Battle Cry Of Freedom Essay

Civil War

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Civil War

Writing about recorded history should be a relatively easy task to accomplish. Recorded history is based on facts. Regardless of what time period one may write about, one will find enough information about that time of period. The key is to put everything in a logical and understandable manner. This paper will be about the Civil War. I will try, to the best of my knowledge, to discuss the North's and South's positions and Arguments for going to war, their initial military strategies and their strength and weaknesses. The paper will actually be a summary from chapter 10 of the book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era By: James McPherson, "Amateurs Go To War".

Before discussing the war itself, one must understand the Union's and the Confederate's arguments and reasons for going to war. Let's start at the beginning, when the South was first showing animosity for the North, which eventually led to sessionist ideas by the South.

The Compromise of 1850 was drafted in response to the threat of a Southern Convention, because of Zachary Taylors decision to carve out two huge territories in the Far West and to admit them in the union as free states. Henry Clay drafted the compromise, which includes eight parts. "The first pair would admit California as a State and organize the remainder of the Mexican cession without "any restriction or condition on the subject of slavery". The second pair of resolutions settled the boundary dispute between Texas and New Mexico in favor of the latter and compensated Texas by federal assumption of debts contracted during its existence as an Independent Republic. Clay's third pair of resolutions called for abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia but a guarantee of slavery itself in the District. As if these six proposals yielded more to the North then to the South, Clay's final pair of resolutions tipped the balance Southward by denying congressional power over the interstate slave trade and calling for a stronger law to enable slave holders to recover their property when they fled to free states" Battle Cry of freedom: The Civil War Era, McPherson James, (p.70-71). The Northerners hated the fugitive slave law, because in the past it was never enforced and it never gave a trial by jury to any runaway slaves. The only testimony heard was that of the slaveholder and he usually recovered his slave.

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Not only that, but the slaveholder was compensated $10 for winning the trial because of all the trouble he had to go through in recovering his property. Because of the passage of the compromise, the North had to enforce the law which it hated.

As the United States expanded westward, two new territories were carved out and the issue of slavery arose again. The U.S. government let the two new territories decide themselves whether or not to permit slavery. Since it was up to the people to decide the slavery issue, Northern abolitionists enticed anti-slavery supporters to move into the new regions and vote to make Kansas and Nebraska free states. Southern pro-slavery supporters did exactly as the North did to make Kansas and Nebraska slave states. The two sides clashed with one another over this issue and there was literally a Civil War in Kansas.
One particular situation that occurred in Kansas was the sacking of the city of Lawrence. Pro slavery advocates of the city of LeCompton, Kansas set up a group or a posse that went to the anti-slavery city of Lawrence, Kansas, ransacked, burned and literally destroyed the city. In response to this attack by the Southerners the Northerners took revenge. John Brown, a radical abolitionist, decided to do a similar thing to the Southerners. He planned an attack on LeCompton, Kansas. Enroute to LeCompton he encountered about five pro slavery supporters, and without remorse, hacked them to death at Potawattamie Creek in Kansas. The entire country was slowly being divided into two parts and even congress could not do anything to resolve the problems. Political parties were splitting along North/South lines and even violence was a common occurrence in congress. The last straw, which eventually split the Union, was the election of 1860. On the eve of the election, Southerners had already agreed that if a republican wins the election, they would leave the Union. Well, history shows that Lincoln, a republican, was elected and the south truly did leave the Union. During the four months, prior to President Lincoln's inauguration, President James Buchanan did nothing to discourage secession. It may be even concluded that he was sympathetic to the Southern cause. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, and by February 1861 seven more southern states followed South Carolina's example. Finally, when Lincoln took the office, all of the federal arsenals in the south have been overrun by Confederate forces. In Fort Sumter, South Carolina, federal troops were literally surrounded and their supplies eventually ran out. Lincoln made a decision to send an unarmed supply ship to the harbor of Fort Sumter. Lincoln's reasoning was that if the South fires on an unarmed supply ship, it would be an act of war. If it doesn't it would mean that the South is bluffing and it really does not want to secede. Well, on April 12, 1861 Confederate troops fired on the unarmed supply ship at Fort Sumter and the Civil War began.

