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For cause and comrades : why men fought in the Civil War /

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Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Oxford University Press, 1997
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SUMMARY

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.


Review by Choice Review

Why did they enlist? Why did they fight? What kept them going? These recurring questions about Civil War soldiers still prove compelling for scholars. McPherson (Princeton), one of this generation's leading Civil War historians, turns his formidable talents toward answering these questions in his exploration of soldiers' motivation. In a concise, lucid narrative that draws on extensive archival research, he argues that soldiers on both sides expressed a commitment to defend political principles; matters of duty, honor, and proving their manhood also spurred them forward. McPherson acknowledges differences between Union and Confederate soldiers as well as some variations within each army: Confederate slaveholders, for example, were much more frank about the need to protect slavery then were their nonslaveholding counterparts in gray. One might wish for more inquiry about regional variations within each army, about those Union soldiers who did not reenlist in 1864, or the increase in Confederate desertions as the war drew to a close, but on the whole McPherson offers a persuasive and provocative account of why Civil War soldiers fought. All levels. B. D. Simpson; Arizona State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

McPherson's latest Civil War study addresses the question, What kept the soldiers fighting? McPherson has conducted a quasisurvey by poring over collections of soldiers' letters--a procedure he admits leads to biases of social class, education, and high motivation. Within those limitations, McPherson argues that the Civil War soldier not only knew modern unit cohesion (i.e., don't let your buddies down) but felt impelled by genuine political, ideological, and patriotic impulses to both enlist and remain in the field. Both Union men and Confederates regarded themselves as the true heirs of the American Revolution, and McPherson is admirably free of condescension toward those attitudes. He has also, as usual, researched thoroughly and written more eloquently than almost any other Civil War historian since Bruce Catton. The result is an invaluable book, though a saddening one as, time and again, we read that the author of some eloquent statement of commitment died in action, in Andersonville, or of the measles. --Roland Green

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Twenty years ago, McPherson and several of his Princeton history students retraced Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, where 13,000 Confederate men faced the withering fire of Union guns on that hot Friday afternoon of July 3, 1863. What the students wanted to know was why. This book‘like its slim 1994 predecessor, What They Fought For, 1861-1865, is a engrossing and reliable answer to that question. McPherson, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for his Battle Cry of Freedom, uses data drawn from 25,000 letters and 249 diaries of more than 647 Union and 429 Confederate soldiers, relying on the "iceberg principle" for each conclusion. "For every statement by a soldier quoted herein," he notes, "at least six more lie below the surface in my notecards." The one distinction of his sample: these men were not "skulkers who did their best to avoid combat" but "those who did the real fighting." McPherson adds that "while 7% of all Civil War soldiers were killed or mortally wounded in action, 21% of the soldiers in the samples lost their lives." In a new democracy not then a hundred years old, whose citizens were generally independent of any overreaching government, the Union and Confederate armies mobilized three million men, and only came to drafts and bonuses in the latter stage of the war. In the weeks following the attack on Fort Sumter, each side was spurred on by patriotic furor, and each had its share of soldiers eager to "face the elephant": to determine how they would react on the field of battle. But battle lust died down in the face of reality, to be replaced by more considered motivations. Duty and honor were powerful inducements. Confederate writers subscribed to the strict Southern code of honor, a term that for Northerners more often referred to the demands of conscience. This was combined with respect and affection for the officers and fellow soldiers, who shared danger and provided support. Group cohesion, a sense of family, inspired a sustaining pride that was both collective and individual. But as the war continued, attrition became a deadly foe of cohesion, as loss of comrades and officers left the "family" bereft. "My best friends have fallen so fast," wrote one Confederate officer, "that in the army I feel as if I were left alone." McPherson uses these letters well: they not only support his arguments but provide the intensely human elements of fear, sickness, loneliness and exhaustion that make the question of motivations so poignant. "I can tell you I don't care about being in another battle," writes one soldier, "but I have got to stand my chance with all the rest." (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Volumes have been written on the causes of the Civil War, but less has been written on what caused soldiers to risk their lives on the battlefield. McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom, (LJ 3/1/88), fills the gap. After studying thousands of letters and diaries, he discusses what really led soldiers to enlist, what kept them in the army, and what led them to the front lines. Examining Victorian America and its influence on soldiers' sense of duty, he considers factors of religion, liberty, and preservation of the Union and the deciding pull of self-preservation. McPherson maintains that Civil War soldiers enlisted with others from their community and stayed with them as a unit‘living, fighting, and dying together. Drawing liberally from primary sources, he has written an absorbing account. Essential reading for Civil War collections in both public and academic libraries.‘Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
AUTHOR NOTES

James M. McPherson is the author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, which won a Pulitzer Prize in history, and For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, a Lincoln Prize winner. He is the George Henry Davis Professor of American History at Princeton University in New Jersey, where he also lives.

His newest book, entitled Abraham Lincoln, celebrates the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth with a short, but detailed look at this president's life. (Bowker Author Biography) James M. McPherson, McPherson was born in 1936 and received a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1963. He began teaching at Princeton University in the mid 1960's and is the author of several articles, reviews and essays on the Civil War, specifically focusing on the role of slaves in their own liberation and the activities of the abolitionists.

His earliest work, "The Struggle for Equality," studied the activities of the Abolitionist movement following the Emancipation Proclamation. "Battle Cry of Freedom" won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1989. "Drawn With the Sword" (1996) is a collection of essays, with one entitled "The War that Never Goes Away," that is introduced by a passage from Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address on March 4, 1865 from which its title came: "Fondly do we hope - and fervently do we pray - that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'"

"From Limited to Total War: 1861-1865" shows the depth of the political and social transformation brought about during the Civil War. It told how the human cost of the Civil War exceeded that of any country during World War I and explains the background to Lincoln's announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1862. The book also recounts the exploits of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first black regiments organized in the Civil War, and their attack on Fort Wagner in July 1863. It pays tribute to Robert Gould Shaw, the white commanding officer of the regiment, who died in the attack and was buried in a mass grave with many of his men.

Professor McPherson's writings are not just about the middle decades of the nineteenth century but are also about the last decades of the twentieth century. The political turmoil prior to the Civil War, the violence of the war, Lincoln's legacy and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson shed some light on contemporary events.

(Bowker Author Biography)


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