39 pages 1 hour read

James M. Mcpherson

For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1997

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Chapter 4Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 4 Summary: “If I Flinched I Was Ruined”

McPherson starts this chapter by mentioning that the traditional means of motivating soldiers is “training, discipline and leadership” (46). Training, however, is lack, at least at first. Many men see themselves as individuals, and it takes some time for them to understand the value of close-order drilling and other types of training:

‘A soldier is not his own man,’ complained a young Indiana private to his sister. Take drill, for example. ‘You fall in and start. You here feel your inferiority, even the Sargeants [sic] is hollering at you to close up, Ketch [sic] step, dress to the right, and sutch [sic] like’ (47).

Desertion is also difficult for commanders on both sides to implement, so often coercion is implemented: soldiers who run are shot. Both the Union and Confederate armies form units specifically to stop skulkers—those too paralyzed by fear to fight. Both armies also punish skulkers afterward, sometimes with physical punishments, such as lashes: “The whole brigade stood at attention to watch the ‘wretched creature’ get thirty-nine lashes on his bare back” (51). Others are shot, since Confederate commanders, especially, see skulkers as bad as deserters.

The second part of the chapter focuses on leadership. Good leaders could inspire their men to accept the training and discipline, while bad leaders often provoke the ire of the men under their command.