Towhat extent did soldiers understand the cause of the CivilWar to be about slavery? How did their understanding of the cause ofthe war affect their motivation for fighting as the war progressed?
Mosthistorians have pondered why it was that common soldiers fought inthe American and their answers are varied. Today, mosthistorians concur that the institution of slavery was at the core ofthe predicament that plunged America into of the 1860s. Butit was not the primary cause of the war. Some Confederate soldiersfought because they felt that their way of prosperity and life wereunder threat, some fought on the basis of moral grounds and others tosupport their comrades in addition to preserving slavery (Madison,Sandweiss, & Hedeen, 2014). The Union soldiers fought to preservethe union and thus the emancipation of African-Americans was not apriority. For African American soldiers, emancipation was theirprimary objective. They tried to tie the war to slavery by viewingthe latter as a perpetual slavery against universal freedom. Simplyput, slavery was not the primary cause of the crisis as the South,and the North were varied in nature. To a larger extent, the soldiersfollowed the views of their leaders.
Theprimary aim of the war was to preserve the Union by proving theRepublican government rather than opposing or supporting theabolition of slavery. The Union feared that its destruction wouldturn the concept of government hinged on equality and liberty into alaughingstock (Hedbla, 2016). That is why at first President Lincolnrefused to enlist African-America soldiers to join the fight.However, as the war prolonged, the North saw it fit to end slaveryand thus the war. Furthermore, during the war, many blacks fled tothe North. Their arrival in camps demanded that the Union army paysattention to the status of those slaves. As a result, many Unionsoldiers developed into agents and advocates of emancipation despitethe fact that the effort came with limits. This paved the way for theenlistment of African-Americans as Union Soldiers. TheAfrican-Americans understood that slavery would be inseparable fromthe race. Union soldiers initially ignored issues of black rights(Conlin, 2013).
Nosooner had the North emphasized on the preservation of government andthe Union than the Soldiers claimed that slavery is the primarydeniable cause of rebellion by the South. They claimed that theConfederate had seceded to defend slavery from Lincoln who opposedits extension and this made slavery the cause of war (Hedbla, 2016).While some Union soldiers saw slavery as the undeniable cause, othersbelieved that the demands of fighting and simultaneously ending theslavery would be too much for the Union to handle. Others who feltthreatened by race opposed black emancipation (Blair, 2012). As thewar developed, more and more Union troops started to insist thatbecause slavery had triggered the fighting, only abolition wouldbring the war to an end. The soldiers reasoned that getting rid ofthe cause of the war would stamp out the rebellion. Consequently, theadvocates for the destruction of slavery before even the civiliansthought of the emancipation proclamation (Hedbla, 2016).
Thesoldiers` personal observation of the South made them believe thatslavery blighted everything it touched on. It damaged social healthand reduced wealth, as well as interfered with class. Theirexperience in the South made them realize that they hadunderestimated the slavery’s cruelty that they demanded the end tothat inhumane treatment (Conlin, 2013). Most Union soldiers grewhostile to slavery after seeing how slavery destroyed families. Theinhumanity that slavery caused made the troops consider slavery andrace as separate topics. As a result, emancipation gained favor inthe army. As the fighting neared its end, the Union soldiers’commitment to emancipation became nonnegotiable (Conlin, 2013).
Theviews of the Union soldiers on slavery differed widely. Some saw thewar as an opportunity to end slavery while others denounced thenotion of civil war to abolish slavery.
Inthe South, the men pledged to protect their sovereignty. The Southernwhites who benefited from the economic development and politics ofthe antebellum era were more willing to protect that world.
Thedecision of the Southerners to join the Confederate army varieswidely. To start with, they echoed their leaders’ justification forthe war. Some were concerned with the racial equilibrium and whitesupremacy (Cullen, 2012). While unionists in Virginia were opposed tothe idea of secession, the move by Lincoln to send troops to thesouth to quell the insurrection angered them. The unionists hadnegotiated with the government to surrender the Fort Sumter and alsoto allow time for the Lower South to return back to the Uniongradually. When Lincoln failed to honor this negotiation and insteadsent troops to the South to quell the insurrection, the Virginianunionists held the convention, passed an ordinance of secession. Thestate government quickly mobilized and enrolled men in preparationfor war. They joined the Confederate army. Perceiving the benefits ofliving in a slavery economy, the Southerners offered to protect theantebellum South (Cullen, 2012). They vowed to preserve thepolitical ideology that Lincoln’s election sought to destroy.
Thecommunities with a strong interest in Confederate independence sentmen in large numbers. They wanted to protect their social andeconomic systems. Men from poor communities joined the Confederate,seeing it as an opportunity for personal advancement in terms ofsalary. Others enlisted for state bounties (Noe, 2012).
Thestance of slavery in the worldview of soldiers changed throughout thecourse of the war. The Union soldiers initially considered thepreservation of the Union as the primary aim of the crisis. But asthe war prolonged, they started to believe that ending slavery wasessential to ending the war. Like in the Union, the Confederatefeared losing materially if they were deprived of slave labor andslave property.
Blair,W. A. (2012). Journalof the Era, Summer 2012 Issue.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Conlin,J. R. (2013). TheAmerican past: A survey of American history.Belmont, California: Wadsworth.
Cullen,J. (2012). Essayingthe Past: How to Read, Write and Think about History.New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Hedbla,A. (2016). UnderstandingPrimary Sources: American : Recollections in Combat.New York: Gale, Cengage Learning
Madison,J. H., Sandweiss, L. A., & Hedeen, J. (2014). Hoosiersand the American story. Indianapolis, Indiana : Indiana HistoricalSociety Press .
Noe,K. W. (2ndEd). (2012). Reluctantrebels:The Confederateswho joined the Army after 1861.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
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