Another Book I Recommend
Once again, my apologies to the millions of my followers (thanks for reading my blog, Will): My lack of blogging over the past few months is not for a dearth of subjects for me to rant about — not the least being the witch-hunt known as The State of North Carolina v. James Crouch. But that’s a subject that requires a marathon session sitting at my computer. And it’s coming. It’s definitely coming. My disgust at this malicious, unfounded and mean-spirited prosecution and the entities that are responsible for bringing it and perpetuating it (even while in the case of the latter claiming not to) is so profound that I cannot do this matter justice in one weeknight evening of moderate-to-immodrate wine drinking and casual blogging.
The book I recommend is Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson. This Pulitzer-Prize winning history is universally considered the definitive one-volume history of the American Civil War. I had never paid much attention to the Civil War, being (as both an American and a Briton) far more interested in the American war of Independence. But I became aware of my ignorance of this defining event in our country’s history and psyche even that I felt I should learn something about it. As an American who identifies with the South — my maternal Grandparents were from Arkansas and Oklahoma and my Mother always told me that we were Southerners; I’ve lived the last thirty years of my life in North Carolina and I don’t want to live anywhere else; my children speak with Southern accents; I’m a Southerner — I have known for a long time that I am Union man, I’m a Democrat now and would have been a Republican then, I’d like to believe that I would have been an abolitionist then, that politically I’m a Yankee. So, luckily, I ran in to Battle Cry of Freedom in the gift store of the Museum of History in Raleigh (this is a good museum and getting better and better) and I bought it.
This book opened my eyes in so many ways. To begin with, I never even considered the connection — historically and politically (as if the two can be separated) — of the Mexican War and the Civil War. Battle Cry of Freedom explains the causes of, context of and lead-up to the war with as much verve as it does the battles themselves. McPherson’s treatment of the internal conflicts in both the North and South after the war began is not only something I had never even heard about but is presented in such a suspenseful manner that one almost forgets — we know the outcome.
Looking back on history can sometimes be misleading. The farther back in time we go, the flatter history seems to become; everything is “a long time ago.” But a test I like to play is to compare how long in time some event in history is to another event in history with how long the more recent event is to us now. For example, Queen Elizabeth I became queen 218 years before the United States declared independence, and the United States declared independence (as of this writing) 236 years ago. Yet we, today, tend to look back on both as just history without regard to how the Colonists and Hanoverians looked back on the Tudors. Not to mention how the Tudors looked back on the Plantaganets and how they looked back on William The Conqueror and 1066 and all that. It’s all history to us. McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom does a masterful job of placing events in the extended period of the Civil War that is more than just 1861 to 1865 in the context and proximity of other events. For example, the Siege of Vicksburg’s ending on July 3, 1863 and the final day of the two-day Battle of Gettysburg on July 4,1863. Surely, at the time, to all those alive at the time, these two events must have been patently relevant to each other, and, certainly, politically, they were. Yet we might just look at these two decisive moments, in two separate theatres of the war, as separate events. And we probably don’t even know that they actually happened simultaneously. McPherson’s book puts it all into context – chronologically, strategically, politically, historically nationally and internationally.
The American Civil War was not a purely internal affair. The rest of the world was hugely interested in at the least. and many were invested in the outcome of the war.
(The rest of this article is lost — I’m terrible with technology — but I can assure that the remainder of this article was as brilliant and insightful as everything else I write. So fear not, my millions of followers.)