The North's primary reasons for going to war was to keep the country together. The South was fighting for "state sovereignty, the right of secession and interpreting the constitution the way they wanted to," Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 310).Slavery was not the reason the Civil War began. Lincoln had argued that it was unconstitutional for any state or states to secede from the Union, which is why keeping the Union together, as one country, was the North's most important cause for war.

The South was fighting for the "sacred right of self government", Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 310). The South felt that it was fighting for the same reasons that the founding fathers had fought for in the war for Independence. According to southerners seceding from the Union, all they wanted was to be left alone, and not to be bothered by the North. After Davis' speech to the Confederate Congress he included the phrase "All we ask is to be let alone", which inturn specified the most immediate, tangible Confederate war aim: defense from invasion." Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 310).

Slavery was not the major issue or cause for going to war. Slavery handicapped Confederate foreign policy. "The first Southern commissioners to Britain reported in May 1861 that "The public mind here is entirely opposed to the government of the Confederate States of America on the question of slavery.The sincerity and universality of this feeling embarrass the government in dealing with the question of our recognition.
The North initially stated that the war was not about slavery. Lincoln even mentioned "that he had no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the states where it exists," Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 312). The Constitution protected and will continue to protect slavery where it existed. As was stated earlier, the North fought the war to keep the Union together, because of the fact that secession was unconstitutional.

Militarily, both the North and the South were not prepared for this war. Although the North was the manufacturing part of the country, it had to somehow change its peacetime economy to a wartime economy. Most of the arms that belonged to the North were very old and outdated. It had old muskets and cannons that dated back to the war of 1812.
Northern leadership was crippled as well. Most of the pristine military academies were in the South, and most of the graduates of those military academies served in the confederate armies. Many of the North's military leaders were veterans of the war of 1812. Many of the North's leaders were in there 60's and beyond. "The army had nothing resembling a general staff, no strategic plans, no program for mobilization," Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 312).

The Northern navy was in better shape then the army. "Although 373 of the Navy's 1,554 officers and a few of its 7600 seamen left to go with the south, the large merchant marine from which an expanded navy would draw experienced officers and sailors was overwhelmingly northern." Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 313). The Northerners military strategy was to basically cut the Southerners lines of communications, to slowly choke the Confederate army to surrender. The navy did a good job following this strategy. The North set up blockades, which the navy carried out to the best of its ability.

The Confederates had quite possibly the best leadership in the war. Although to win, it needed more then best leadership. The South had primarily an agrarian economy. This fact alone was a major obstacle for the South during the war. The South had the men, leadership, and even some ammunition when the war began. The South had to find the resources, employ those resources, and finally put those resources together. "The confederacy had only one-ninth the industrial capacity of the Union. Northern states had manufactured 97% of the country's firearms in 1860, 94% of its cloth, 93% of its pig iron, and more then 90% of its boots and shoes. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 318).

When it came to the Navy, the Confederates had no navy. Although lacking material resources, "they used tugboats, revenue cutters, and river steamboats to be converted into gunboats for harbor patrol. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 314). The Confederates also came up with the idea of the first submarine. "The Confederacy sent into action the world's first combat submarine, the C.S.S. Hunley, which sank three times in trials, drowning the crew each time, before sinking a blockade ship off Charleston in 1864, while going down itself for the fourth and last time." Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 314). The Confederacy was also the first to introduce "torpedoes"/land mines. Even though these innovations were developed during the war, they did not prove substantial enough to win the war.

Jefferson Davis' strategy was to take a defensive position rather then an offensive one. "The basic war aim of the confederacy, like that of the United States in the revolution was to defend a new nation from conquest. ." Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 314). Davis reasoned just as Washington did during the revolution, that retreating against a stronger enemy is not bad all the time. It gave time to regroup your forces and build a counterattack against the enemy. Although the south did try this tactic at the beginning of the war, they didn't follow this strategy at the end of the war. The south had the temperament that they could easily "whip the Yankees" and that they should take the war to them. "The idea of waiting for blows, instead of inflicting them, is altogether unsuited to the genius of our people, declared the Richmond Examiner." Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson, (p. 337).

In conclusion, the lack of adequate resources proved to be the devastating factor for the Confederacy. Although the Confederacy had the excellent leadership at the beginning of the war, later, southern public opinion showed that the people in the South were sick of taking the defensive position and wanted to attack the North. Because of this strategy, the Confederacy lost many soldiers in battles while trying to fight in the North. The South's last ditch effort at the end of the war was a promise of freedom for any slave that fights against the Union.

