What They Fought for 1861-1865
The greatest work of James McPherson, one of the best historians who has managed to capture the moment of great events, is worth reading at any time of the century. He has captured and depicted how the character of the American Civil War was standing out in that time. The following paper will present a book review of the What They Fought for 1861-1865.
The plot of this book revolves an old story related to the American disagreement. It also tells of the reasons behind the fight that had occurred. The story is like an outcry of the soul of McPherson and soldiers, who had experienced all the cruelty of the Civil war (McPherson, 1994).
There was the certain fascination that came from soldiers fighting in that great battle. It has grown over the years and was a main reason for ordinary people to join an army and continue the struggle for Confederacy and Union. Thereafter, in his book, James McPherson wants to show some other perspectives being different from the fact that men had joined the battle only to present themselves. They wanted to be courageous and not to disappoint their comrades. The author is not against these ideas. He meets them strongly and speaks about the dominance of the soldiers’ minds. There, the ideology has a place to exist in the brain of fighters. It is an important motivational part of the world of Confederacy and Union.
The conclusions made by James McPherson were basing on the reasonable grounds. They were upon an examination and a careful study of 25,000 letters and more than a hundred of original diaries created by 936 soldiers, in general. He had been impressed by those findings, as they were a proof of a deeper meaning. They were a proof how people really were linking their service to the broader and more important things in life. Despite the fact that ideology was the only one of many components stating the reason why those men were fighting, James McPherson spoke about that in his essays. They were delivered at Louisiana State University. Other important elements such as leadership, duty, manhood, and coercion were on an agenda to be discussed and investigated in his further works. Those also were the reasons that were keeping and motivating the soldiers to be in a rank.
The author depicts both Southern and Northern soldiers. He states that they had used common reasons and justifications to explain their actions. It is being very ironically. The fighters who had come from either the Confederacy or Union spoke about their actions related to republicanism, liberty preservation, and revolutionary ancestor’s heritage. However, different meanings were embraced towards the mentioned concepts in the articulation made by Billy Yank and Johnny Reb. Thereafter, James McPherson has separated each chapter with a concluding section with an explanation of a concept of slavery. The latter one had influenced the real meaning of the conflict.
The beginning of the book is concentrated on the Southern soldiers. They had seen liberty as their further freedom from the Northern people’s tyranny. Northern soldiers, according to the views of the opposite party, wanted to subjugate the Confederacy with the help of the armed forces’ usage. When the Southerners faced the opposition by the Union soldiers for the first time, they understood that treating their liberty had been something not abstract by the real and full of pain experience. There is no doubt that the desire to protect their homes and vengeance was among the main reasons why Southerners had been fighting with the Northern soldiers. However, James McPherson in his book spoke about other reasons different from those ones. He spoke about a strong sense of patriotism experienced by every soldier who was trying to protect the country from the possible enslavement.
An opposite site, represented by Northern soldiers, had another view on the fight justifications. They believed that they should have prevented the Southerners from leaving the Union. Such separation would cause the fragmentation of country and stop the further development of an idea related to a representative government. They were strongly against the contention of Europeans. They claimed that democracy would not be able to survive in that world. By any means, they wanted that to be the truth in America. The soldiers of the Union saw themselves as being the ones, who were truly protecting the main provisions of the revolution and the legacy of 1776.
The final section of the book speaks about the double standards in relation to the emancipation promoted by federal soldiers. The majority of them had decided to agree with the policy missing the sentiments related to antislavery. However, based on the hope and beliefs that the destruction of slavery would stop the war, they wanted to overcome the divisive issue. Thereafter, the soldiers from the North saw the elimination of slavery as their main goal of the war. It was not perceived in a similar way from the soldiers from the South. The main reason in the failure of discussions related to slavery termination was that Southerners that had taken slavery for granted. Unfortunately, only twenty percent of the writers saw the situation from another prospective.
In his book, James McPherson tried to assess judiciously his findings on whether they really were the representations of the views of soldiers of that time. The conclusions state the original sources bias themselves in relation to the most ideological persons in the both mentioned societies. If to speak about the Southern party, it is obvious that the information on the letters is more about slavery, professionals, and planters, in general. Thereafter the biased nature of sources does not twist the overcome as a letter reveals the real motivation of soldiers being really involved in a fight and having the certain ideas in their minds (Blair, 1995).
The book includes important quotes and a bright example of that letter written in the Pennsylvanian hospital by a soldier privately to his wife. They speak about marching many miles in Shenandoah, where the last 25 miles they were barefooted. However, his spirit was not broken, as he strongly believed that the nation had never destroyed an idea of building a strong oligarchy on the ruins (McPherson, 1994).
To sum up, I want to remind that this work has a rather powerful sense of freedom and ideology related to that time. It is like a strong antidote to ahistorical and shallow views of those who did not want to know the truth. It is a never-dying reminder of the history of the United States about a great number of people fighting and putting their lives for what they had believed in and protected. The victory of the Northern capitalism was the outcome of the Civil War. The slavery in 1860 had a clear course that had been intended to ruin all traces of democracy slightly settling in the minds of Americans. Both old and young generations of people wanted to work themselves and provide everyone with the same equal opportunities due to their beliefs in higher principles. Thereafter, the book What They Fought for 1861-1865 written by James McPherson is a real treasure nowadays. It shows how people were fighting for the brighter future that we enjoy today.
- Blair, William A. “Book Review: What They Fought For 1861-1865, by James M. McPherson; Letters from a Sharpshooter: The Civil War Letters of Private William B. Greene Co. G, 2nd United States Sharpshooters (Berdan’s) Army of the Potomac, 1861-1865.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 119, no. 3, July 1995. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
- McPherson, James M. What They Fought For, 1861-1865. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1994. Print.