Factors that Motivate Men to Enlist in the Military during the Civil War

Factors that Motivate Men to Enlist in the Military during the Civil War

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The American Civil War was a grueling four years in American history where there were more than 600,000 casualties. What motivated these men to originally enlist when the war started, continue on through the hardships of war, and take up arms against their own countrymen? According to historian John A. Lynn these can be divided into three categories of soldier motivations that are initial motivation, sustaining motivation, and combat motivation. Author James M. McPherson uses these categories as his thesis in the book “For Cause and Comrades” and proves it successfully.
The factors that initially motivated men to enlist in the military at the start of the war according to McPherson were duty, honor, and country. Each of these motivating factors are linked. He talks of many Union men who write letters to loved ones about how it was their duty to enlist. “It is everyone’s duty to enlist, if he possibly can, and why is it not mine as much as it is other people’s? If you are not willing to send your sons why should others be willing to send theirs?” (McPherson, 23). Duty is connected with both honor and country. A man will feel it is his duty to fight for the country that he has been living in and whose government has protected him. The quote above, pulled from a letter of a Harvard student to his father, also captures the idea of maintaining honor. When he talks about others going to war there is a sense honor that he must go to war as well. He uses this idea to try to convince his father that his son must enlist. If this man did not go to war how would it look to other families who had sent their son to war?
Motivation by way of patriotism can be seen in Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address. “Lincoln had said in his i...


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...next day” (McPherson, 41). Battling sickness was not the only thing that adrenaline helped. Injured men could continue to fight during an adrenaline rush. These chemical changes caused men to ignore the fact that they were in danger and made them even more dangerous killers.
It appears that when compared to what the author had written about initial and combat motivations, sustaining motivation was somewhat overlooked. McPherson cites many examples and numerous different factors that encouraged men to enlist and to stay motivated in the midst of battle; however, he does not get into as much detail when talking about what motivated men to stay in the war besides a few main points. Regardless, James M. McPherson proves his thesis in “For Cause and Comrades” by showing the motivating factors that were split into the three main categories by historian John A. Lynn.

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