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 5Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 5 Summary: “Religion Is What Makes Brave Soldiers”

“It is true that we are liable to get killed,” writes a soldier in the 5th Tennessee, expressing the fatalism many soldiers carried with them during the war. To combat the fear of death that accompanies such fatalism, Civil War soldiers often turned to religion. There are two types: the pessimists are resigned to their fate, while the optimists believe faith will see them through. Both believe that if it’s God’s will they will survive, and both lean on their religious beliefs to help them face combat.

Those who are already religious become more so. Many who weren’t religious turn to God during the war; prayer groups proliferate in the camps. Some soldiers believe prayer helps them: “most Civil War soldiers believed they could improve the chances of God’s protection on the battlefield by faith and prayer” (67). Others believe praying for their own protection is arrogant, and only pray to live better lives: “Some soldiers, however, were wary of theological unsoundness if they implored God for protection. That was up to Him. The purpose of prayer was to cleanse the soul, not to shield the body” (68).

Even soldiers who aren’t Christian often wish they are when they see the mindset of those who embrace death as a way to reach heaven, or who are resigned to their fate: “A South Carolina artillery officer confessed that the prospect of death terrified him because ‘I am not a christian—a christian can afford to be a philosopher because he believes in a certain reunion hereafter but a poor devil who can’t believe it hasn’t that support’” (68).