Study Questions

James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades

James McPherson based his book on soldiers' letters and diaries. What groups are overrepresented, and which underrepresented or even completely unrepresented?

Why are there so many surviving soldiers' letters and diaries from the Civil War, and what makes them better sources than postwar reminiscences and memoirs? What are John A. Lynn's three categories of soldier motivation? What does McPherson think of these categories as they apply to Civil War soldiers?

What factors principally motivated Northern and Southern soldiers to volunteer in 1861-1862? How important was slavery to soldiers on both sides in this period? What did the concepts of duty and honor mean to soldiers and what was their relationship to Victorian ideals of manhood? How were the values or concerns that motivated Union and Confederate soldiers similar, and how were they different?

Why were soldiers "spoiling for a fight" in the first months of the war? How did expectations of combat compare with reality? How did soldiers regard the prospect of another battle? What factors (biological, ideological, social) helped soldiers cope with the pressures of combat?

How well did traditional means of motivating soldiers to fight apply to the volunteers of 1861-1862? How important was the role played by discipline and coercion as a way of making troops fight and what discipline and coercion were used? Describe the importance of leadership in making troops fight and the qualities that gained an officer the respect of his men?

Explain religion's role in motivating soldiers. What were "optimistic" and "pessimistic" forms of religious fatalism? How did soldiers square their duty with the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill"? What motivational role did religious revivals play?

Describe soldiers' fear of the shame of cowardice and its role in motivation. What is "primary group cohesion" and what is its importance for military motivation? Identify the Bartov thesis and its possible relevance to motivation of Civil War soldiers.

What does McPherson think about the assertion that political beliefs or patriotism were not important sources of motivation among Civil War soldiers? What concerns motivated Confederate soldiers to fight? Union soldiers? How important was nationalism to Union and Confederate soldiers? Explain why nationalistic sentiment was more "abstract and intangible" among Northerners than Southerners. What role did class play in soldiers' perceptions of the cause for which they fought?

What were the key values to soldiers in the legacy of 1776? In what ways did Northerners and Southerners interpret them differently? How important were patriotism and ideology in terms of combat motivation (as opposed to enlistment and sustaining motivation)?

Why were many Union soldiers convinced that reunion was unattainable without attacking slavery? Why did other Union soldiers oppose emancipation as a war aim? How did emancipation sentiment in the Union army change as time went on, and what factors affected soldiers' attitudes towards emancipation?

What effect did home and family life have on soldier motivation? Why did Gerald F. Linderman believe that soldiers came to feel a sense of alienation from the civilians they left behind? What does McPherson think of Linderman’s argument?

How widespread was the desire for revenge among Civil War soldiers? What forms did vengeance take? What groups were the most likely targets of Confederate and Union vengeance? What was the relationship between success or failure on the battlefield and the desire for vengeance?

What is combat stress reaction (post-traumatic stress disorder)? How common was it? What best accounts for soldiers' perseverance under the stress of combat?