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For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War Paperback – November 5, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0195124996 ISBN-10: 0195124995 Edition: Reprint
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Editorial Reviews Review

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

YA. This powerful commentary by today's premier Civil War historian is truly compelling in its depth and intensity. McPherson has extrapolated and quoted from over 25,000 letters and 249 diaries of more than 1000 Union and Confederate soldiers. The documentation is impressive and is successful in substantiating the thesis that many motivations were at work in the hearts of the Civil War fighting men; but on the whole, they were driven by noble ideals of honor; duty; and devotion to God, country, home, and family. Many of the letters tell of the loneliness, depression, discouragement, exhaustion, pain, hunger, and lack of sanitation. The written words of these young soldiers are simple in expression but poignant in emotion. Frequently, after quoting a touching passage written to a wife, mother, or other family member, McPherson comments that the aforementioned soldier was killed on the battlefield or died of disease. The book fills readers with a profound respect for the soldiers who struggled so valiantly for the cause in which they believed. Interesting appendixes on the geographical origins of soldiers and their occupations give students an illuminating view of both armies. Extensive footnotes enhance the value of the volume.?Peggy Mooney, Pohick Public Library, Burke, VA
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (November 5, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195124995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195124996
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom, Crossroads of Freedom (which was a New York Times bestseller), Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, and For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, which won the Lincoln Prize.

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#72 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 62 people found the following review helpful By bixodoido on December 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is a very refreshing twist on Civil War history. In this work, as well as in his book What They Fought For, noted Civil War historian James McPherson explores what exactly motivated men to fight in the war. Having done exhaustive research to the tune of diaries and letters from nearly 1,000 soldiers, most of them obscure and average men, McPherson is aptly qualified to perform this work. He looks at several factors, from group unity to sense of honor to desire for vengeance, in an attempt to understand the average Civil War soldier, and ultimately makes a strong case for the idea that Civil War soldiers were idealistic men who were not ignorant of the issues at stake and who were motivated by an extraordinary desire to fight for their beliefs. This, McPherson argues, sets them apart from soldiers in other wars.

As is always the case with McPherson, this book is very well written and enjoyable to read. Most of this book is composed of quotes from various soldiers with McPherson's interpretation and narrative interjected only often enough to keep the discussion flowing. He does a wonderful job of integrating the quotes and making them fit perfectly into what he's trying to say. McPherson's use of quotations from the men who were actually there is infinitely more effective in proving his point than anything he could say himself, and this is what makes this book so great. There are hundreds of books out there that will tell you WHAT happened, but this book is one of only a few that will try and explain WHY and HOW things happened.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Mercy Bell on June 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book. Prof. McPherson read over 30,000 letters and diaries for this, and thus I think he has provided one of the most thorough and thought provoking treatments of the psychology of Civil War soldiers and studies on why exactly they fought.
For this work, Prof. McPherson also incorporates theories, reports, and research of the combat motivation, effects of combat, and psychology of men and soldiers in others war such as WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War, not to mention general medical studies from British, American, and German armies. In some instances, he uses modern knowledge to analyze the thoughts and feelings of the soldiers of the Civil War. As interesting as this is to show how soldiers in the Civil War had the same problems and feelings as most men of war, his academic findings illustrate how Civil War soldiers were also very different from soldiers in other wars.
The difference lay in their devout belief in their causes, and their sustained belief in those causes, and the close relationship with the men they fought with (which is a common thread for men of all wars), throughout the war. McPherson rarely goes on for more than a paragraph or two of his own narrating. He lets the voices of the men who fought take up 90% of the book, giving you a real sense of who these people were, and allowing the reader to derive an opinion for themselves, but always with McPherson's voice in the background guiding the reader, teaching you.
The causes brought up by the letters and McPherson are wide and varied, and McPherson makes sure to research each and explain as elaborately as possible, but quite noticable are the few main causes that men on both sides procliamed in verbose rhetoric.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Although Professor James McPherson wrote this study of the motivation of the Civil War soldier, it is not a great exaggeration to say that in this book the soldiers speak for themselves. Professor McPherson has read and analyzed a prodigious amount of source material written by Civil War combatants, Union and Confederacy, officer and enlisted soldier. For this book, he has taken a sample of the letters home and the diaries of 1076 soldiers, 647 Union and 429 Confederate to analyze their candid, uncensored reflections of why they fought. Professor McPherson also draws on many modern studies of combat psychology and utilzes their findings in discussing the Civil War soldiers.
Professor McPherson's sample is not statistically random and it may be skewed in some ways. For example, the sample does not include (obviously) illiterate soldiers or black soldiers. It tends to be tilted in the direction of those individuals who did most of the fighting and who were committed to their respective causes. Professor McPherson recognizes that many of the combatants were unwilling participants, particularly as the draft was instituted in both armies and that both armies included many shirkers. These individuals are not represented in his sample of letters. But still, these letters, written in the activity of soldiering and not intended for publication, are revealing of their authors' thoughts and feelings in a way impossible to replicate in other writings.
The letters reveal much about the motivation of the combatants and about life in Civil War America. Professor McPherson finds that many of the soldiers in the Civil War had a firm idea of why they were fighting. On both sides soldiers fought for the preservation of liberty and the duty they perceived they owed to their country.
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