Though many historians have claimed that unit cohesion and the desire to stay alive played a far greater role than ideological concerns in the minds of the men fighting for the blue and grey, McPherson claims otherwise. Through his meticulous examination of thousands of diaries and interviews and other records, he has come up with all kinds of support for the idea that many soldiers thought carefully about the issues of slavery and freedom during the Civil War.
There were, among those whom McPherson cites, men who began the conflict feeling that Lincoln had overstepped his bounds but then found themselves wishing to help abolish slavery once they learned more about it and saw it first hand. There were others who felt that all along their cause was the righteous one both for the maintenance of the union as well as the abolition of slavery.
For the Confederate soldiers, the link was more problematic but often consisted of the feeling that they ought to be free to maintain slavery if they so chose, that it was not another man's right to tell them how to live their lives.