For Cause and Comrades


James McPherson

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For Cause and Comrades Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on James McPherson's For Cause and Comrades. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of James McPherson

James M. McPherson is a renowned historian of the American Civil War. Raised in Minnesota, McPherson studied at Gustavus Adolphus College and then earned his PhD from Johns Hopkins University under another noted American historian, C. Vann Woodward. McPherson’s earliest scholarship focused on abolitionism and social reform in the Civil War era. In 1988, McPherson won the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, a scholarly history of the Civil War which also gained a popular readership, selling over 600,000 copies. He has twice been a recipient of Gettysburg College’s Lincoln Prize for nonfiction works on the Civil War, first for For Cause and Comrades (1998) and later for Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (2009). McPherson has actively worked for the preservation of Civil War battlefields and historic sites. He began teaching at Princeton University in 1962, where he remains an Emeritus Professor of United States History. McPherson currently lives in New Jersey with  his wife Patricia.
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Historical Context of For Cause and Comrades

For Cause and Comrades focuses on the American Civil War, which was fought from April 1861 to April 1865 between secessionist states (the Confederacy) and those states that remained loyal to the United States Constitution (the Union). While various factors contributed to the outbreak of war, it was centrally fought over the seceding states’ support for the institution of slavery within their borders. The Confederate States of America ultimately comprised 11 southern states—many of them dependent on an agricultural system sustained by slave labor—which rebelled against the United States government. Well over 600,000 people died over the course of the war, which was fought primarily in the South. The war ended when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. After the defeat of the Confederacy, slavery was abolished and freed slaves slowly gained civil and political rights. James McPherson has remarked that the Civil War is fascinating to modern Americans partly because some of its core questions—like civil rights and the role of central government versus states’ rights—remain relevant and controversial.

Other Books Related to For Cause and Comrades

McPherson’s classic work Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988) examines similar themes found in For Cause & Comrades, focusing on the ideological divide between the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Additionally, McPherson cites John Keegan’s The Face of Battle (1976) as a general study of combat motivation and behavior that inspired him to research such topics as they pertain to the Civil War. Arguably the most influential fictional work of all time on Southern slavery is Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which Stowe wrote specifically to expose the horrors of slavery and which helped stir an abolitionist consciousness in the North in the decade before the war. A more recent work of influential Civil War fiction is Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels (1974), which explores the motivations of both Union and Confederate historical figures.
Key Facts about For Cause and Comrades
  • Full Title: For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
  • When Written: 1996
  • When Published: 1997
  • Genre: Nonfiction; American History
  • Setting: Civil War-Era United States
  • Point of View: First Person; Third Person

Extra Credit for For Cause and Comrades

Pop History. Along with Ken Burns’s popular PBS documentary, The Civil War (1990), James McPherson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom helped stir popular interest in the Civil War-related books, tourism, and hobbyist reenactments.

Old Habits. In 2009, James McPherson joined a group of historians and other scholars in sending a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to refrain from the tradition of laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery’s Confederate Memorial on Memorial Day. The letter argued that any recognition of the Confederates as heroes could be interpreted as a modern vindication of the Confederacy and would therefore be an insult to the historical suffering of African Americans. President Obama ultimately did send a wreath to be laid at the Confederate Memorial, as well as a second wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial.