Are individual soldiers' motivations important?

jgoodguy

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#1
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This reminds me of discussing this topic elsewhere, where I had the following exchange with a fellow poster:

him - I've read what you've written, and it seems to be a lot of trying to muddy the fact that these men were traitors fighting to preserve an immoral institution. There motivation for fighting doesn't matter. Quit trying to ennoble them by saying "they weren't fighting for slavery". They were villains, each and every one, and their legacy lives on in the South today.​
me - History is much more complicated than you portray it here. I have an ancestor who was in the Confederate army. He was there because he was conscripted. He was wounded in the hand at the battle of Fredericksburg and sent to the hospital. He went AWOL for most of 1863, but was eventually arrested and returned to service. He was captured at the 3rd battle of Winchester in September 1864 and spent the last months of the war as a POW at Point Lookout in Maryland. Was he a villain?​
him - Yep.​
This is a perfect example of the modern version of the northern narrative. Lump every last southern man who fought for the CS into one group and condemn them all. It's not nuanced, it's not factual, it's simply judgmental.
Discuss.
 

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Outside of Confederate advocates defending Southern soldiers I know of no-one else in the world that is concerned about individual soldiers' motives. Can someone enlighten me?
The individual soldiers themselves, their comrades in the same units, may be their families.

If the high command understands the indivdual motives (statistically not every Private John Doe jr. III.) they might use their units better.

Historians trying to understand the "why" and not liking arguements as: "Who cares they were all rascalls and pervs"

Normally the postwar interest in individual motives is much stronger on the loosers side.
Especially when they were called / taught: "all rascals and pervs", or at least "morons and idiots".
 
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#5
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Discuss.
Motivation of soldiers is vital to any armies success. Various armies throughout history use various techniques to encourage young men to fight to their best ability.
Unmotivated soldiers will desert or defect to the enemy. There are many examples of this especially during the ACW.
During the ACW at least three Union regiments were composed largely of Confederate defectors
1.The Second Florida Cavalry Union
2.The Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry Union
3. The First Arkansas Cavalry Union.
I have a thread " Who has Unionist Ancestors " where some of our fellow members detail their ancestors who defected to the Union Army.
Simply put the least motivated army is most likely going to loose.
Yes in the political sense motivation does not matter because the leaders of a country or political movement determine why a war is actually fought.
On the other hand poorly motivated troops are very much a danger to their own army by either desertion, becoming ( especially in the ACW) freelance bandits or defecting to the enemy.
Leftyhunter
 
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jgoodguy

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#6
The individual soldiers themselves, their comrades in the same units, may be their families.

If the high command understands the indivdual motives (statistically not every Private John Doe jr. III.) they might use their units better.

Historians trying to understand the "why" and not liking arguements as: "Who cares they were all rascalls and pervs"

Normally the postwar interest in individual motives is much stronger on the loosers side.
Especially when they were called / taught: "all rascals and pervs", or at least "morons and idiots".
It would be nice to have some names and works of those historians and examples of those phases used.
 
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#7
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Discuss.
Certain general's such has McCellen and Hooker understood the importance of morale. McCellen did endeavor to properly supply his troops and apparently the troops enjoyed practicing for military reviews.
General Hooker has commander of the AoP was able to cut the rate of desertions and instituted a more liberal furlough program then Hooker's predecessor General Burnside.
Lee was popular with his troops which is a type of motivation. Lee unlike McCellen had more difficulties property supplying his troops.
Leftyhunter
 

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#8
It would be nice to have some names and works of those historians and examples of those phases used.
Phases? =Periods of time?

If Yes every (major) war in Europe since at least 1800 or to be precise since men went to war neither for to rob & plunder nor to defend themselves from those r&bs.

Since they started to believe in causes instead grab booty or survive.

examples: just search for war + loosing side + modivation (especially when the war was cruel)
It is a normal task in history to find out that "why"

oc not for Americans, imho You only lost one war, and that was not the ACW (which You lost and won). Since for that war the majority of US Americans consider themselves (as a nation) to have beens the goodguys there is no need for US Americans to engage in said task on a broader base.

Totally different in Europe where everybody has lost some selfstarted wars.
 
