Why Men Fought?

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12 comments… add one

  • Bob Pollock Sep 1, 2009

    Kevin,
    I just got up and turned on my computer to find this post and had to smile. I just wrote a short blurb on this very topic last night for the next issue of News From White Haven, the newsletter of U. S. Grant NHS. This is what I have written, although our historian may edit it. I’m curious, would you have any other book suggestions?

    The Common Soldier and the Causes of the Civil War

    In the last issue of this newsletter we briefly discussed some of the prominent early works on the causes of the Civil War. Historians have long been interested in how the common soldier of North and South viewed the war. What motivated the average young volunteer soldier to pick up a gun, march hundreds of miles, bravely face death, and kill others? Was it politics, ideology, peer pressure, honor, a hankering for adventure, the desire to protect home and hearth? For what cause did individual soldiers fight? Here are a few works which have explored this question:
    One of the earliest historians to explore this topic was Bell I. Wiley who published The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy in 1943, followed in 1952 by a companion study, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union. More recent studies include Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War by Gerald Linderman (1989), For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James McPherson (1998), With Ballot and Bayonet: The Political Socialization of American Civil War Soldiers by Joseph Allen Frank (1998), What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War by Chandra Manning (2007).

    By the way, anyone interested in past issues of the newsletter can find them on the U. S. Grant NHS web site.

    Bob

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2009

      Bob,

      Thanks for the reply and your list, which is a great place to start for anyone interested in soldier studies. Somehow I missed Frank’s book.

  • Larry Cebula Sep 1, 2009

    Damn I had forgotten how PONDEROUS that stupid movie is. Speech battle speech speech battle battle realllllllly long speech battle speech and so on. As I recall the film is 17 hours long.

  • Sherree Tannen Sep 2, 2009

    Kevin,

    This is a great scene. Thanks for posting it.

    I could do without the mood music, and I agree that the characters are making ponderous speeches, so as art, the scene lacks a lot. But, for me, it is worth listening to the speech, in order to hear the conclusion reached: that the only aristocracy that exists is the aristocracy of the mind. I think that world history itself upholds that observation. I can’t think of one supposed “aristocracy” in any culture that was “noble”.

    Apparently, not all men fought for the reasons given here, however, as indicated in information in the following link: faculty.washington.edu/qtaylor/Courses/101_USH/101_manual_4.htm

    Many men did fight for these reasons, though, and many also died. So they are indeed to be commended for paying the ultimate price for their beliefs, in my opinion.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2009

      Sherree,

      I guess I have trouble hearing it from and Irishman during the same summer that witnessed the New York City Draft Riots.

  • Sherree Tannen Sep 2, 2009

    Kevin,

    That is what makes you an historian, and me part of the general public. I did not make that connection, and I am educated, and of average intelligence.

    Can someone please make a movie of the Civil War that really is true to history and captures the war’s complexity, and includes all angles and perspectives? That would be an act of patriotism.

  • Craig Swain Sep 2, 2009

    Sherree, I would go further – can someone please make a movie, using any war as the subject, that is true to history and captures the complexity you mention. Failing some “reckoning” by those who produce such things we call movies today, the best one might mention are the soldier videos posted by the men and women today. One of my day job projects involves “tagging” such content to allow future historians to better grasp the context. And thankfully it is for once where my work and my hobby (study of history) are intersecting somewhat.

    Craig.

  • Robert Welch Sep 2, 2009

    Could someone please get the makeup department up there? I think Jeff’s mustaches is starting to fall off.

  • Mike Sep 2, 2009

    As the Military Channel says Men fight for Country, Friends and Home.

  • Larry Cebula Sep 2, 2009

    In the modern era, men fight mostly because governments make them fight.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2009

      Larry,

      You are right, but by 1863 many men were fighting on both sides because they were drafted. Yet, our memory of the war tends to be of volunteers from beginning to end.

  • Will Hickox Sep 2, 2009

    I’m no professor but it’s always been my understanding that very few men (around 40,000) were actually drafted by the Federal government during the Civil War. The story may have been different on the4 other side of the Mason-Dixon Line. The affluent mostly paid the $300 or hired a substitute, and many communities raised the funds to do this for their less-fortunate citizens. I’ve always thought the real power of the draft came in convincing men to volunteer in order to avoid it. We’ve all seen the recruiting posters with “Last Chance to Avoid the Draft!” in bold letters.

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