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This Mighty Scourge

Perspectives on the Civil War

James M. McPherson

Publication Date - January 2007

ISBN: 9780195313666

272 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

Retail Price to Students: $29.95

Writings and reflections on our nation's greatest cataclysm from America's leading authority on the Civil War


The author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom and the New York Times bestsellers Crossroads of Freedom and Tried by War, among many other award-winning books, James M. McPherson is America's preeminent Civil War historian. In this collection of provocative and illuminating essays, McPherson offers fresh insight into many of the enduring questions about one of the defining moments in our nation's history.

McPherson sheds light on topics large and small, from the average soldier's avid love of newspapers to the postwar creation of the mystique of a Lost Cause in the South. Readers will find insightful pieces on such intriguing figures as Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Jesse James, and William Tecumseh Sherman, and on such vital issues as Confederate military strategy, the failure of peace negotiations to end the war, and the realities and myths of the Confederacy. This Mighty Scourge includes several never-before-published essays--pieces on General Robert E. Lee's goals in the Gettysburg campaign, on Lincoln and Grant in the Vicksburg campaign, and on Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief. All of the essays have been updated and revised to give the volume greater thematic coherence and continuity, so that it can be read in sequence as an interpretive history of the war and its meaning for America and the world.

Combining the finest scholarship with luminous prose, and packed with new information and fresh ideas, this book brings together the most recent thinking by the nation's leading authority on the Civil War.


  • Combining the finest scholarship with luminous prose, packed with new information and fresh ideas, this book brings together the most recent thinking by the nation's leading authority on the Civil War
  • Offers fresh insight into many of the enduring questions about one of the defining moments in our nation's history
  • Written by America's preeminent Civil War historian, James M. McPherson

About the Author(s)

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He has published numerous volumes on the Civil War, including Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War, and For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, which won the prestigious Lincoln Prize in 1998.


"Essays which collectively illustrate his customary mastery of the field."--John Y. Simon, The Journal of Southern History

"Non-fiction books, especially history, rarely earn praise as 'page-turners.' James M. McPherson makes the feat seem routine. A satisfying and insightful set of ruminations that will appeal to both specialists and general readers. Reading his book of essays might be no substitute for having attended his former seminars at Princeton University, but it might be as close a book--and most readers--will get to doing so."--Christopher Phillips, Civil War Book Review

"In "This Mighty Scourge" -- a riveting collection of 16 masterfully written essays -- James M. McPherson again demonstrates that he is our greatest historian of the war...they stand as a remarkably elegant and clarifying narrative exploration of the most basic questions concerning the Civil War, issues over which scholars and activists still contend..."This Mighty Scourge," in fact, is an exemplary exercise in the contribution a great historian and eloquent writer can make to a people's understanding of themselves."--The Los Angeles Times

"For readers unfamiliar with McPherson's work, [This Mighty Scourge] provides a useful introduction -- one that, it is to be hoped, will lead them to his masterwork, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) -- and for those who know that work, it provides numerous interesting footnotes."--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

"It will seduce anyone, Civil War neophyte or fanatic, for its authority and judgments...There is not a bad chapter in this book. This Mighty Scourge is a marvelous read from a master historian. Like all good history, what it makes you want to do is know more."--The Boston Globe

"One of the givens in American history is that we will always find new ways to look at the Civil War. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson reinforces that with THIS MIGHTY SCOURGE, a fascinating collection of essays on aspects of the War Between the States . . . Civil War a buffs will find THIS MIGHTY SCOURGE to be a first-class addition to the genre."--St. Louis Times-Dispatch

"A smooth narrative that addresses some of the biggest questions of the Civil War: why did it start- why did the South lose- what motivated the men who fought on both sides- how do we evaluate the top leaders--including Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses G. Grant-- McPherson goes about answering these and other questions in his usual graceful style, underscored by a thorough grasp of myriad primary and secondary sources on virtually every aspect of the conflict. He forthrightly expresses his opinions while backing them up with well-reasoned arguments, whether challenging the 'Lost Cause' argument about why the South lost, or supporting the proposition that it was slavery--and not states' rights--that was the main cause of the war. This strong addition to the massive Civil War canon will appeal to all readers."--Publishers Weekly

"This anthology is one of McPherson's finest works and will be warmly received by any Civil War reader."--Army Magazine

"Brings a critical intelligence to central questions concerning the war."--Kirkus Reviews

"These 16 essays--many previously published in The New York Review of Books, all revised so that they form a coherent whole--ask the big questions of the Civil War: Why was it fought? Why did the South lose? What was the wa's effect on those who lived through it? Addressing recent historiography, McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is both masterly and graceful."--New York Times Book Review

Table of Contents


    I. Slavery and the Coming of War
    1. And the War Came
    2. Escape and Revolt in Black and White

    II. The Lost Cause Revisited
    3. The Confederacy: A House Divided?
    4. Was the Best Defense a Good Offense? Jefferson Davis and Confederate Strategies
    5. The Saratoga That Wasn't: The Impact of Antietam Abroad
    6. To Conquer a Peace? Lee's Goals in the Gettysburg Campaign
    7. The Last Rebel: Jesse James
    8. Long-Legged Yankee Lies: The Lost Cause Textbook Crusade

    III. Architects of Victory
    9. "We Stand by Each Other Always": Grant and Sherman
    10. The Hard Hand of War
    11. Unvexed to the Sea: Lincoln, Grant, and the Vicksburg Campaign

    IV. Home Front and Battle Front
    12. Brahmins at War
    13. "Spend Much Time in Reading the Daily Papers": The Press and Army Morale in the Civil War
    14. No Peace Without Victory, 1861-1865

    V. Lincoln
    15. To Remember That He Had Lived
    16. "As Commander-in-Chief I Have a Right to Take Any Measure Which May Best Subdue the Enemy"


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