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For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  1,620 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
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 M. 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 remai ...more
Paperback, 237 pages
Published November 5th 1998 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1997)
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Steven Peterson
Nov 20, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it it was amazing
James McPherson is a fine historian. Many of his works on the Civil War are impressive. This ranks among his more interesting works—and makes a contribution in its own right.

The book is an effort to find the answer to a fundamental question (Page 5): “What enabled [Civil War soldiers:] to overcome that most basic of human instincts—self-preservation?” More basically (Page 5): “Why did Civil War soldiers do it?” The book, then, focuses on a fundamental question about those fighting in combat: Why
Robin Friedman
Jan 27, 2015 Robin Friedman rated it really liked it
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, ...more
Sylvia McIvers
Why did people fight in the War of Northern Aggression?
Why did people fight in the War of Southern Secession?

Why did they sign up, where did they find the courage for their first battle, why did they stay after they realized that death is real and messy? Did people really fight 'to end slavery'? How could slave-owners claim to be fighting for liberty? What did the folks back home - wives, parents, kids - think about the main bread-earner risking his life for Mr Lincoln's War?

Is "well, everyone
Margaret Sankey
Oct 18, 2014 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it
Re-read as I approach the Civil War in my military history class, this is a rich collation and analysis of a huge variety of letters and diaries from both sides of the Civil War, showing both a unique 19th century mindset, as well as a kind of universality of experience borne out by WWII social science questionnaires. I'd also like to put this in the hands of, or rather, upside the head of, the next person who tells me that Confederates were all about states rhats. Yes, indeed, the rhat to howl ...more
Donna Davis
Aug 27, 2012 Donna Davis rated it it was amazing
McPherson has written another great book on the American Civil War, a keen interest of mine. If you are interested in the war only in passing and want to read only one nonfiction book on the topic, read his heavy duty Pulitzer winner, Battle Cry of Freedom. However, if like me you have read it and been thirsty for more, and had other writers sometimes come up lacking, this is a wonderful choice. For me, though I have read books about this battle or that one, they are not as compelling as getting ...more
Brentley Campbell
Apr 02, 2012 Brentley Campbell rated it really liked it
Great read on why men fought in the civil war.
Nathan Albright
Jan 17, 2016 Nathan Albright rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge
For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought In The Civil War, by James M. McPherson

In this book, noted Civil War historian James McPherson provides a work that demonstrates the potential of statistical analysis in history and the combination of social and military history when handled skillfully by someone with a full respect for the texts and the people who wrote them. This particular volume seeks to use the voluminous letter writing and unpublished diaries of Civil War soldiers on both sides to p
Jan 18, 2017 Nikhil rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An insightful peek into the minds of those who fought in the war that defined the Union, "For Cause and Comrades" explores, through their own words, the thoughts, motivations, ambitions and gripes of soldiers and officers on both sides of the American Civil War. James McPherson leaves the language in its original form, with little ornamentation, editing, or annotation, letting the soldiers speak for themselves. Occasionally, the overarching theme of each chapter gets muddled in the attempt to ba ...more
Nov 25, 2015 Geof rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book: part history, part political philosophy, part sociology and anthropology. Arguably a propagandist's "How to" manual for inspirational rhetoric. As McPherson summarizes on page 131, "Convictions of duty, honor, patriotism, and ideology functioned as the principal sustaining motivations of Civil War soldiers, while the impulses of courage, self-respect, and group cohesion were the main sources of combat motivation."

