For Cause and Comrades: an Analysis

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For Cause and Comrades: An Analysis
As long as man has had the ability to think for himself, there has been conflict and war. Wars are waged by the rich and powerful, but fought by the poor masses who march, inexorably into the meat grinder. The question of “why do soldiers fight?” arises when looking at the study of warfare. What compelled the hoplite from Sparta, the foot soldier in Napoleon’s Grand Army, the American Infantryman on Omaha Beach, or the Army Ranger in Baghdad to willingly enlist and fight for their cause? The most devastating war in American history was by far the Civil War, claiming more American lives in four years than all other American wars (except World War I and II) combined. What is it that made these hundreds of thousands of men and women abandon their homes and fight against the nation that their forefathers had fought to gain the independence of not a century before. Many scholars believe that slavery, “states rights”, and freedom were the driving factor in these soldier’s minds. However, there was far more than simple ideology that drove these soldiers to Bull Run, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Appomattox. Other factors that drove these soldiers into service were a sense of patriotism, their comrades in arms, the need to prove themselves, religion, and the defense of freedom and property to name a few. In For Cause and Comrades by James M. McPherson, McPherson argues that ideology plays a major role in why soldiers choose to fight, but in the heat of battle, ideology is forgotten and the aforementioned reasons become a significant reason as to why they choose to stay.

The ideologies that drove citizens to combat in the Civil War varied dramatically between Northern and Southern soldiers. Many soldiers who enlisted in the Federal Army of the North did so as to preserve the young nation, which had less than a century ago, gained its independence from England. The idea of “freeing the slaves” was a very small concern in the minds of most Northerners, who were majorly, just as racist as Southern slave-holders. Abolitionists were few and far between within the Federal troops. Many soldiers fought simply for union between the North and South. As the war progressed, the abolitionist cause grew more prominent as progressively more Northerners learned firsthand about the horrors of slavery in the South, but it never became a significant reason as to why Federal troops kept fighting. As far as the South is concerned, soldiers fought for more tangible objects than freedom or democracy. Soldiers who enlisted and fought for the Confederacy fought for their independence and for the protection of their homeland. Soldiers in the South fought in their backyards and over their plantation fields. It is for this reason that ideology was far more important in the Southern ranks than in their Northern counter-parts. The Confederate soldier from Atlanta saw his home pillaged and burned in Sherman’s “March to the Sea” campaign, strengthening his resolve to continue to fight, although futilely, against the North. Northern troops saw very little action outside of the South with the exceptions of a few major battles such as Antietam and Gettysburg. As a result, the Northern troops had no real tangible entity which to fight for. They fought for the ideology of the union of states, democracy, and for constitutional freedom.

Another driving force in why soldiers on both sides joined, according to McPherson, was the desire for adventure. Many men between the ages of 18-25 yearned to see the “elephant,” as it was called, of battle. The war was not thought to last more than a few months and many hurriedly enlisted hoping they would not miss their chance in battle. These boys were out to prove themselves as men back in their hometowns and counties. There was a great amount of peer pressure among men 18-25 to join up with the rest of the men from the area and gallantly fight for the cause. Those who...
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