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#9
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Discuss.
jgoodguy. I have been doing research at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for the last four years for my articles and I have examined literally thousands of individual soldier's letters from both sides and I have not found one letter that states the main reason or motivation for that particular soldier's reason for fighting being slavery, either defending the institution or destroying the institution. Perhaps there are letters at this research institution that I have not seen at this time but from what I have seen so far I would say it is highly not probable. I therefore concur wholeheartedly with your response. David.
 

jgoodguy

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#10
Certain general's such has McCellen and Hooker understood the importance of morale. McCellen did endeavor to properly supply his troops and apparently the troops enjoyed practicing for military reviews.
General Hooker has commander of the AoP was able to cut the rate of desertions and instituted a more liberal furlough program then Hooker's predecessor General Burnside.
Lee was popular with his troops which is a type of motivation. Lee unlike McCellen had more difficulties property supplying his troops.
Leftyhunter
Sounds like motives are important to military historians to describe the effectiveness and cohesion of military units.
 

jgoodguy

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jgoodguy. I have been doing research at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for the last four years for my articles and I have examined literally thousands of individual soldier's letters from both sides and I have not found one letter that states the main reason or motivation for that particular soldier's reason for fighting being slavery, either defending the institution or destroying the institution. Perhaps there are letters at this research institution that I have not seen at this time but from what I have seen so far I would say it is highly not probable. I therefore concur wholeheartedly with your response. David.
Odd that others found some.
 

archieclement

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#12
Odd that others found some.
Who are the others? BTW keep in mind politicians blowing rhetoric generally aren't the actual soldiers in the ranks. Most politicians wont actually fight..........they just bloviate. If they actually believed in their rhetoric they might actually pick up arms...…..somewhat telling few actually do, this is universal to about every war...…..
 
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#13
Odd that others found some.
WHO? I would like to know exactly where in their various collections at AHEC. As I stated, I have not looked at everything in their voluminous collections. They do not have individual finding aids for the entire collection. I would like you to produce just one common soldier's letter that clearly states that their motivation for fighting was either to destroy slavery or to defend slavery. Shelby Foote in Burn's Civil War documentary tells a story of how a Union soldier asks a Rebel soldier why he was fighting in this terrible war, the Rebel soldier's response was because you are down here, meaning in the South. Nothing about slavery!!! Nevertheless, So thrill me with your acumen. Produce the evidence!!! David.
 
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#14
I think the title of this OP is a loaded question of sorts.
To the individual soldier, his motivation is obviously all important to him personally. In turn, his level of motivation will immensely affect how he performs his job (important). His performance at soldiering could mean life or death to his comrades-in-arms (pretty important, wouldn't you say?). But perhaps above all, understanding soldier motivation, ie., the "why" a soldier enlisted, "why" he fought as he did, "why" he was willing to die for his fellow soldier or for his country, etc., etc., tells us something about the "why" there was a war and "why" that war played out as it did.
In the context of the Civil War I would argue that the soldier, north and south, in general was highly motivated (for varying and complicated reasons) to do his work as best he could. (Maybe not in camp, but certainly in battle). It was this motivation that enabled the war to continue for four years with all it's death and carnage. If someone wants to get at least a small glimpse of some the "truths" of the Civil War, it is fundamental to focus on soldier motivation.
 

archieclement

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#15
WHO? I would like to know exactly where in their various collections. As I stated, I have not looked at everything in their voluminous collections. They do not have individual finding aids for the entire collection. Nevertheless, So thrill me with your acumen. Produce the evidence!!! David.
Agree just as theres no shortage of union soldiers after the emancipantion proclamation who went out of their way to say they weren't fighting for that political aspect of it...

Seems to me most simply served their state/community.....Illinoisans joined Illinois Regts just as Mississippians joined Mississippi Regts. If I ever pick up arms which is unlikely at my age and health now, it would be to defend my community, not any specific republican or democrat political issue.
 
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#17
Agree just as theres no shortage of union soldiers after the emancipantion proclamation who went out of their way to say they weren't fighting for that political aspect of it...

