Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Book Review: Battle Cry of Freedom

So I finally finished 860 pages of Civil War history last night. I sometimes hate the fact that I get wrapped up into long books that keep me from reading other stuff, but this one was a winner - big time. I felt like the 860 pages just flew by as I was completely captured by the historical narrative of the civil war era. The book spends a significant amount of space (maybe 250 pages) setting up the war, describing the political, economic, and social settings for the bloodiest war in American history. While I have been into history for a number of years, this historical account of the civil war (which won the Pulitzer Prize in history) helped me to place the battles, people, and events inside their historical context for the first time.

After reading this book, I really walked away with two major observations. First, the leadership it took for the Northern political leaders (especially Lincoln) to keep the North engaged in the war when it was costing so many lives was simply astounding. The fact that the Union encountered so many close calls at losing the whole war just reminds the reader that victory was never assured when the war began. As the years war on and the public support wained, Lincoln's leadership and commitment to victory were supremely important. To be able to endure the death of so many countrymen in order to save the Union and ultimately end slavery is surely a remarkable feat.

The second major observation I have is simply how deluded people can become in their own depravity. Being a white southerner by birth, it is really hard to believe that my ancestors defended the institution and righteousness of slavery as completely as they did. Reading the quotes of Confederate leaders throughout this book who passionately defended a morally bankrupt system reminds me that many times my reading of Scripture can be culturally determined more than I wish that it were. What I mean by that is simply that when a culture as a whole wants to defend an institution or a cultural value, they seem to be able to turn different passages of Scripture in their defense. As one of my profs from seminary used to say, "you can defend anything you want from the Bible if you take passages out of their context." Remarkable how recently our own great country was treating another race of human beings as property, as men and women and children not worthy to have their own freedom. How sad is our own story.

Overall, a great read and a stark reminder about our own fascinating American past.

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