What they fought for, 1861-1865 by James M. McPherson

By James M. McPherson

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer James McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom) attracts at the letters or diaries of approximately 1,000 Union and accomplice infantrymen in investigating what influenced those that fought the Civil warfare. the result's either a magnificent scholarly travel de strength and a hugely obtainable account of the feelings of either side of the clash.

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5 But why did these soldiers think that the "infernal rebellion" jeopardized the survival of the glorious republic? Why could they not, as Confederate War Department clerk John Jones suggested, merely return home to a northern nation and leave the South alone so that the two republics could live in peace as dual heirs of the Revolution? Because, said northern soldiers almost as if in echo of Abraham Lincoln, once admit that a state can secede at will, and republican government by majority rule would come to an end.

The answer is yeswith some qualifications. Of 374 Confederate soldiers whose letters and diaries I have read, two-thirds expressed patriotic motives. The proportion that discoursed in more depth on ideological issues such as liberty, constitutional rights, resistance Page 14 to tyranny, and so on was smaller40 percent. That does not mean that those who made no references to these matters were unmoved by them. By their nature, most personal letters or diary entries were descriptive rather than reflective, concerned with day-to-day events in the army and at homewith the weather, food, sickness, and other mundane concerns.

They "played off" (shirked) or played sick when battle impended. They seemed to melt away when bullets started flying, only to reappear the next day. Some deserted for good. Some really were sick much of the time. Others got what combat soldiers called "bombproof" jobs a safe distance behind the linesheadquarters clerk, quartermaster sergeant, wagon-train guard, teamster, hospital attendant, and the like. My sample is biased toward genuine fighting soldiers. What is the evidence for that statement?

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