Seems to me most simply served their state/community.....Illinoisans joined Illinois Regts just as Mississippians joined Mississippi Regts. If I ever pick up arms which is unlikely at my age and health now, it would be to defend my community, not any specific republican or democrat issue...…..
VERY WELL STATED AND CRAFTED. If you are a Southern soldier and did not own a large plantation or had any slaves, your motivation to fight would certainly not be to defend slavery, it would be to defend the honor of your family and the protection of your family and property. I found very very few letters that discussed politics, in any form, as a fighting motivator or even as a topic of discussion. The letters sent home to their wives discussed family matters and battlefield accounts, not slavery or politics. I am still waiting for one of these so called experts on this forum to correct me. David.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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#18
From the diaries and letters I've read (and I'm not writing articles, btw), on the Union side, I often read about the motivation from individual soldiers being expressly, "a good Christian man," "Keeping the Union together," "Being able to have a manly bearing when fighting comes." On the Southern side, I would say the motivation, and there are fewer enlisted man diaries/letters than Northern, was a little more about "adventure," "defending against invasion (even when invasion hadn't happened at all in their state yet)," "Honor."

When I've read about the Union and slavery it is fairly secondary or tertiary to the aims of getting the Union back together and subjecting the Rebels or Secesh as they are often called. When it is brought up in letters/diaries, it is usually when someone of what I would high moral character has seen for himself Negros being abused by either Northern soldiers (working for them) or coming into the lines in miserable condition from Southern plantations. Then some Union soldiers would think, but not all, that it will be a good thing to stamp out slavery too. But I personally have not read one thing where there is even the idea of we are going to intially fight to set slaves free. I don't think it even occurred to them.

Remember, a lot of Northern soldiers would never have seen any Negros. And mostly only New England soldiers would have been well-aware of abolitionism and thinking along the lines of setting slaves free.
 
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#19
Phases? =Periods of time?

If Yes every (major) war in Europe since at least 1800 or to be precise since men went to war neither for to rob & plunder nor to defend themselves from those r&bs.

Since they started to believe in causes instead grab booty or survive.

examples: just search for war + loosing side + modivation (especially when the war was cruel)
It is a normal task in history to find out that "why"

oc not for Americans, imho You only lost one war, and that was not the ACW (which You lost and won). Since for that war the majority of US Americans consider themselves (as a nation) to have beens the goodguys there is no need for US Americans to engage in said task on a broader base.

Totally different in Europe where everybody has lost some selfstarted wars.
I would argue the United States has lost more then one war. A great subject for a PM thread if anyone is interested. Yes said subject is very much intertwined with modern politics.
Leftyhunter
 
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#20
WHO? I would like to know exactly where in their various collections at AHEC. As I stated, I have not looked at everything in their voluminous collections. They do not have individual finding aids for the entire collection. I would like you to produce just one common soldier's letter that clearly states that their motivation for fighting was either to destroy slavery or to defend slavery. Shelby Foote in Burn's Civil War documentary tells a story of how a Union soldier asks a Rebel soldier why he was fighting in this terrible war, the Rebel soldier's response was because you are down here, meaning in the South. Nothing about slavery!!! Nevertheless, So thrill me with your acumen. Produce the evidence!!! David.
All me to introduce one source that I will continuously skim through.
"Yankee Rebel the Civil War Journal of Edmund De Witt Patterson University if North Carolina Press.
Patterson was 19 when the war started and was from Ohio. Patterson enlisted in the Lauderdale Rifles which became Company D Ninth Alabama Regiment. Patterson fought in many battles until his capture at the battle of Gettysburg. Patterson was promoted from a private to at least a Lieutenant.
Patterson wrote in part on p.11
Dec 31st 61
" The Southern people unable longer to bear the tyranny of the North or rather Northern fanaticism , determined to exercise their rights guarantee them to them by the Constitution and following the example of the Colonies years ago ,separated themselves from the old government and set up for themselves in which they have no conflicting issues. The North so accustomed to receive her countless thousands from the South would not willingly sacrifice her share in profits accruing from the Southern trade and hence this unholy war ,which is being waged against the South and her institutions.
Patterson states a lot more and anyone is welcome to quote more from him.
Much later in the book Patterson bitterly decries interracial sex and it is a reason he and others were fighting to prevent. I will eventually find that quote.
Leftyhunter
 



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