When one visits Winsted Hill and looks at the thousands of Southern soldiers who died when fighting against Union lines at Franklin or when one looks at the Crater and see the gaping tear, one would wonder why people would fight that much. Valiant men risked their lives by going to war against Antietam, Kennesaw or Cold Harbor. Why would one die or maim hurl to them? What was the motivation behind men enduring dangers and hardships of camps and war as from the year 1861-1865? The main reason behind the book "For Cause and Comrades" written by James McPherson was to know what force propelled this man to go to war.
James McPherson is a historian who wrote a book by the name Cause and Comrades. McPherson had a quest to understand why Civil War soldiers fought the civil war and why they fought for too long. The carnage and intensity of civil war are unusual not only in America history but in the whole world. Americans today would not fight like the men in civil war. It was a challenge to explain their commitment since most men were not draftees and were not paid well. The story begins with posing a question as to why 13,000 soldiers sacrificed their lives at Gettysburg. The way the soldiers fought was questionable, yet the battle appeared to be a lost battle. The country was relatively small, and men took arms against their fellow men. This is explained by the 25,000 letters that were read over by McPherson, that they had been written home by civil war soldiers. The notes were a collection from 647 Union and 429 confederate collections.
There were 25,000 letters and 250 diaries from men who fought. Soldiers in history were among the most illiterate, and many of them kept in touch by frequently writing letters at home like it was the only thing they had left in their lives. The letters are frank in their critics, the marches and battles are detailed, officers and men relationship is described, morale and political debates are also included. McPherson combines the own words of soldiers to create a book about a bloody civil war and tries to show what powerfully moved the men to fight the battle.
The pure "military rage" was the initial impulse to fight the war, according to McPherson. In orders to kill others, soldiers and citizens had to fire themselves up and also get energized. Doors were being torn up by men to enlist but the enlisting continued even slowing down of the initial excitement. One reason that made men fight is to show their courageousness and manliness. Men had to prove that one is a man to their fellow community members. An active duty to family, state, community, region, and country resulted in war. Another motivating factor was ideology. Those involved in war believed that they were fighting for liberty. The North threatened the Southern whites with the rule. Constitution in the North provides for freedom. Thus they felt threatened by the Southern secession.
Various reasons made men go to war, and one was to be seen as courageous, and the other was for honor. Destruction and making of men's reputation were done in the war. Good and bad men were demonstrated by showing how courageous they are. Soldiers on both sides were shocked at how they could fight for long hours without stopping thus they were motivated by adrenaline. McPherson felt that the primary battle cohesion was the most critical factor. Discipline and coercion motivated soldiers since most of them complained constantly and they were also poorly trained. Good leadership also played an essential role since they inspired the soldiers. Combat leaders and officers motivated their men by performing the same task as theirs (McPherson 46).
According to McPherson, religion greatly influenced men. Second Great Awakening had just occurred thus two of the most religious armies in human history were produced. Most men were motivated by sacrificing themselves for their country. Thus patriotism was another factor. Initially, people did not care about slavery. However, at the end of the war, Union soldiers came to believe that a good reason to go to war was to eliminate the oppression of blacks. Family members supported the soldiers thus motivating the soldiers to persevere during the hard times. However, at times family members killed the morale. The most immense factor that kept the men going was vengeance and hatred. Victory and defeat of the war harmonized with the decline and flow of high heroic spirit.
The story told by McPherson includes essential factors that motivated the civil war soldiers but does not settle on which factor was most important. The story however thoroughly explains it even though it does show the most important element of motivation. McPherson's story is compelling and poignant. It is also pleasing since justice has been done to men on both sides, who innocently left home without knowing what they would experience but managed to create honor and a reputation of prowess out of the crucible war.
McPherson, James M. For cause and comrades: Why men fought in the Civil War. Oxford University Press, 1997.
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