James McPherson is George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of American History Emeritus at Princeton. His books include Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1989, and, most ­recently, The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters.
 (October 2016)


America’s Greatest Movement

Samuel Worcester: The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia, 1850. Brown shipped himself from Virginia to abolitionists in Philadelphia. His slave narrative was soon published, and he became a successful lecturer and performer.

The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition

by Manisha Sinha
When I entered graduate school in 1958, the historical reputation of the abolitionists was at a low ebb. The previous generation of historians had portrayed them as self-righteous fanatics who incited sectional conflict between North and South and brought on a needless civil war. These meddling zealots were not genuinely …

The Fugitives Who Changed America

James Hamlet, the first person returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, in front of city hall in New York; engraving from the National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 17, 1850. Hamlet was returned by force to Baltimore, but ‘by the time this appeared in print,’ Eric Foner writes in Gateway to Freedom, ‘New Yorkers had raised the money to purchase Hamlet’s freedom and he was back in the city.’

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

by Eric Foner
When the Constitutional Convention met at Philadelphia in 1787, slavery was on the way out in most states north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The bifurcation between slave and free states that would plague the nation for the next seventy-five years and bring civil war in 1861 had already begun. Many …

Our Monstrous War

Winslow Homer: Defiance: Inviting a Shot Before Petersburg, 1864

Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War

by Michael C.C. Adams
Living Hell is an extended antiwar sermon. Like all good preachers, Michael C.C. Adams begins with a quoted text, this one from a speech in 1880 by General William T. Sherman to an audience in which many of the listeners were too young to remember the trauma and devastation of …

America’s ‘Wicked War’

The twenty-day siege of the Mexican city of Veracruz in March 1847; painting by William Henry Powell, 1867

A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 US Invasion of Mexico

by Amy S. Greenberg
“I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico,” said Ulysses S. Grant in 1879, more than thirty years after he had fought in that war as a young lieutenant. As he was dying of cancer in 1885, Grant …

‘A Bombshell on the American Public’

President Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan (second from left) after the  Battle of Antietam, October 3, 1862

Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory

by Harold Holzer

Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union

by Louis P. Masur
As the war took a turn for the worse in the summer of 1862, Lincoln fully embraced the idea that as commander in chief he could proclaim emancipation as a means of weakening the enemy. During a carriage ride on July 13, 1862, to attend the funeral of the infant son of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, the president startled his seatmates William H. Seward and Gideon Welles, the secretaries of state and the navy. He told them that he had made up his mind to issue the proclamation.

What Drove the Terrible War?

‘Fate of the Rebel Flag’; lithograph published by William Schaus in 1861, based on a painting by William Bauly

A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War

by Amanda Foreman

The Union War

by Gary W. Gallagher
As we begin to move through four years of commemorating the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, the outpouring of new books will add to that conflict’s status as the most-written-about event in our history. One of the largest of these volumes—in length as well as scope—is Amanda Foreman’s spacious narrative of Anglo-American and Anglo-Confederate relations during the war.

The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln at the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Macomb, Illinois, August 26, 1858

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

by Eric Foner
The central theme of The Fiery Trial is Lincoln’s “capacity for growth” in his “views and policies regarding slavery and race.” Foner does not doubt the sincerity of his statement in 1858 that he had “always hated slavery.” By the time of Lincoln’s death, however, “he occupied a very different position with regard to slavery and the place of blacks in American society than earlier in his life.” In 1837 Lincoln described slavery as an injustice; by 1854 it was a monstrous injustice; in 1862 he told a delegation of five black men he had invited to the White House that “your race are suffering in my judgment the greatest wrong inflicted on any people.” This was good abolitionist rhetoric. But Lincoln’s purpose at this meeting in 1862 was to publicize his program for government assistance to blacks who volunteered to emigrate. Like his political heroes Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay, Lincoln could not yet in 1862 imagine a future of interracial equity in the United States. “Even when you cease to be slaves,” he told the five delegates, “you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race.”

Lincoln Off His Pedestal

A. Lincoln: A Biography

by Ronald C. White Jr.

Abraham Lincoln: A Life

by Michael Burlingame
When Abraham Lincoln breathed his last at 7:22 AM on April 15, 1865, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton solemnly intoned: “Now he belongs to the ages.” Stanton’s words were more prescient than he could know. Lincoln’s image and legacy became the possession not only of future ages in America …