Why soldiers fought in civil war? What motivates them to do so? Why are they so motivated to fight for the country risking their life and familys future? These were the question raised by his students during the visit of battle field. These questions led him to search for the answer and publish in his book. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War.
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By James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997 is a very researched based book. The authors dont make single claim in the book but try to give a sense of idea what are the motivations of the soldiers to fight in civil wars. It is backed by quoting the exact words from the letters of the soldiers to their family and even from the excerpt of the articles in newspapers. He has done his research on how the soldiers feel about the wars. McPherson is a superb scholar and author of over nineteen books and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. He is the George Henry 86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University with PhD from John Hopkins University, awarded in 1963.
McPherson read over 25,000 letters and 249 personal diaries of Civil War soldiers that Civil War soldiers wrote home to dive into the realities of the soldiers conditions during war. These letters are his primary source of evidence. Many Historian have used these sources to analyze the history. However, as McPherson explains, none has read their diaries and letters with the same questions [and conclusions] about why they fought as I have done.. The author tries to make his work unique by this statement. The author surely puts his work in analyzing thousands of letters.
He further states the motivation of the teenagers enthusiasm to enlist in the regiment. Their motives were to see elephants, get chance to show their bravery in the Warfield. They have imagined the scenes of movies where soldiers kill all the enemies easily, but the reality is something else. Putting forward the context of the teenagers author try to persuade the reader emotionally. We can imagine what the situation might be from the phrase written by Oberlin College student to his brother that WAR! and volunteers are only topics of conversation or thought. The lessons today have been a mere form. I cannot study. I cannot sleep, I cannot work. The author tried to show how excited are the young people for the war.
The author has presented the situation in the soldier ran away from the war using different excuses such as getting sick, helping wounded solider to get to the camp to escape the battle field, getting bombproof position to be on safe side, not getting up to fight again once they fall in the way to the battlefield, etc.
But McPherson also present the situation and feeling of the soldiers who want to fight in the war and try get back to regiment even they have been given bomb proof position because of the folks back home might think he is running away from his duty. One of the soldiers write, I prefer the ranks because his detachment as brigade clerk is what is technically known as a ?Bomb proof & that is something that I never want. The statements show how the soldiers care for their image back home. Sometimes the soldiers are from the same community and they must go for war even they are sick because of peer pressure and fear of being titled as coward.
It becomes hard when a war continues for a long time. McPherson suggest different reason for sustaining an army during the long war: honor, religion, brotherhood, ideology, and support from home and family. When the initial enthusiasm was finished, traditional methods were used to keep soldiers motivated. Sometimes the officers would use coercion to force soldiers into wars when they are not motivated to go for war. The soldiers were even killed when they turn back in the war.
Some use religious belief to overcome the fear of the war. They became more religious just before the war. They would ask the family member to pray for him back at home. It was more like, fear of the war among the soldiers than Cristian make good soldiers.
Sometime the officers are so dedicated to their job that it motivates all the soldiers and even motivated to die without any second thought. McPherson draw the conclusion of the motivation of the soldiers from the world war II and Vietnam.
He also shows the difference between the level of motivation of the soldiers in volunteers and the real soldiers. In review by Herma Hattaway, he says Northern nationalism well may have been more abstract and intangible than was nationalism to Southerners, but Union soldiers typically believed that they could not return to their country if they lost the war, because they would no longer truly have a country. These different thoughts were motivation for the soldiers.
Lesley J. Gordon in his review say, he finds gaps in the sources, McPherson asks readers to accept his explanations without authoritative evidence to back him up. Existing sources show most Confederate soldiers saying little about slavery, literate black Union soldiers writing mainly for public consumption, and women frequently telling their husbands to come home. Nonetheless, McPherson argues that the majority of southern soldiers supported slavery, the majority of soldiers’ wives supported their husbands, and the minority of literate blacks who published letters reflected attitudes of their illiterate black comrades.
This book is researched based because every argument is supported by huge number of evidences and author is successful in making the point without making the audience bore. It includes the emotions and funny part which persuade the reader emotionally and evoke emotions. In conclusion, For Cause and Comrades is successful in presenting what the soldiers think and feel during the war and how they act in different circumstance and their relation to the home.
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