wanting more than the format can provide. Nonetheless, an insightful volume.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    Sixteen essays all related to the Civil war and finally a book that firmly declares the true cause of the war, slavery, instead of all the other stated reasons usually trotted out in books and articles. These secondary causes have been offered for more than a century as primary causes and historians are now moving to correct the myth, a myth postulated even as the war was drawing to a close. As McPherson points out “The Civil War is a highly visible exception to the adage that victors write the Sixteen essays all related to the Civil war and finally a book that firmly declares the true cause of the war, slavery, instead of all the other stated reasons usually trotted out in books and articles. These secondary causes have been offered for more than a century as primary causes and historians are now moving to correct the myth, a myth postulated even as the war was drawing to a close. As McPherson points out “The Civil War is a highly visible exception to the adage that victors write the history of wars” There was even an essay here about the insipid coward, Jesse James which demonstrates fully just how much of despicable person he really was.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Quinndara

    Excellent contribution to filling in the reader with 16 essays that clarify continuing questions about the civil war. Just learning about the South's denial of defeat and refusal to have factual accounts of the conflict part of the school curriculum was a fascinating eye-opener to me. In the South's view, they never lost. McPherson also gives more details about John Brown and other important figures of the time. The book is a good supplement to his other writings on the Civil War.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    A very satisfying, illuminating read. Reader, be warned that This Mighty Scourge is, save a few articles out of the sixteen chapters, a compendium of book reviews written for the New York Review of Books. The NYRB is a paper that I admire for its willingness to go long and erudite, and it manages to go in depth without becoming unbearably dry, but a collection of essays in this style can get a little slow-going even if it's a satiating read chapter by chapter. Plenty of other reviews on the page A very satisfying, illuminating read. Reader, be warned that This Mighty Scourge is, save a few articles out of the sixteen chapters, a compendium of book reviews written for the New York Review of Books. The NYRB is a paper that I admire for its willingness to go long and erudite, and it manages to go in depth without becoming unbearably dry, but a collection of essays in this style can get a little slow-going even if it's a satiating read chapter by chapter. Plenty of other reviews on the page do better justice as to what McPherson encapsulates here, and as a collection, it's clear that readers will gravitate toward some topics over others. I enjoyed McPherson's essay debunking the reputations of Grant and Sherman; my favorite is a chapter about the Confederate snowflakes who simply couldn't bear to hear the truth about themselves, and forced schools to lie to their children about the cause of the Civil War. This book sold me on reading Battle Cry of Freedom at my earliest convenience, so don't be surprised to see this on my "currently reading" list in the near future.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Audra (Unabridged Chick)

    Slow going, only because I got the audiobook and I'm not great at finding opportunities to listen; plus my copy kept expiring, so I had to wait to get it again. But it was absolutely worth getting. As a totally dummy about the Civil War, I found this volume a fascinating, eye-opening introduction to a wide variety of topics related to this conflict -- and many of the essays helped illuminate events currently occurring in the US. McPherson is a lovely writer -- scholarly at moments, but aware of Slow going, only because I got the audiobook and I'm not great at finding opportunities to listen; plus my copy kept expiring, so I had to wait to get it again. But it was absolutely worth getting. As a totally dummy about the Civil War, I found this volume a fascinating, eye-opening introduction to a wide variety of topics related to this conflict -- and many of the essays helped illuminate events currently occurring in the US. McPherson is a lovely writer -- scholarly at moments, but aware of his audience, and he has a touch of humor in his writing as well as a little snark as needed. At moments, I found him almost too positive on the Union Army (I mean, I'm all for being a totally sanctimonious Yankee but during the chapter on Sherman, there were a few points when I thought to myself, 'Tone it down, man!'). Bought the first of his longer series on the Civil War because now I'm a little obsessed. Whitener, the audiobook reader, was fab -- lovely voice, and didn't mispronounce anything (that I noticed).

