What They Fought for, 1861-1865

Overview

This is an exceptional discourse on the Civil War, a colloquy among the very men who risked their lives in that conflict. The renowned historian James M. McPherson draws on the letters or diaries of nearly 1,000 Union and Confederate soldiers in investigating what motivated those who fought the Civil War. His conclusion that most of them felt a keen sense of patriotic and ideological commitment counters the prevailing belief that Civil War soldiers had little or no idea of what they were fighting for. McPherson ...
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Overview

This is an exceptional discourse on the Civil War, a colloquy among the very men who risked their lives in that conflict. The renowned historian James M. McPherson draws on the letters or diaries of nearly 1,000 Union and Confederate soldiers in investigating what motivated those who fought the Civil War. His conclusion that most of them felt a keen sense of patriotic and ideological commitment counters the prevailing belief that Civil War soldiers had little or no idea of what they were fighting for. McPherson points out that the armies of the Civil War were the most literate in history up to that time and consisted mainly of volunteers rather than draftees or long-service regulars. Moreover, these soldiers lived in the world's most politicized and democratic society, and throughout the conflict continued to read newspapers, vote, and openly discuss ideological issues. Their letters home were not subject to censorship, nor were the soldiers discouraged from keeping diaries; in both genres, they commented—often with great candor and eloquence—on a wide variety of issues connected with their war experience. What McPherson learned from these writings was that liberty and republicanism formed the ideological core of the cause for which soldiers of both sides fought. Confederates and Unionists alike saw themselves as custodians of the legacy of 1776, and the Civil War as a test of whether they were worthy of the heritage of liberty bequeathed to them by the founding fathers.

From the author of Battle Cry of Freedom comes an exceptional and highly original Civil War analysis. McPherson draws on the letters and diaries of nearly 1,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, giving voice to the very men who risked their lives in the conflict, in order to find out what motivated each soldier to fight.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Using personal accounts left by Civil War soldiers, McPherson gives his own interpretation of what drew these men to fight. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Union general Joshua Chamberlain once observed that because they fought for rights rather than pay or plunder, Civil War armies were almost unique in history. Numerous studies of the Civil War, and subsequent wars, have argued otherwise, noting that self-interest and survival more than ideology caused men to fight. Now distinguished historian McPherson (American history, Princeton Univ.) has entered the lists after examining several hundred Union and Confederate soldiers' diaries and letters. In a sprightly and forcefully argued book, based on a series of lectures and derived from a larger work-in-progress, McPherson finds that soldiers on both sides cherished concepts of liberty (even when defending slavery). Many historians will likely contest such findings, which seem more to characterize the first years of the war than the last, but all will owe McPherson much for revitalizing an important debate about the meaning of the Civil War.-- Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
Booknews
The subject of this intriguing lecture is carved out of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's larger work-in-progress, Why They Fought, which will focus on the attitudes and motives of Civil War soldiers. The narrower scope of this small book is ideology, that is, what the soldiers believed they were fighting for. A close study of thousands of personal letters and diaries written by soldiers during the war reveals a more sophisticated level of understanding than has conventionally been assumed. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807119044
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1994
  • Series: Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures Series
  • Pages: 88
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

James M. McPherson
Initially moved to study the history of the South as a way of understanding the civil rights movement, James M. McPherson has become the preeminent expert on the Civil War and Reconstruction. His award-winning work provides detail, context and a modern perspective on one of America's most important historical periods.
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    1. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 11, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Valley City, North Dakota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) 1958; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1963

Table of Contents

Preface
Abbreviations
Introduction 1
1 "The Holy Cause of Liberty and Independence" 9
2 "The Best Government on God's Footstool" 27
3 "The War Will Never End Until We End Slavery" 47
Notes 71
Index 87
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