james mcphersons crossroads of freedom

James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom

            James McPherson’s book, Crossroads of Freedom is a war account of the battle in Antietam, deemed to be the most violent, bloodiest day in American history. There are hundreds of books that talk about wars in America, and a few of them have already talked about Antietam. Despite this, McPherson’s Crossroads provides a different kind of military history. The book does not dwell on the moves or advances on the battlefront, but instead it gave the readers a clear view of the pivotal nature of the battle by showing them the consequences of the war. McPherson relied on facts to show the readers what happened and what could have happened throughout the battle of Antietam.

            The battle of Antietam is one of the major fights or engagements seen in the American Civil War, fought near the end of 1862. It is considered as the bloodiest day in the history of America because more than six thousand people died. McPherson emphasized on this not only because of the numbers involved, but also because of the effects and the consequences of the war. Despite losing a lot of lives that time, it proved to be a turning point in history, as it opened the doors for the Emancipation Proclamation. But before this, a lot has happened and quite a few personalities were known during the war, some of which were properly highlighted by McPherson in this book.

            The book portrays the Antietam battle in a compelling, tragic angle. The effort being given by the Union were almost fruitless by the late summer in 1862, despite their many moves, still there are no significant occurrences happening for their advantage. It was the Confederates of the South who were able to produce prominent and effective military leaders, which compensates for their inferiority in manpower and materials for the war. Robert Edward Lee and Stonewall Jackson were both brilliant leaders, which made them famous in both the Union and Confederate sides.

            The South was pretty much successful in their campaigns before the battle in Antietam even with inferior materials and numbers. They were successful at Second Manassas and in the battle at Shenandoah Valley, and were even able to turn back the invading forces of General McClellan in Virginia. The North on the other hand, were able to acquire some advantages in the west, but still they struggled in the east, as they took hold of every opportunity presented to them, until there was a change in command, and Ulysses Grant took control of the situation.

            Again going back, before the President Abraham Lincoln put General Grant in command, he first gave the military head to General George McClellan. McClellan was assigned as the field general, and the decisions in the battle were all up to him. James McPherson described him as an excellent leader type, who was bright and charismatic, skilled in training his men, as well as good in drawing up battle plans. He is overly deliberate and cautious of his actions, but he has one problem: he was slow to move. He was stubborn and hesitant to follow the orders of those who are above him, namely President Lincoln. Because of this his was not able to utilize the potential of his army to full advantage, and it cost them a lot.

            General McClellan faced Robert Lee in Virginia, during the Peninsular Campaign in 1862 during springtime, and this was the time that the confederates had a taste of how the general responded in battle. During this encounter, McClellan’s Union clearly has the upper hand. They have the numerical superiority, and during those times, wars are definitely decided by the numbers. This is a very important time because it could end the war in just this battle, since the Confederates are clearly outnumbered. But because of McClellan’s ineffectiveness, the war didn’t end in Antietam. McClellan was not able to fully harness the power of his army because he overestimated the Confederate strength, instead of trusting his army and their obvious advantage over the enemy. At this point, James McPherson shows us one of the moments which could have gone otherwise. McClellan indeed was a key figure in this war, if only he used the advantage that they had during that day.

            If the battle of Antietam went in the way that the Union has wanted, the war would have ended in just one day. They outnumbered and overpowered the Confederates, so McClellan could have won easily. But he didn’t. He could have saved thousands of lives more if the war ended then and there. He let slip several important chances in order for the war to end in just one day. His actions caused a lot of problems, and a day of ending the war extended into a few more months. It was in November of 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln relieved General McClellan of his duties, out of frustration.

            James McPherson gives a good pacing of the history, as he guides the readers to various domestic and international concerns that have sprung from the battle. He focused on the aspects of military, politics, and social events that happened afterwards. It is true that McClellan clearly failed to destroy Robert Lee’s army, but he was able to turn back the Confederate’s northern invasion. This struck a great blow to the Confederates, with the casualties as well as a blow to their morale. They had the momentum by winning all the other battles before Antietam, but they were suddenly stopped in their tracks. Both of the sides are weary, but the Confederates are clearly on the losing end.

            Antietam was just like any wars, with a lot of losses on both sides, and one side claiming victory. However, it was different from other engagements because it decided what would happen to the country in various aspects. President Abraham Lincoln worked his ways in order to pass the Emancipation Proclamation. It was five days after the battle of Antietam that the Emancipation Proclamation was served. Even before, Lincoln tried several measures in order to pursue the emancipation, using the war as a reason to confiscate slaves as war contraband. He paid the owners for the slaves as a compensation for the former property. In his addresses about the war, he often opened up about the concern with slavery. Through small steps, Lincoln was pursuing the Emancipation. Then the battle of Antietam came. It was the right moment to push through with his efforts about the emancipation. When they were able to push back the invading confederates, it was then the right moment for the proclamation. Antietam was considered as a catalyst of change, wherein the transition from slavery to the freedom of the African-Americans happened, both because of the battle and because of the President’s efforts.

Maybe, it was only McClellan who viewed the Battle of Antietam as a victory, but it has also marked a turning point in American history, something which until now, we are enjoying and experiencing. No matter how harsh wars may be, these are still all important aspects that shaped our world into what it is now. The Battle of Antietam may have been the Bloodiest Day for America, but it was also accompanied a big step towards the future of building the nation. It may not have been a decisive battle, and may have turned out to better results if not of some factors, but still it has shaped history and has a big effect in the formation of the present-day United States of America.


McPherson, James M. Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam. USA: Oxford University Press, 2002.


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