  11. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    Terrific book, very readable, explains nuances I never fully understood. Interesting essays included those covering the peace negotiations in July 1864 and February 1865 as well as the Southern regional muzzling of accurate Civil War history textbooks in 1890-1940 era. Abraham Lincoln had political skills but in addition he sure had backbone and principles! I would have liked to see an extra chapter, on the impacts of the John Wilkes Booth conspiracy and assassination of President Lincoln - but Terrific book, very readable, explains nuances I never fully understood. Interesting essays included those covering the peace negotiations in July 1864 and February 1865 as well as the Southern regional muzzling of accurate Civil War history textbooks in 1890-1940 era. Abraham Lincoln had political skills but in addition he sure had backbone and principles! I would have liked to see an extra chapter, on the impacts of the John Wilkes Booth conspiracy and assassination of President Lincoln - but I understand that is not part of the War effort as such and, in any event, Mr. McPherson has done an awesome job covering what he does in under 250 pages! I am rounding this excellent work; I would give it a 4.5 if I could.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    Pulitzer-prize-winning historian James M. McPherson here presents sixteen topical chapters, only three original to this book, and seven reworked from review essays first published in the New York Review of Books. Unfortunately, such a description makes McPherson’s chapters sound dull and unoriginal—which they are definitely not. Though this book is not a synthetic history (and not intended to be), the essays are so well written that even very knowledgeable Civil War buffs will both learn from th Pulitzer-prize-winning historian James M. McPherson here presents sixteen topical chapters, only three original to this book, and seven reworked from review essays first published in the New York Review of Books. Unfortunately, such a description makes McPherson’s chapters sound dull and unoriginal—which they are definitely not. Though this book is not a synthetic history (and not intended to be), the essays are so well written that even very knowledgeable Civil War buffs will both learn from them and revel in the luminosity of the author’s prose. That is, all buffs will do so except for devotees of the Lost Cause, a position on the Civil War about which McPherson does not even pretend to take a neutral stance.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Donovan

    Of all the Civil War books I've read, this is the first one that I can confidently recommend to nearly anyone. It's thorough yet concise. It hits on familiar subjects from different perspectives. It also touches on details that are often overlooked but are vital to the history of this extraordinary time. On Lincoln, Grant, Lee, and Davis, McPherson did a nice job of separating the historical figures from the legends.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    The first few chapters were the best, showing how the war truly was fought over slavery and how Confederates tried to re-writes history by controlling textbooks (a most infuriating chapter). Also covered: Harriet Tubman (historical documentation of her life) John Brown Jesse James (not a modern Robin Hood) Grant (not a drunkard) Sherman (battle tactics reframed) Abraham Lincoln (boring chapters to be honest)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    Very clear and objective views on aspects of the war I hadn't considered before. I learned much but have much more to learn. The chapter on the validity of Lincoln's sayings was helpful as was the chapter critiquing other books written about Lincoln. My stack of books to be read has grown exponentially.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John Wood

    Sixteen essays by James M. McPherson, a leading historian of the American Civil War. Very readable, very interesting, covering a great variety of topics, full of insights and clarifications. Of course, it is well researched and documented. A must-read for any Civil war buff.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    A helpful collection of essays on the Civil War by one of its leading historians. While I didn’t personally find all of them equally interesting, when the topic was of particular significance for me, I found McPherson very insightful.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lump

    This is a collection of essays, all well researched, written and documented. 4 rather than 5 stars for lack of cohesiveness as a whole (and the occasional spurious citation to make a point, e.g. ‘one woman said...’) but otherwise very powerful and insightful.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    A series of essays summing up what he believes from his years as a historian. Some commonplace items, some unusual, and some fresh insights.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jim Collett

    This book contains a set of provocative essays by a noted historian of the Civil War. They focus on different topics. They are good for looking at some specific war issues in depth.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jon Harayda

    Lucid, well documented, and convincing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aisha

    3.5 rounded up because I was enthralled by the Jesse James chapter and the lost cause textbook crusade chapter. So fascinating! During my class on reconstruction I might use one for a paper topic.

