Cause and Comrades

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Book Report: For Cause & Comrades

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...
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