Sunday, 24 April 2011

What They Fought For 1861-1865

I've just finished reading What They Fought For: 1861-1865 by James M. McPherson. This slender volume, a gift from my father, is a collection of three lectures presented by McPherson at Louisiana State University in 1993.

It’s an intriguing little book with a very carefully chosen title. Through a vast reading of soldier’s letters and diaries, McPherson explains why the men of both sides joined and stayed in the army. What ideals (for it was ‘ideals’ in many cases) caused them to pick up a rifle and leave their families?
There is one paragraph in particular that caught my attention that I thought I would share.
‘These men were not posturing for public consumption. They were not looking back from years later through a romantic haze of myth about the war. They were writing during the immediacy of their experience to explain and justify their beliefs to family members or friends who shared – or in some case questioned – those beliefs. And how smugly can we sneer at their expression of willingness to die for those beliefs when we know that so many of them did just that?’
As I slowly make my way through John Stewart Walker’s letters, I admit that I have once or twice rolled my eyes at what I saw as patriotic hyperbole. Not anymore.
As for the book, it’s a very good read, but hard to justify the cost versus the page count. Definitely pick it up if you see it in a used bookstore or the library.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. Sounds very interesting and I will be looking out for it. Regards, Michael