The book offers a window into the thinking of America's citize
Joseph Stieb
Oct 14, 2014 Joseph Stieb rated it it was amazing
Shelves: us-civil-war
James McPherson's book examines why Civil War soldiers fought the Civil War in three ways. First, he looks at primary motivations, or what influenced men to sign up. Second, he analyzes sustaining motivations, or what motivated soldiers to keep going through the hardest periods of the war. Finally, he looks at combat motivations, or what enabled them to fight rather than flee. In all of these areas, he focuses on ideological and social motivations over incentives and coercive structures. McPhers ...more
Jan 02, 2012 Jerry rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
About half the men in most regiments did all the serious fighting. Others were shirkers or in bomb-proof jobs.
At the beginning of the war, men volunteered to prove their manhood, they were anxious for a fight. They were loyal to their region. In the South they saw it as state-rights and to repulse the Yankee invaders. In the North they saw firing on the US flag as treasonous and wanted to teach the rebels a lesson. The North was fighting for the union. Once admit that a state can secede at will,
Mike Rogers
Jan 16, 2012 Mike Rogers rated it really liked it
Noted historian James McPherson's "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War" is a fairly academic study of... why men fought in the civil war, obviously. It reads a bit like a college thesis with the main points split up amongst the dozen chapters. This is not meant to be a criticism, however, because McPherson has certainly done his homework. He writes in the preface that he took a one year sabbatical from his teaching position at Princeton and read primary documents from over 1, ...more
Bob Pearson
Sep 02, 2012 Bob Pearson rated it really liked it
During the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I've been reading more books on the period. McPherson's book is an excellent description of the motivations of the soldiers for North and South to join their cause and to stay and fight despite mind-numbing casualties. No one can doubt here that for both sides the conflict mushroomed quickly into a fight to the finish. For each, failure meant the death of liberty. The letters of the combatants on each side are powerful and personal. Despite military ...more
May 18, 2009 George rated it liked it
The one thing that I learned from this book, is what we have lost as a country and as a people. Throughtout the book you see examples of the idealism of both the union and Rebel soldiers, and the fact that they fought for what they each believed in. Carry this forward to present times and you immediately notice that the country is no longer that country that was in existence during those troubling and hard times. Other than the brave men and women that fight for us and protect our freedom in our ...more
Gary Brecht
Jul 09, 2009 Gary Brecht rated it it was amazing
The author studies the underlying factors that motivated Civil War combatants to carry on in the face of adversity. What gave these soldiers the will to fight and how (if at all) do they differ in this regard from U.S. soldiers in later wars? McPherson conducts a survey; both North and South, of soldiers’ letters home and supports his claims with statistical evidence. The result of his analysis is that the Civil War was conducted by a culture with high ideals. These were men who were committed t ...more
Laura LeAnn
Jun 16, 2012 Laura LeAnn rated it liked it
I originally read this while an undergrad and read it again as a grad student in an Historical Studies program. The Civil War is my favorite time period in American history so I probably had a bias towards this book even before reading it the first time. However, reading this taught me much about the variety of reasons that the actual soldiers were fighting in the war and why they had decided to join up. I think it should be required reading for students and teachers at any level when learning a ...more
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 Sean Chick rated it really liked it
Basically McPherson takes on the arguments made by Wiley and Linderman, saying that ideology was an important sustaining mechanism to the troops, espcially the best warriors to wear blue and gray. While I applaud McPherson's argument and willingness to take on two authors whom he praised before writing this book, I also contend that the truth probably lies in a blending of all their work. McPherson suggests this by agreeing with Wiley and Linderman on some of their points, but like any historian ...more
Josh Liller
Sep 03, 2012 Josh Liller rated it really liked it
This is a pretty interesting book about Civil War soldiers and why they fought. McPherson's thesis is that because they lived in a politically-active pre-cynicism era and were mostly volunteers (rather than regulars or conscripts), the soldiers on both sides of the Civil War were highly motivated by patriotism, duty/honor, and political ideology throughout the war.

I have read enough about the Civil War that I didn't find anything in the book especially surprising, but it is good to see soldiers'
Sep 16, 2014 Ashley rated it liked it
Shelves: what-i-study, history
I didn't love this book. Although it's a good introduction to why 19th century men joined the Union and Confederate army, the book felt a bit too broad for its own good. McPhearson quotes soldiers' letters and diaries throughput the work. He also draws on 20th c research into combat motivation. I found that his comparisons to contemporary (or, contemporary c 1997) wars to be both the most interesting and least sustainable part of his argument-- especially related to combat stress. Though he clea ...more
Jan Kovarik
Feb 01, 2015 Jan Kovarik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This work presents a side of soldiering that is provocative and prompts a new outlook about Johnny Reb and Billy Yank. When they weren't shooting at each other across the field of battle, they were conversing with each across the picket lines. They swapped personal stories and trades goods such as coffee and tobacco. More than just sharing food and sundry went on as well. Rebs listened to the Yank musicians as they played familiar melodies, and Yanks listened, hooting and cat-calling, while the ...more
Scott L.
I have never been a fan of McPherson's writings on the American Civil War - I think that he is very heavy-handed and opinionated and does not tolerate well opinions that conflict with his. However, this book is fairly well-written in comparison to some of his other tomes. I actually found this book to be readable and agreed with some of his opinions regarding the motivations of both the Confederate and Union soldiers in the war. He also manages to balance all of the fronts of the war, taking as ...more
Feb 14, 2013 Martin rated it really liked it
This is McPherson's 'Face of Battle' for the Civil War. In researching this book, McPherson read 25,000 letters and diaries in an attempt to answer the questions of why did men enlist; what sustained them through 4 years of war; why did they stand and fight instead of running away when the bullets starting flying?