  23. 5 out of 5

    H Phillips

    Excellent book with McPherson's trademark clarity. The first three sections are especially good.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chris Weigl

    The best short essay account of The American Civil War.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    This is a series of 16 essays each dealing with a different aspect of the Civil War. McPherson details life during the Civil war in the the military and the civilian communities and discusses why soldier's on both sides loved to receive newspapers and what motivated the soldiers both emotionally and politically. He draws fascintating personality sketches of such individuals as Harriet Tubman, Jesse James, John Brown, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman and discusses the role that the This is a series of 16 essays each dealing with a different aspect of the Civil War. McPherson details life during the Civil war in the the military and the civilian communities and discusses why soldier's on both sides loved to receive newspapers and what motivated the soldiers both emotionally and politically. He draws fascintating personality sketches of such individuals as Harriet Tubman, Jesse James, John Brown, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman and discusses the role that the sectional conflict had on their lives. He also discusses Lincoln's role as Commander-in-Chief, Lee's war aims at Gettysburg, Confederate military strategy, Davis's leadership qualities, and the failure of peace negotiations to get off the ground. In one of my favorite essays, McPherson explains why the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation prevented the Battle of Antietam from playing the same role in the Civil War as the Battle of Saratoga played in the Revolutionary War. These essays range from the causes of the war to the South's attempt to control how the Civil War was represented in public school textbooks in the post war south. A fascinating read for anyone interested in the Civil War period of U.S. history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pedro

    Very good book on the American Civil War My Quick resume Essay 1: How the American Civil War was motivated by slavery and to tell otherwise would be revisionism. Essay 2: Uncle Tom's Cabin and how John Brown fuels the debate on what’s terrorism. Essay 3: why the north won the war? Discuss reasons. Essay 4: confederate strategy. Offense vs defense. Tactics vs strategy. Essay 5: how failure to get foreign recognition undermined South's chances. Essay 6: General Lee and the strategic decisions surround Very good book on the American Civil War My Quick resume Essay 1: How the American Civil War was motivated by slavery and to tell otherwise would be revisionism. Essay 2: Uncle Tom's Cabin and how John Brown fuels the debate on what’s terrorism. Essay 3: why the north won the war? Discuss reasons. Essay 4: confederate strategy. Offense vs defense. Tactics vs strategy. Essay 5: how failure to get foreign recognition undermined South's chances. Essay 6: General Lee and the strategic decisions surrounding Gettysburg. Essay 7: Jesse James: Robin Hood or common thief. Essay 8: the war on History Textbooks - North vs South historical views for kids. Essay 9: Ulysses Grant revisited. A new positive view on the General. The importance of general Sherman Essay 10: General Sherman and the concept of total war. Essay 11: Vicksburg, naval war and Grant's gamble Essay 12: Harvard University and their students during the Civil War. Bravery and strategies Essay 13: the press effect over the American Civil War. Essay 14: Peace negotiations and the Lincoln reelection. Essay 15: The life of Lincoln and the discussions regarding his depression, family and career. Essay 16: The way to the 13th Amendment

