InBattle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson writes with the authority of an able scholar and with the engaging, accessible style of a popular historian or storyteller. After all, the historian's mode as a writer is essentially that of someone telling a story. The historian delivers a narrative...
In Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson writes with the authority of an able scholar and with the engaging, accessible style of a popular historian or storyteller. After all, the historian's mode as a writer is essentially that of someone telling a story. The historian delivers a narrative about the past that is based not on fictional themes but on actual persons and events.
The strengths of McPherson's work lie in his abilities to unite diverse strands of his subject into an effectively designed whole. In the preface, McPherson explains that he has aimed
to integrate the political and military events of this era with important social and economic developments to form a seamless web. (ix)
The book devotes generous attention to various military aspects of the war (such as grand strategy, battle tactics, results of engagements, personalities of generals and other officers, and so on), providing more than enough material to entertain members of the audience interested in a kind of traditional military history, but McPherson makes a point of going beyond the limits that could be imposed by that topic or any other single thematic focus.
In his conception of history, a narrative must demonstrate the connections between disparate themes or topics that often receive separate treatment. An understanding of the era in American history must bring together into one cohesive story a range of subjects and content (as he describes on pages ix–x of the preface).
A vital characteristic of the text that contributed to its initial success and ensures its lasting significance has to do with the manner in which the narrative appeals to academic and non-academic readers alike. As a fluid, comprehensive historical study, the book caters to the demands of scholarship on one hand and, on the otherm presents engaging reading for the non-specialist. McPherson indicates great depth of research in textual notes, and the "Bibliographical Note" (865–882) gathers into a detailed review a wealth of resources.
Yet the scholarly trappings manage not to interfere with a non-academic approach to the book. It is accessible to readers of diverse backgrounds and interests, and the author retains in all areas of focus a sensible, well-informed perspective. The method succeeds. The result of McPherson's attempts to blend and weave together diverse yet related strands of material is a good story that fosters critical understanding of the era in question and history in general.