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 7Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 7 Summary: “On the Altar of My Country”

McPherson begins Chapter 7 by sharing quotes from several sources that claim soldiers, in battle, don’t fight for ideological reasons. He also shares sources claiming primary group cohesion is more important than any ideological concerns. But McPherson disagrees with both theories. He says the election of 1860, in which many Civil War soldiers would have voted, was the most heated and momentous election in US history. Civil War soldiers, McPherson says, knew the causes of the war, the goals of both sides, and the possible outcomes: “‘We get four daily papers,’ wrote a lieutenant in the 50th Ohio, ‘all loyal and right on politics’” (92). They joined for patriotic reasons, and did not stop being patriotic once the war began.

Both sides, McPherson believes, joined very much for ideological reasons; these reasons are at the heart of the conflict. The Confederacy, for example, has its own sense of nationalism:

When the war began, the Confederacy was a distinct polity with a fully operational government in control of a territory larger than any European nation save Russia. Although in the minds and hearts of some Southern whites, American nationalism still competed with Confederate nationalism, the latter had roots several decades deep in the antebellum ideology of Southern distinctiveness (94).