Even though the North had inferior leadership, its manufacturing capabilities surpassed that of the South. At first the North did not have many men enlisted in an army. However, later on the North had voluntary regiments of men fighting for the Union. The North's major lines of communication were never destroyed and the Union army was always well supplied. In conclusion the North won because it had superior resources and industry to sustain the war effort to its conclusion.


William L. Yancey and A. Dudley Mann to Robert Toombs, May 21, 1861, in James D. Richardson, comp., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, 2 vols. (Nashville, 1906), II, 37.

Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning history of the Civil War, may be the finest one-volume history of any American war ever written, let alone the Civil War. Its publication 25 years ago was a publishing phenomenon. The 900-plus-page, richly footnoted scholarly book from Oxford University Press spent 16 weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list and subsequently 12 weeks on the paperback list, selling more than 700,000 copies in the United States, the U.K., and elsewhere, with several foreign translations. Battle Cry still sells about 15,000 copies each year.

The book’s popularity is not hard to explain. McPherson miraculously manages between to recount the origins of the war and its progress in virtually every theater of fighting through its entire four years, explain the political maelstrom that engulfed both the North and South, touch on heartbreaking stories of individual warriors, follow the machinations of government officials, and describe the military, cultural, and social consequences of the greatest cataclysm in American history, all while carrying the reader along within a brisk and vivid narrative.

The book was the blasting clap that set off the explosion of popular interest in the war that then greeted Ken Burns’s epoch-making PBS documentary The Civil War when it was released two years later. Since then, America has devoured a seemingly endless stream of new histories, film, and documentaries about the war. The ongoing sesquicentennial celebration has only redoubled that flood of new material and public fascination with the war. That fascination—with the Civil War’s causes and violence, its great players from Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln to common soldiers writing loved ones on the eve of battle, and the myriad interpretations of an outcome that still seems not fully resolved today—appears destined to last as long as the United States remains a country.

Now retired after a long career as a history professor at Princeton, McPherson continues to publish about the Civil War. His most recent book, War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861–1865, his 20th, appeared last year. He has previously published a children’s history of the war and books about Lincoln, abolition, why soldiers on both sides fought, Reconstruction, and the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, as well as editing and contributing to scores of other volumes on the war and regularly writing for The New York Review of Books.

To mark the anniversary of Battle Cry’s publication, I reached McPherson at his home in Princeton to ask talk to him the war, the publication of Battle Cry and its aftermath, and the meaning of the Civil War 150 years on:

To get it out of the way, you are not related to Union Army Gen. James Birdseye McPherson, who was killed at the Battle of Atlanta in July 1864. Are you related to any participants in the war?

I am not related to Gen. James Birdseye McPherson. I did have two Civil War ancestors: a great-grandfather, Luther Osborn, who enlisted in the 93rd New York Volunteer Infantry in December 1861, rose to corporal, became a lieutenant in the 22nd U.S. Colored Infantry in January 1864, rose to captain in that regiment; and a great-great-grandfather, Jesse Beecher, who enlisted in the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry in August 1862, rose to sergeant, died of typhoid fever in April 1865, is buried in the National Military Cemetery at Wilmington, North Carolina.

Whose idea was it to write a one-volume history of that war, a war that has led to more books—50,000-plus—than any other American event? That must have been a daunting prospect.

I was asked by C. Vann Woodward and Sheldon Meyer, editors of the Oxford History of the United States series, to do the volume on the Civil War era in 1979. It was indeed a daunting prospect, not so much because of the 50,000 books on the Civil War as because of the prestige of the series and the prominence of other authors in the series.

Did you anticipate the book’s success? Few if any 900-page books by history professors can compare in sales here and abroad. What made readers 25 years ago so receptive to your book?

No, I did not anticipate the success of the book. One reason readers were receptive to the book was the growing interest at that time in the Civil War, of which the also unanticipated success of Ken Burns's video documentary two years later is additional evidence. My book got a tremendous send-off by very positive front-page reviews in The New York Times Book Review and TheWashington Post Book World, so it hit the ground running.

Is there anything that you now feel you should have done differently in Battle Cry?

In retrospect, I don't think I should have done anything differently. If I were writing it today, I would include more social and cultural history and perhaps cut back on the military and political history, but the scholarship to sustain those differences didn't yet exist in the 1980s.