In sum, why did men fight and sacrifice their lives for a cause in the Civil War?

Ideological commitment to the cause, the ideals of honor and bravery, desire for revenge, a sense of du
Jun 15, 2013 Ed rated it really liked it
McPherson uses a trove of letters written by Civil War soldiers, North and South, to try to answer the questions, Why did they fight? Why did they keep on fighting? He uses these letters to argue against the prevailing theory that might fight because of loyalty to their comrades. He doesn't deny that that is true, or even that it may be the main reason men in the twentieth century fight, but he argues that the letters suggest that in the Civil War more, if you will, idealistic reasons were clear ...more
Matthew Smith
Jul 19, 2013 Matthew Smith rated it really liked it
McPherson rightly says in the introduction that, in large part, this book was written by Civil War soldiers--much of the text is quoted directly from these men, without corrections for spelling or punctuation. The group of soldiers is somewhat skewed toward the white middle class, but McPherson makes this clear from the start as an inevitability of literacy rates and available documentation. Otherwise, the group is representative and methodically chosen to represent the military as a whole. A gr ...more
Jan 17, 2010 Sarah rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
I don't know, I was pretty bored and it took me forever to get through. He uses a lot of statistics and studies done on other soldiers from more recent wars to back up his assertions about Civil War soldiers and I'm not convinced that this is entirely responsible or accurate. Also, some of the percentages he gives seem irrelevant and I also noticed that he contradicts himself a few times. The book was also very repetitive. However, I did enjoy how a major part of the book revolved around letters ...more
Christie Yerger
Mar 04, 2013 Christie Yerger rated it liked it
I really wanted to enjoy this book, but I couldn't get past the writing style. It was just so dry. When I read the brief synopsis from my library's website I was instantly drawn to the fact that JM used quotes directly from the letters of these soldiers. Sure, not all soldiers were literate, so there is some bias there, but I thought it was going to be more captivating to read and learn about the soldier's experiences "in the moment", rather than reading publications based on soldier's revisitin ...more
Simon Aaronson
Aug 04, 2015 Simon Aaronson is currently reading it
For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War

For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James M. McPherson

All in all it was a really good book, but it should be for mainly adults who are very into the Civil War because of how detailed it is. That is one of the many critiques that should be made. It is too detailed, so McPherson should make it less detailed and should add a little more facts.

McPherson is a very good author, but McPherson should probably be more of an aut
Feb 10, 2013 Eileen rated it really liked it
I liked this book but it could have been cut in half and still been a fine book. McPherson draws from his extensive reading of Civil War soldiers' letters to reflect on why they so willingly fought and died. A poignant book, especially when soldiers from each side wrote that God was on their side and in fighting they were doing God's will. One excerpt particularly moved me. A Georgia man wrote his mother in 1864, 6 months before he died in battle "Dont grieve a bout me. It does no good. If I get ...more
Feb 09, 2009 Jeremy rated it it was ok
A book that probably could've been condensed to a pamphlet and not bored me. McPherson's book essentially amounts to seven or so claims followed by a tiring repetition of quotes from soldiers as evidence. Much of this book belongs in footnotes. Minimal analysis. The book functions almost as a giant appendix rather than a well-argued easy-to-read thesis or narrative. Perhaps, I'll concede, it just isn't my style. Hopefully, his Pulitzer-Prize winning "Battle Cry of Freedom" doesn't present itself ...more
Bryn Dunham
Oct 05, 2010 Bryn Dunham rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books, history
For Cause and Comrades is a really interesting book about the various motivations that men in the North and South fought in the Civil War. The motivations ranged from a sense of duty, manly honor, patriotism, adventure and vengeance. In addition McPherson explores how these motivations evolved over the course of the war, using primary sources (mostly letters and diaries),and how attitudes changed as war aims changed and the fighting intensified.

This was a really interesting and easy to read boo
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James M. McPherson (born October 11, 1936) is an American Civil War historian, and is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, his most famous book. He was the president of the American Historical Association in 2003, and is a member of the editorial board of Encyclopædia Britannica.

More about James M. McPherson...

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