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For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in…

For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War

by James M. McPherson

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This slim book is a distillation of 25,000 soldiers; letters and 20 diaries, and analyzes the variety of reasons Civil War soldiers fought --emphasize fought --McPherson focused chiefly on soldiers who did front line fighting (and in any cases died in battle); he did his best to mirror the percentages of soldiers from the different states in each army and the branches of service (infantry, cavalry, artillery) . He admits that he has a disproportionately number of officers (especially on the Confederate side) and a disproportionately small number of black soldiers responses (because 70% of black soldiers were illiterate, while 90% of Union troops overall were literate, and 80% of Confederates). Numerous soldiers wrote home, and there was no censorship, so they gave very frank opinions about themselves. their fellow soldiers and officers, and how they felt about the war. While there were some honest cowards who said they were glad not to be where the bullets were flying, a remarkable number were determined to do their duty and die if necessary, even in the face of conditions of appalling danger. ( )
  antiquary | Mar 13, 2017 |
This book analyzed hundreds of letters written by soldiers during the Civil War and uses these letters to give reasons why men went to combat. This book not only applies to the Civil War but gives reasons why soldiers fought in later wars as well. This novel can be read by all students. It can be used in a lesson for giving the motivations for men to fight in the Civil War, on both sides of the conflict.
  jreinheimer | Sep 27, 2010 |
If you wish to know how the soldiers viewed the war, the issues, their life in the conflict and how those views changed as their situation changed, this is a wonderful source. McPherson presents the letters from both sides of the conflict discussing the same issue so you can see how the soldiers' opinions may be based on the background or personal history. While at times repetitive, this was completing reading and it often made me feel the soldiers' loneliness because they were away from home for years. We also get a sense of what life was for their families without the main bread winner there to do the work. ( )
  lamour | Aug 30, 2010 |
Really great insight into the reason why soldiers fought in the Civil War. Great read! ( )
  ckoller | Mar 12, 2009 |
McPherson wrote a shorter version of this called WHAT THEY FOUGHT FOR. I liked that so much that I read this later, longer version. It is an excellent explanation of why men fought in the Civil War. He covers northern and southern motivations and differentiates between reasons to enlist and motivations for going into battle. McPherson is also clear about the statistics, letting the reader know which groups are over- or under-represented in his sampling and how that might effect the outcomes. ( )
  missmath144 | Jul 23, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0195124995, Paperback)

Consider a war in which 25,000 soldiers are killed or wounded in a single battle, as they were at Gettysburg, or 16,000 in a single day, as at Antietam. The degree of suffering and hardship during the American Civil War has been well documented and analyzed in books and films from Margaret Mitchell's fictional Gone with the Wind to Bell Irvin Wiley's classic studies of Civil War soldiers, The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank. All these sources agree on the brutality of the combat, but what motivated soldiers to continue fighting under such bitter conditions is the cause of some controversy. Until recently, the common stance has been that soldiers enlisted out of economic need and stayed out of loyalty to their comrades. The respected Civil War historian James M. McPherson weighs in with a different point of view in For Cause and Comrades.

Professor McPherson posits that the common rank-and-file soldiers did indeed hold political and ideological beliefs that prodded them to enlist and to fight. His research is based on letters and diaries from 1,076 Union and Confederate soldiers. These reveal many motivations, but always they lead back to duty, honor, and a cause worth dying for. For Cause and Comrades is a fascinating exploration of the 19th-century mind--a mind, it seems, that differs profoundly from our own.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:48 -0400)

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General John A. Wickham, commander of the famous 101st Airborne Division in the 1970s and subsequently Army Chief of Staff, once visited Antietam battlefield. Gazing at Bloody Lane where, in 1862, several Union assaults were brutally repulsed before they finally broke through, he marveled,"You couldn't get American soldiers today to make an attack like that." Why did those men risk certain death, over and over again, through countless bloody battles and four long, awful years ? Why did the conventional wisdom -- that soldiers become increasingly cynical and disillusioned as warprogresses -- not hold true in the Civil War? It is to this question--why did they fight-- that James McPherson, America's preeminent Civil War historian, now turns his attention. He shows that, contrary to what many scholars believe, the soldiers of the Civil War remained powerfully convinced of the ideals for which they fought throughout theconflict. Motivated by duty and honor, and often by religious faith, these men wrote frequently of their firm belief in the cause for which they fought: the principles of liberty, freedom, justice, and patriotism. Soldiers on both sides harkened back to the Founding Fathers, and the ideals of theAmerican Revolution. They fought to defend their country, either the Union--"the best Government ever made"--or the Confederate states, where their very homes and families were under siege. And they fought to defend their honor and manhood. "I should not lik to go home with the name of a couhard,"one Massachusetts private wrote, and another private from Ohio said, "My wife would sooner hear of my death than my disgrace." Even after three years of bloody battles, more than half of the Union soldiers reenlisted voluntarily. "While duty calls me here and my country demands my services I shouldbe willing to make the sacrifice," one man wrote to his protesting parents. And another soldier said simply, "I still love my country." McPherson draws on more than 25,000 letters and nearly 250 private diaries from men on both sides. Civil War soldiers were among the most literate soldiers in history, and most of them wrote home frequently, as it was the only way for them to keep in touch with homes that many of them had left forthe first time in their lives. Significantly, their letters were also uncensored by military authorities, and are uniquely frank in their criticism and detailed in their reports of marches and battles, relations between officers and men, political debates, and morale. For Cause and Comrades letsthese soldiers tell their own stories in their own words to create an account that is both deeply moving and far truer than most books on war. Battle Cry of Freedom, McPherson's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Civil War, was a national bestseller that Hugh Brogan, in The New York Times, called "history writing of the highest order." For Cause and Comrades deserves similar accolades, as McPherson's masterful prose and the soldiers'own words combine to create both an important book on an often-overlooked aspect of our bloody Civil War, and a powerfully moving account of the men who fought it.… (more)

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