You estimated in a 1994 interview that you had read by that time 25,000 letters written by some 1,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate. I imagine the number is all the greater now. Are there aspects of any of the individual letters that still stand out for you?

The aspects of those letters that still stand out, as they did two decades ago, are the patriotic and ideological convictions of so many soldiers, which kept them in the ranks and fighting for two, three, four years despite their homesickness and fears of the consequences of death or wounds for themselves and their families. I was also struck by the religiosity of many soldiers.

The battle cry of “Freedom” was in fact something you ascribed to both Northern and Southern soldiers. Can you explain that?

Both sides in the Civil War professed to be fighting for the same "freedoms" established by the American Revolution and the Constitution their forefathers fought for in the Revolution—individual freedom, democracy, a republican form of government, majority rule, free elections, etc. For Southerners, the Revolution was a war of secession from the tyranny of the British Empire, just as their war was a war of secession from Yankee tyranny. For Northerners, their fight was to sustain the government established by the Constitution with its guaranties of rights and liberties. Neither side at first fought for the freedom of the slaves, and, of course, the Confederacy never did, but eventually that additional freedom also became a Northern war aim.

Some claim that you are biased in your history against the Confederacy and weigh slavery as a cause for the war too heavily. Some have said that about my book, The Bonfire, about Atlanta in the Civil War. How do you respond to such criticism?

I try to respond to that criticism by pointing to the unfolding of events that caused increasing polarization between North and South in the 1850s, all of which centered on slavery and the issue of its expansion, and to the contemporary statements by Southerners themselves about the salience of slavery in the coming of the war and in their statements about why their states were seceding.

Your concern for Civil War history goes beyond scholarship. Your work since Battle Cry includes a book about the Civil War for children and efforts at battlefield preservation. You are a popular speaker. Why is it important for Americans outside academia to know more about the war? Why should we care about what happened in those four years of war a century and a half ago?

The outcome of the Civil War assured that the United States would remain one nation, indivisible, and that the issue of slavery which had plagued the republic since its founding would plague it no more. The war shaped modern America by assuring the survival and preeminence of a dynamic and democratic capitalist society rather than a plantation slave society. The constitutional amendments that grew out of the Civil War have been the basis for most of the progress in the civil rights not only of African Americans but other minorities as well. Without that war, the U.S. today would be a much different nation—perhaps two or several nations. To understand the society in which they live, Americans need to understand how it got that way, and the Civil War determined a large part of how it got that way.

You have led battlefield tours. What Civil War places should all Americans be sure to visit?

Gettysburg above all, but also the other major battlefields that are national parks and some that are state parks, plus all of the Civil War monuments in Washington and Richmond, and museums such as the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia; Pamplin Park near Petersburg, Virginia; the Civil War exhibit at the Atlanta historical society; and indeed the Civil War exhibits at countless state and local museums, libraries, historical societies around the country during these years of the Civil War sesquicentennial.

What are your favorite books or other media on the war?

There are too many outstanding Civil War books and productions in other media to name briefly, but I will single out Shelby Foote's trilogy on the Civil War, Allan Nevins's eight volumes on the coming of the war and the war itself, Ken Burns's video documentary, Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels, and the movies Glory and Red Badge of Courage.

The current best estimate of the Civil War dead totals around 750,000. The South took decades to recover from the war’s devastation. No family North or South was not in some way touched by the blood spilled. Yet deep North-South divisions remain 150 years later, full civil rights for African-Americans took another century and much struggle to achieve, and still today racial issues remain unresolved. What did the Civil War accomplish?

Yes, North-South divisions do still remain, but we are one country rather than two or more countries. And yes, full civil rights took a century or more to accomplish, but freedom came immediately and from 1865 onward black children could no longer be sold apart from their parents or husbands and wives from each other, and civil rights based on the constitutional amendments and legislation that grew out of the war were finally achieved.

After the tens of thousands of books, countless articles, hundreds of movies, and documentaries, what don’t we fully know or understand about the Civil War? Why should you or anyone need to write or film more about it?

There isn't much that we don't at least partly know about the Civil War, but there is still a lot that we don't fully know, so new findings (like the new estimate of 750,000 war deaths rather than 620,000) and new perspectives will continue to enhance our understanding. The quest for fuller knowledge and greater understanding will go on.

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