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    McPherson, the author of the excellent one-volume Civil War history "Battle Cry of Freedom" is in top form here with a series of essays and book reviews that illuminate and discuss particular figures and facets of the Civil War era. In-depth looks at Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln can be found in "This Mighty Scourge", as well as fascinating analyses on the formation of Southern revisionist post-bellum notions of the "Lost Cause", Lincoln's invocation of Presidential war McPherson, the author of the excellent one-volume Civil War history "Battle Cry of Freedom" is in top form here with a series of essays and book reviews that illuminate and discuss particular figures and facets of the Civil War era. In-depth looks at Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln can be found in "This Mighty Scourge", as well as fascinating analyses on the formation of Southern revisionist post-bellum notions of the "Lost Cause", Lincoln's invocation of Presidential war powers, the influences of Northern and Southern newspapers, Lee's military strategies, and the part played by Boston's Brahmin elite in the war effort. While "Battle Cry of Freedom" revealed McPherson to be a historian with a command of linking broad and disparate details and events in a coherent and readable way, "This Mighty Scourge" provides this master of historical prose a chance to assert opinions and conclusions in a highly engaging and more personal level, and in a manner that educates the reader while also including the reader in the processes historians enter into when they consider the events and recollections of the past.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    A "Must" For All Students of the Civil War This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War is a collection of 16 essays by well-known historian James McPherson on a number of Civil War-related topics. Some of the essays are brand new, but most have been published before but have been re-worked for this book. They fall into five broad categories: 1) Slavery and the Coming of War; 2) The Lost Cause Revisited; 3) Architects of Victory; 4) Home Front and Battle Front; 5) Lincoln. McPherson discusses A "Must" For All Students of the Civil War This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War is a collection of 16 essays by well-known historian James McPherson on a number of Civil War-related topics. Some of the essays are brand new, but most have been published before but have been re-worked for this book. They fall into five broad categories: 1) Slavery and the Coming of War; 2) The Lost Cause Revisited; 3) Architects of Victory; 4) Home Front and Battle Front; 5) Lincoln. McPherson discusses the causes of the war in the first essay - a brilliant essay entitled "And The War Came." McPherson directly confronts those that insist that slavery had no part in causing the war. Please, read this essay if you are one of those people before you make that argument again (if you don't want to buy the book for fear of supporting someone who skewers your particular point of view, get it at your library, read it in the coffee shop at Barnes & Nobles - just read it!) Essay number 4 is called... Read more at: http://dwdsreviews.blogspot.com/2010/...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    McPherson masterfully illuminates the truth of the Civil War, that the South fought to defend their backward society built on slavery, and the North fought to save the Union and end it. The most rewarding area of this volume for me are his essays that touch on the post war southern revisionist history campaign, which sought to change the narrative (of the southern motive for secession) from slavery to states rights. I value McPherson’s scholarship as much for his conclusions as for the light he McPherson masterfully illuminates the truth of the Civil War, that the South fought to defend their backward society built on slavery, and the North fought to save the Union and end it. The most rewarding area of this volume for me are his essays that touch on the post war southern revisionist history campaign, which sought to change the narrative (of the southern motive for secession) from slavery to states rights. I value McPherson’s scholarship as much for his conclusions as for the light he sheds on the work of his peers (both past & present). If you want the truth of the Civil War, start with McPherson and work your way back (and forward as it may be) using his foot and endnotes. I give it 5 stars for the masterly civil war scholarship it is. “Not merely is McPherson the leading living historian on the Civil War, but he is a scholar whose knowledge and authority are unsurpassed; when McPherson speaks, even in a minor key, people listen…” (Washington Post reviewing Drawn with a Sword).

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shana

    More like three-and-a-half stars, but McPherson is one of the most respected scholars in the field so I don't feel uncomfortable spotting him the extra half-star. This Mighty Scourge is a series of essays about the Civil War, including sections on Lincoln, on Civil War scholarship, on several myths of the Confederacy, and on Generals Grant and Sherman. The essay about young men from Massachusetts who volunteered for the army made me tear up a bit, and the analogy he makes between the Battle of A More like three-and-a-half stars, but McPherson is one of the most respected scholars in the field so I don't feel uncomfortable spotting him the extra half-star. This Mighty Scourge is a series of essays about the Civil War, including sections on Lincoln, on Civil War scholarship, on several myths of the Confederacy, and on Generals Grant and Sherman. The essay about young men from Massachusetts who volunteered for the army made me tear up a bit, and the analogy he makes between the Battle of Antietam and the American Revolution's Battle of Saratoga (the latter is what caused France to support the Revolution--support we likely would have lost the war without, the former was a Confederacy loss that convinced most European powers to stay out of the Civil War) was extremely interesting. All in all, very informative, but I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had been able to dip in and out of it, instead of reading it all the way through at once.

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