FOR CAUSE AND COMRADES by James M. McPherson

FOR CAUSE AND COMRADES

Why Men Fought the Civil War

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.
Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-19-509023-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1997




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