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Publisher's Summary

General John A. Wickham, commander of the famous 101st Airborne Division in the 1970s and subsequently Army Chief of Staff, once visited Antietam battlefield. Gazing at Bloody Lane where, in 1862, several Union assaults were brutally repulsed before they finally broke through, he marveled, "You couldn't get American soldiers today to make an attack like that." Why did those men risk certain death, through countless bloody battles and four long, awful years? 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 McPherson now turns his attention. He shows that, contrary to what many scholars believe, the soldiers of the Civil War remained powerfully convinced of the ideals for which they fought throughout the conflict. Motivated by duty and honor, and often by religious faith, these men wrote frequently of their firm belief in the cause for which they fought: the principles of liberty, freedom, justice, and patriotism.

McPherson draws on more than 25,000 letters and nearly 250 private diaries from men on both sides. For Cause and Comrades lets these soldiers tell their own stories in their own words to create an account that is both deeply moving and far truer than most books on war.

©1997 Oxford University Press, Inc. (P)2020 Tantor

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  • Matt M
  • 03-08-2020

Ambitious idea but falls short

I caveat this review by saying I am only an amateur historian and ACW buff.

Trying to report what every combatant went to war for is obviously impossible, which leads to generalizations. But I felt the generalizations were a bit to broad, were scant on support save a few quotations from letters home, and tended to paint the northern motivated as nobler. I appreciate that the author described in detail the bias built into his study sample- the letters disproportionately were from officers, upperclass and idealists, rather than the common man, draftees, bounty men, etc. I was hoping for more substance, rather than what felt like a superficial treatment.

I was underwhelmed by the audio performance, which was a bit dull.

3 people found this helpful

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