Did the majority of Northern (U.S.) soldiers fight to free the slaves?

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#1
The question of whether slavery was the main cause of the war is often laid with weight on southerners as if it is a yes or no opinion. I firmly believe that more fought against the north for different reasons and that Lincoln catered in the Slavery Issue to the forefront. Of course years of debates led up to that moment. My question is simple: Did a majority of white U.S. soldiers in the Civil War enlist and fight to free the slaves? Why did the average Union soldier join? Why did the officers defend the Union? Was it because of slavery? If it was, the attitudes in the modern north sure don't match that sentiment today, do they? So why did most Union soldiers join? I think it fair to reverse the typical stereotype of southerners and pose the question to northerners. I am not defending the ideal of slavery. Please be objective and think about this before you reply. I wish we could do a multi-faceted poll on this topic.
 

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#2
Union soldiers, like Southern soldiers, enlisted for a plethora of reasons numbering nearly as many as the number of soldiers.

All of that is irrelevant though when asking why each side fought. After January 1, 1863, all Union soldiers were fighting to end slavery, whether they wanted to or not because that had become a war aim for their government.

R
 
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#3
Union soldiers, like Southern soldiers, enlisted for a plethora of reasons numbering nearly as many as the number of soldiers.

All of that is irrelevant though when asking why each side fought. After January 1, 1863, all Union soldiers were fighting to end slavery, whether they wanted to or not because that had become a war aim for their government.

R
hardly irrelevant. your statement "after January 1 1863" defines why I asked. They could have deserted if they didn't want to fight however you know the results. I know of Union units from Tennessee that defended slavery and even assisted Confederates in keeping control of slaves......including 400 Forrest rounded up in December 1862. Jeremiah Sullivan commanded a Union brigade and was chasing Forrest however he allowed 4 CS troopers to escort 400 slaves through his brigade. There is no quick answer to this question, with all due respect. One must realize the war was not as simple as slavery. To answer, one must think about every soldier, every unit, and so on. I was not intending to post an easy question. And, whose AIM was that? the government? I asked about the soldiers not the government. :sabre:
 
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#4
hardly irrelevant. your statement "after January 1 1863" defines why I asked. They could have deserted if they didn't want to fight however you know the results. I know of Union units from Tennessee that defended slavery and even assisted Confederates in keeping control of slaves......including 400 Forrest rounded up in December 1862. Jeremiah Sullivan commanded a Union brigade and was chasing Forrest however he allowed 4 CS troopers to escort 400 slaves through his brigade. There is no quick answer to this question, with all due respect. One must realize the war was not as simple as slavery. To answer, one must think about every soldier, every unit, and so on. I was not intending to post an easy question. And, whose AIM was that? the government? I asked about the soldiers not the government. :sabre:
The reasons why soldiers fight is interesting but ultimately irrelevant as those reasons are subsumed by the reasons their side goes to war.

R
 

brass napoleon

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#5
We've actually had numerous threads about this topic, some quite recently. I think the vast majority of people here will tell you that most white Union soldiers did not enlist to fight against slavery (although some certainly did). Like @rpkennedy said, Union soldiers, like Confederate soldiers, fought for a plethora of reasons.

If it was, the attitudes in the modern north sure don't match that sentiment today, do they?
I'm not sure what this means though. It sound like you're saying that people in the modern north support slavery, but I'm probably reading it wrong. :help:
 
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#6
no
We've actually had numerous threads about this topic, some quite recently. I think the vast majority of people here will tell you that most white Union soldiers did not enlist to fight against slavery (although some certainly did). Like @rpkennedy said, Union soldiers, like Confederate soldiers, fought for a plethora of reasons.



I'm not sure what this means though. It sound like you're saying that people in the modern north support slavery, but I'm probably reading it wrong.
NOT at all. Im saying that the race issue is as prevalent in the north as it is in the south. It was then and now. My syntax came across wrong. I see I came in with a big bang today. Maybe if I wake up and eat supper I will write more efficiently.
 

brass napoleon

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NOT at all. Im saying that the race issue is as prevalent in the north as it is in the south. It was then and now. My syntax came across wrong. I see I came in with a big bang today. Maybe if I wake up and eat supper I will write more efficiently.
Well, I'm inclined to agree that race is as much a matter in the North now as it is in the South, although discussing that further would be getting into modern politics, which is fruitless, and prohibited on this forum anyway.

However, I disagree that race was as much an issue THEN in the North as it was in the South. Certainly there was widespread racism in the North, but Southerners in 1860 would have told you that it wasn't nearly enough racism. In fact, that's exactly what they DID say:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.


