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What They Fought For

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  • Pages: 6
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  • Category: Books

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What they fought for is an analysis of a collection of nearly a thousand personal letters and journals entries written by the soldiers who fought America’s famous Civil War. This book seeks to define the ideology of what the soldiers understood they were fighting for, and their comprehension of the outcome of their service .Although counter arguments agree that most soldiers could not give a solid explanation of why they fought for, nor the real Constitutional issues that were at stake; the thoughts the soldiers recorded show that they fought for more than just masculine identity; they highly valued being at home safe with their loved ones, at any cost. This book gives an inside perception of the Civil War, and a broad understanding of the sentiments of the people of that era. Mc.Pherson successfully defines the individual motivation of each of the men who volunteered and risked their lives for what they believed was right, and the glorious cause to fight for. The book begins with a chapter titled “The Holy Cause of Liberty and Independence”; the author identifies the popular ideologies evidenced in the letters sent by the soldiers at the beginning of the Civil War, and emphasizes their understanding of what they fought for.

On one side were the Confederates, a group fueled by ideas of Liberty and self-government, linked to seek revenge of northern oppressors and promote independence of the cotton kingdom of the South. Confederate soldiers were motivated by strong emotional devotion to their land, as shown by a letter from a Louisiana corporal in the Army of Northern Virginia, “for I am willing that my bones shall bleach the sacred soil of Virginia in driving the envading host of tyrants from our soil”( Mc. Pherson 11). The South also found emotional support in comparing their war with the Revolutionary War, associating northerners as oppressors like the British had been to the colonies. Confederates must prove they were worthy of the liberties and constitutional rights their founding fathers had earned; this was something to fight for. Moreover the soldiers were fed of hatred by the sake of protection of their women and families back home. If the north was to succeed, they would forever be oppressed by their victory, and slaves of their achievements. The Confederates fought to promote the wellbeing of their family and the protection of their land “from Yankee outrage and atrocity”(Mc.Pherson 20).

On the other side was the Union, also known as the Yankees; a group determined to put out the rebels of the South, and preserve the nation that was created in 1776. Like the Confederates, the Union also found support in the memory of the Revolutionary War. Union soldiers fought the “Traitors who sought to tear down and break into fragments the glorious temple that our forefathers reared with blood and tears” (Mc.Pherson 28). If the south was to secede it would have destroyed and undermined the power and authority of the Constitution, and therefore break the union that made up the United States of America. The Union soldiers referred to the Confederates as the “Rebels”, who did not deserve to be part of the united nation for their selfish and inhumane habits, yet their land belonged to the country as a whole. A soldier in the Sherman army wrote to his wife “We want to kill them all off and cleanse the country… their punishment is light when compared with what justice is demanded” (Mc.Pherson 40-41).

Union militias could not bear the thought of secession, for they “will be held responsible before God if we don’t do our part in helping to transmit this boon of civil and religious liberty down to succeeding generations” (Mc. Pherson 28). For the North, defense of the homeland, and of the liberties and the government created by our founding fathers was the “glorious cause” for which they fought. But war could not last forever, and casualties and homesickness wore men out; a way out of war had to be found so peace could be established once again. The most important step was the great acknowledgment that slavery was the very cause of the war. The actual president Abraham Lincoln had already announced the Emancipation Proclamation in hopes of ending this fatal battle. Confederate leaders clarified that the United States “had been founded on the false idea that all men are created equal” while through secession, the new government of the south was based “upon the great truth that negro is not equal to white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition” and so, the new cotton slave republic will founded on “the great physical, philosophical, and moral truth” (Mc.Pherson 48).

Confederates felt support from their founding fathers with the cause of fighting for liberty and feared to be enslaved by the north. Yet, how could the south yield for the so called liberty, when they held slaves? This mere question was the force of the North. The Union favored Emancipation as means to win the war; not because they were directly favored by freeing blacks, but because clearing out slavery would weaken southern rebellion and therefore end war and stay as a united nation. A shortage of Confederate manpower led to idea of arming slaves and to grant them freedom as a recompense for their service; Confederates believed it was better to proclaim emancipation and freed the Negro by arming slaves than to be defeated and oppressed by the North. Yet some whites rejected the idea of fighting alongside with Negroes, and assured that they volunteered their services to fight for a “free white man’s country… not to free negroes” (Mc.Pherson 55). Soon after the Emancipation Proclamation was in the heads of every soldier, the war became a “contest between slavery & freedom, & every honest man knows what he is fighting for” (Mc.Pherson 62).

This was an unintended purpose of the war; weather many supported or opposed the cause, everybody seems to agree that “the war will never end until we end slavery” ( Mc.Pherson 57). And after Lincoln’s proposal to amend the abolition of slavery “he received nearly 80% of the soldier vote” (Mc.Pherson 67), successfully being reelected and forever changing the strong base of what is now the United States of America, the famous “Land of the Free”. What they fought for is a gift to any history-lover reader; to get a hold of the letters written by the very soldiers of the Civil War is subject to great appreciation by anyone. James Mc.Pherson has quoted some of the most controversial phrases written by the soldiers during the war; some quotes were used to support his bias, while others were exposed to counteract his own statements, giving an overall broad view of the thoughts of the militias over their various war experiences. The reader is well informed of the uneven representation of the soldier thoughts by percentages of those whom letters survived over time.

These representation percentages are given for both, the Confederates and the Union militias, and are organized by themes and given with a brief description of the author of the quote. However, the cited phrases are intercalated among the interpretations of the author, and no actual evidence of the letters is given other than the simple quotes written by the author. For those of us who like to see the real thing, we had to believe in the author’s words this time. Moreover, the book explores a great deal of emphasis on themes such patriotism, liberty, and honor by both parties. The writer does a great job comparing both sides of the war, showing different kinds of thoughts, and leaving a final perception open for the reader’s own interpretation. What They Fought For is a remarkable book which analyses the thoughts of the mere people who forever changed the course of our lives.

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