For Cause and Comrades
Why Men Fought in the Civil War
By (author) James M. McPherson
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For Cause and Comrades by James M. McPherson
Book DescriptionGeneral 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 war progresses - not hold true in the Civil War? It is to this question - why did they fight - that James McPherson, America's preeminient 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 the conflict. 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 the American 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 should be 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 for the 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 lets these 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.
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Book DetailsISBN: 9780195090239
(242mm x 162mm x 24mm)
Imprint: Oxford University Press Inc
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Publish Date: 1-Mar-1997
Country of Publication: United States
Books By Author James M. McPherson
War That Forged a Nation, Hardback (April 2015)
James McPherson evokes the meaning and significance of the Civil War
War on the Waters, Paperback (February 2015)
War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865
Struggle for Equality, Paperback (October 2014)» View all books by James M. McPherson
"With a new preface by the author"--Cover.
US Kirkus Review » A grunt's-eye account of the Civil War. Drawing on some 25,000 letters and 250 diaries from 1,000 Yankee and Rebel soldiers, Pulitzer Prize - winning historian McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom, 1989; Drawn with the Sword, 1996; etc.) examines what it was that kept these men engaged in a horribly bloody, and often mismanaged, conflict. Pondering the suicidal assault at Gettysburg that history remembers as Pickett's Charge, McPherson asks at the outset: Why did these soldiers "go forward despite the high odds against coming out safely"? Why, despite frequent opportunities, did they not all cut and run for home, North and South alike? Comparing his findings to data from other wars, especially Vietnam and WW II, McPherson concludes that the seemingly quaint concepts of duty and personal honor motivated the fighters far more effectively than did ideas of patriotism, states' rights, or abolitionism, although those concepts were certainly powerful; and, he notes, "the motivating power of soldiers' ideals of manhood and honor seemed to increase rather than decrease during the last terrible year of the war." Brave though these men were, their letters and diaries, filled with expressions of the loneliness and terror of combat, make for sobering reading. Many of the young writers (the median age of the combatants was about 24) did not outlive the war, and it is touching to read their hopeful words, even at strange turns, as when a Confederate officer urges his wife to buy another slave, remarking that, if the South loses, the money spent would be worthless anyway, while if the South wins, the slave's value would certainly increase. McPherson's own narrative is somewhat flat, but he touches on many points of interest, not least of them a thoughtful exploration of combat stress and the madness wrought by unrelenting battle. McPherson's newest addition to a long roster of books is valuable not only for Civil War aficionados but for students of military history generally. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - James M. McPherson
James McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History at Princeton University where he has taught since 1962. The author of eleven books on the Civil War era of American History, he won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1989 for Battle Cry of Freedom.
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