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Crossroads of Freedom


James M. McPherson

Publication Date - April 2004

ISBN: 9780195173307

224 pages
5-5/8 x 8-15/16 inches

Retail Price to Students: $15.95

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson offers a masterful portrait of the bloody one-day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War


The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single day in American history, with more than 6,000 soldiers killed--four times the number lost on D-Day, and twice the number killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. In Crossroads of Freedom, America's most eminent Civil War historian, James M. McPherson, paints a masterful account of this pivotal battle, the events that led up to it, and its aftermath.

As McPherson shows, by September 1862 the survival of the United States was in doubt. The Union had suffered a string of defeats, and Robert E. Lee's army was in Maryland, poised to threaten Washington. The British government was openly talking of recognizing the Confederacy and brokering a peace between North and South. Northern armies and voters were demoralized. And Lincoln had shelved his proposed edict of emancipation months before, waiting for a victory that had not come--that some thought would never come.

Both Confederate and Union troops knew the war was at a crossroads, that they were marching toward a decisive battle. It came along the ridges and in the woods and cornfields between Antietam Creek and the Potomac River. Valor, misjudgment, and astonishing coincidence all played a role in the outcome. McPherson vividly describes a day of savage fighting in locales that became forever famous--The Cornfield, the Dunkard Church, the West Woods, and Bloody Lane. Lee's battered army escaped to fight another day, but Antietam was a critical victory for the Union. It restored morale in the North and kept Lincoln's party in control of Congress. It crushed Confederate hopes of British intervention. And it freed Lincoln to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation, which instantly changed the character of the war.

McPherson brilliantly weaves these strands of diplomatic, political, and military history into a compact, swift-moving narrative that shows why America's bloodiest day is, indeed, a turning point in our history.


  • Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson offers a masterful portrait of the bloody one-day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War
  • Paints a masterful account of this pivotal battle, the events that led up to it, and its aftermath
  • Brilliantly weaves these strands of diplomatic, political, and military history into a compact, swift-moving narrative that shows why America's bloodiest day is, indeed, a turning point in our history

About the Author(s)

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History at Princeton University. America's leading historian of the Civil War, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, which was a New York Times best seller, and he won the Lincoln Prize for For Cause and Comrades.


"A graceful and engaging blend of McPherson's scholarship and stylish writing....McPherson's admirers know he amply demonstrated his talent for this style of writing on an epic scale in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Battle Cry of Freedom,' which covered the entire war....'Crossroads of Freedom' is a small but valuable gem that similarly teaches and entertains."--Michael J. Larkin, Boston Globe

"Haunting....In some of the letters of surviving soldiers, there is a sense that the horror would forever escape the capabilities of their language and remain lodged only in their nightmares."--David Remnick, The New Yorker

"In McPherson's hands, the Battle of Antietam gains an urgent immediacy...[H]is brief narrative is driven by an awareness of the element of contingency, the 'what if' of history. By showing how Antietam changed the course of the Civil War, 'Crossroads of Freedom' suggests how the outcome may have shaped world history."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

"McPherson is the preeminent historian of the Civil War....His mastery extends from military affairs to politics to diplomacy, and he never loses sight of the human beings, both great and small, caught up in the war's vortex....McPherson is a master of the miniature as well as the panorama, as he made plain in his two previous books about the loyalties and issues that inspired men on both sides of the Civil War. Indeed, by contrast with the earnest, step-by-step and shot-by-shot accounts of Gettysburg now being inflicted upon those of us who simply cannot read enough about the Civil War, 'Crossroads of Freedom' is a model of economy."--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

"A wonderful new book....In this slim volume, he skillfully weaves military, diplomatic, and political history into a seamless, highly readable narrative. This effort is intended for the general reader, not the academic expert, but the scholar's attention to precision and detail is evident on every page. Books that deal with seminal events in American history while remaining faithful to historical scholarship and readable by laymen do not come along very oftern. But when they do, they should be read. History doesn't get any better than this."--Terry W. Hartle, Christian Science Monitor

"Today, the Antietam battleground is a place of death, sadness and too many monuments. Unlike Gettysburg, there was no brilliant presidential address afterward to give Antietam a wider meaning. Fortunately, readers can turn to 'Crossroads of Freedom' to gain historical perspective about the larger aims of the war."--Herbert Mitgant, Chicago Tribune

"Crossroads of Freedom is what we have come to expect of James McPherson--a compelling account that displays his command of that Civil War era's military and political history. It vividly illuminates a critical turning point in the transformation of the war for the Union into a crusade for emancipation."--Eric Foner, author of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

"Historian James McPherson is a national treasure, and Crossroads of Freedom is his latest gem. Vivid, elegantly written, and superbly rendered, this slender volume brings the momentous events surrounding the fateful battle of Antietam to life as never before. I loved this splendid book!"--Jay Winik, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America

"The battle of Antietam wielded enormous influence over the course of the Civil War. Although not a decisive tactical victory, it boosted the Union cause in profoundly important ways. James M. McPherson's engaging and perceptive narrative places Antietam within the broader context of the war, assessing major commanders, evaluating strategic decisions and movements, and explaining the battle's background as well as its seismic political and diplomatic consequences. Anyone interested in learning about Antietam should begin by reading this book."--Gary W. Gallagher author of The Confederate War

"The story and all the points he brings forth are impressive enough in themselves, captured with admirable precision and succinctness. And what a rarity this is. During the past decade, anyone with a passing interest in the Civil War could lose himself, if he chose to, in a vast tomb of works on the subject, lined with dusty shelves groaning under the weight of overstuffed volumes and overwritten prose. Mr. McPherson's books will never belong among them. His latest work is further evidence that he continues to be the most reliable, insightful, and readable Civil War historian of our time."--Jeff Shaara, Wall Street Journal

"A short but eloquent history lesson....[McPherson] does a superb job of re-creating a moment when the war, and all of American history that followed, might have gone altogether differently....McPherson reminds us that history is full of small events and accidents that become pivotal moments in a nation's history. Then, as now, nothing is inevitable."--Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"The illustrious author makes good on his reputation. Indeed, this deceptively slim volume emphasizes why fine history is always worth reading. Don't fear an arid chronicle of charging regiments. 'Crossroads of Freedom' is not specifically a work of military history. Rather, it meticulously, seemingly effortlessly, constructs a context through which the reader can clearly see the pivotal nature of the battle by witnessing its consequences. It delivers the 'what if' mode of historical writing, but always sticks to the facts. This is a great achievement....Arrive at the end of this remarkable book, and the meaning of McPherson's title--'Crossroads of Freedom'--becomes all the more profound. Antietam was the fulcrum of freedom."--Katharine Whittemore, salon.com

"Impeccably researched, superbly illustrated, and compellingly written...[A]n indispensable addition to the libraries of Civil War historians and enthusiasts."--Military Heritage

"McPherson convincingly establishes the Battle of Antietam as the conflict's pivotal moment militarily, politically, and morally."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This pithy monograph by McPherson argues that the bloody clash at Antietam on September 17, 1862, in which over 6000 Union and Rebel troops perished, would ultimately determine the outcome of the Civil War."--Library Journal

Table of Contents

    List of Maps
    Editor's Note
    Introduction: Death in September
    1. The Pendulum of War: 1861-1862
    2. Taking Off the Kid Gloves: June-July 1862
    3. "The Federals Got a Very Complete Smashing" August-September 1862
    4. Showdown at Sharpsburg
    5. The Beginning of the End
    Bibliographical Essay

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