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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War by James McPherson

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 "Was the Best Defense a Good Offense? Jefferson Davis and Confederate Strategies." I liked this one because I spent a lot of time as a young person playing a Civil War board game called Battle Cry and it was always a challenge to figure out how to defend the Mississippi River valley in the Confederacy so I could sympathize with Jefferson Davis's quandry. Turns out that I analyzed things about like Davis did most times.

"The Last Rebel: Jesse James" was an interesting look at what really was a tiny little slice of the Civil War that spawned one of America's most famous criminals. Fascinating stuff.

"Brahmins At War" was an essay I was prepared to blow off - who really cares about the Boston elite, Harvard grads, and their experience in the war? Wow, was I wrong. A great essay about fantastic men who led from the front and gave more than their share. I was awestruck by the tale of Captain John Kelliher who lost his arm, lower jaw, a shoulder blade, two ribs and a clavicle at Spotsylvania. He not only survived - he returned to the front to assume command of the regiment!

Great set of essays. Well-written, a master historian at the top of his game.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on August 4, 2010.

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