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Cause and Comrades



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    1. ) What are the primary sources used by McPherson to explain the motives of the 3 million soldiers fought in the Civil War? What are the advantages and drawbacks to this approach? James McPherson used Union and Confederate letters and diaries as the basis of For Cause & Comrades. He used 429 Confederate soldier’s letters or diaries and 647 Union soldier’s letters or diaries. These letters were from different ranking soldiers and also from men that volunteered to fight the war and were not originally soldiers.

    He used such a wide variety of letters and diaries to try to avoid bias and to get a fair representation of the real life of the civil war soldier. There are many advantages and disadvantages to using letters and diaries for this sort of project. An advantage is that McPherson gets a firsthand account of the war. The soldiers are not “looking back years later through a haze of memory and myth about the Civil War,” but are “writing during the immediacy of their experiences” (100).

    This is an advantage because in other types of written history they are second hand accounts and are usually censored and generalized. Having these letters and diaries there is little if any censorship and they also incorporate the soldier’s emotion. Being able to understand the emotion shows an entirely different aspect than in any other written accounts because it helps show the feelings and moral off the army far more than just victory and defeat. The disadvantages of the letters are big in their own way. By their nature, most personal letters and diaries were descriptive rather than reflective”(101), which means that when writing back and forth from home to the battlefield they were just describing the days that had passed not really how they felt about the days. Due to the fact that most soldiers were “concerned with day-to-day events in the army,” there was not much detail into their in feelings in the letters and diaries just more of a firsthand account of the events. There is also a bias that is obviously going to be present in the letters.

    Both the Union and Confederate armies both had bias in their letters and that is a disadvantage because the actual depiction of battles and events is blurred. 2. ) McPherson describes several motivating factors which inspired men to enlist and sustained them through the long, difficult years of combat. Discuss the significance of the 2 factors you consider most important. The two most significant motivating factors for the soldiers would be their patriotism or nationalism, and duty.

    Patriotism is having love and devotion for your country and doing anything to keep it the way it is. This was evident in the Confederacy because they had no intent of doing any harm to the north but only wanted to stay with the country they had loved and grown accustomed to. “Confederates fought for independence, for a way of life, for their homes” (98), they only wanted to sustain themselves against the Union. The Union fought for nationalism. Nationalism is believing your country and way of life is better than anybody else’s.

    The Union fought to try to instill their ideals on the weaker Confederacy and would “persist through four years of the bloodiest conflict in American history” (98). The other major motive is duty. “Some 700,000 or 800,000 married men made a voluntary choice to enlist,” (134) so they were not drafted in to the military but felt it to be a civil duty and a duty to their family. Most of them were “husbands, fathers, and breadwinners for dependents”(134), so they felt that these dependents deserved to live in the style of life they were accustomed to and it was the man’s duty to ensure that.

    This duty was instilled in both the Union and in the Confederacy that is a major reason that they fought. The north also had another duty they felt that was associated with their nationalism, and it was that they wanted to try and teach the Confederacy the way in which the Union saw slavery. 3. ) Evaluate the relevance of the institution of slavery as a motivating factor for both Union and Confederate forces. What was the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation on both sides? Slavery was important for both the Union and the Confederacy.

    The Union used slavery as basically a bargaining chip to keep the middle or buffer states with the Union and to stop them from seceding. The Confederacy believed slavery was important because it fueled their economy and was the way of their life, without slavery they would not be able to sustain their plantations which would eliminate income. The Emancipation Proclamation had an enormous impact on both sides of the war. It actually gave the Union soldiers a reason to fight and confirmed the Confederacies reasons for fighting.

    Only “three in ten Union soldiers whose letters and diaries form [For Cause & Comrades] took the position”(117) to abolish slavery “during the first eighteen months of the war”(118) but “many more were converted to it”(118). After the Emancipation Proclamation the “[Union] are now fighting to destroy the cause of these dangerous diseases, which is slavery and the slave power” (118). This shows that the Union went into the war strictly with a nationalistic mind set and only wanted to successfully keep the Union whole and make the Confederacy fall back into line with the Union.

    The Confederacy felt that the Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their beliefs for secession so they swore vengeance against the Union. The Confederacy felt that they were betrayed so they “hated [the] Yankees”(148), and saw them as “thieving hordes of Lincoln”(149). The despised the northerners so much because they were fighting to destroy basically all that the Confederacy stood for. The Confederacy relied on slavery so much that without it their economy would collapse and they would be forced to conform to the rules of the Union.

    So the Emancipation which was backed by the Union was basically the final blow for the Confederacy and confirmed that they had no want to be in the Union, and would fight until they were free or until they were destroyed. 4. ) What insights have you gained from this book concerning the nature of the Civil War? I feel as though I gained a more knowledge on the Civil War thanks to this book that I could not have received from any other book. This book shows firsthand accounts of the war and it really taught me how the soldiers felt.

    The soldiers moral and reasons for fighting is the most intriguing insight that I have gained. I realized that most soldiers were not originally fighting for the control over slavery, but that “Patriotism and nationalism were also powerful sustaining motivations”(98). It appears to me that most soldiers only were fighting for their pride and duty and that is very surprising. It was amazing that more than 700,000 soldiers were volunteers and were not drafted or originally enlisted. It really displays a sense of courage and pride that Americans had during this time period that is not really as evident in today’s society.

    Cause and Comrades. (2016, Dec 22). Retrieved from

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