- South Carolina declaration of causes of secession

Source: http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/primarysources/declarationofcauses.html
 

brass napoleon

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#9
The attached New York Times article from 1894 in fact shows Union Army desertion spiked nearly 50% in 1863 before leveling back in 1864. What was on anyone's mind I can't say.
Looks to me like that's an increase of 38,000 Northern desertions. Now consider that even as far back as 1840, almost 200,000 Northerners were members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, whose constitution said this:

Art. II. The object of this Society is the entire abolition of slavery in the United States. While it admits that each State in which slavery exists, has, by the Constitution of the United States, the exclusive right to legislate in regard to its abolition in said State it shall aim to convince all our fellow-citizens, by arguments addressed to their understandings and consciences that slaveholding is a heinous crime in the sight of God, and that the duty, safety, and best interests of all concerned, require its immediate abandonment, without expatriation. The Society will also endeavour, in a constitutional way, to influence Congress to put an end to the domestic slave-trade, and to abolish slavery in all those portions of our common country which come under its control, especially in the District of Columbia,--and likewise to prevent the extension of it to any state that may be hereafter admitted to the Union.


Art. III. This Society shall aim to elevate the character and condition of the people of color, by encouraging their intellectual, moral, and religious improvement, and by removing public prejudice, that thus they may, according to their intellectual and moral worth, share an equality with the whites, of civil and religious privileges; but this Society will never, in any way, countenance the oppressed in vindicating their rights by resorting to physical force.


- Constitution of the American Anti-Slavery Society

Source: http://lostmuseum.cuny.edu/archive/the-constitution-of-the-american-antislavery
 
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#10
The attached New York Times article from 1894 in fact shows Union Army desertion spiked nearly 50% in 1863 before leveling back in 1864. What was on anyone's mind I can't say.
That's a very interesting article, but I didn't see any suggestion in it that disaffection with the Emancipation Proclamation was viewed as a cause of desertion. What was cited was (1) the mid-war increase in bounties paid to enlistees, that would encourage desertion and serial bounty-jumping, and (2) the fact that units with high desertion rates tended to come from large cities -- I suppose because a deserter would believe he would have an easier time of avoiding capture there.

Also interesting that the regular Army had a much higher desertion rate than the volunteer units raised by the states. That seems counter-intuitive.
 

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#11
The simple answer is no, to the question posed in this thread as to whether the majority of northern soldiers fought to free the slaves. Northern soldiers who enlisted during 1861 and 1862 were mostly compelled by various motives including a patriotic desire to save and preserve the Union, to "see the elephant" (by experiencing combat), and to join friends and relatives in what initially seemed a short term lark. Many northern soldiers were at first opposed when the United States declared the elimination of slavery to be a war aim in January 1863. However, as the war progressed resistance to this aim did decrease particularly as northern ranks were buttressed with almost 190,000 black soldiers and sailors, and as northern soldiers were exposed to the raw evidence of slavery as the armies advanced southward.
 
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#12
Well, I'm inclined to agree that race is as much a matter in the North now as it is in the South, although discussing that further would be getting into modern politics, which is fruitless, and prohibited on this forum anyway.

However, I disagree that race was as much an issue THEN in the North as it was in the South. Certainly there was widespread racism in the North, but Southerners in 1860 would have told you that it wasn't nearly enough racism. In fact, that's exactly what they DID say:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.


- South Carolina declaration of causes of secession

Source: http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/primarysources/declarationofcauses.html
I prefer a historian that backs up their statements with facts. :smile: I would like to add a story of why three particular persons from Tennessee joined the Union Army. James Nathan Stafford, John Stafford and William Pinckney Stafford chose not to enlist in the beginning of the war. Yet, after the CS Army fell back to Corinth after Shiloh, the 13th (14th) Tennessee Cvy Reg U.S. came through my area and conscripted all three brothers against their will. They ended up at Fort Pillow on April 12 1864. John was killed in the assault on the fort. William was captured and died at Andersonville. Only my great great grandfather James Stafford, then 16, survived the battle by swimming away from the action. None of the three supported the Union cause nor did they want to fight for the South. None fought to free the slaves or any other reason than they were forced. That same day, many of my relatives were attacking them at Fort Pillow. Every bullet had my name on it that day for one death of the 4 of my great great grandfathers at the battle would have prevented me from existing. Just a story about three Yanks who did not want to be involved and only one lived to tell the story. My other 3 grandfathers there suffered greatly. One had a leg wound from canister. Another had part of his face blown off by the same shot. And the other was sent home due to severe wounds.
 
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#13
The question of whether slavery was the main cause of the war is often laid with weight on southerners as if it is a yes or no opinion. I firmly believe that more fought against the north for different reasons and that Lincoln catered in the Slavery Issue to the forefront. Of course years of debates led up to that moment. My question is simple: Did a majority of white U.S. soldiers in the Civil War enlist and fight to free the slaves? Why did the average Union soldier join? Why did the officers defend the Union? Was it because of slavery? If it was, the attitudes in the modern north sure don't match that sentiment today, do they? So why did most Union soldiers join? I think it fair to reverse the typical stereotype of southerners and pose the question to northerners. I am not defending the ideal of slavery. Please be objective and think about this before you reply. I wish we could do a multi-faceted poll on this topic.
Chauncey H. Cooke a Private in Company G 25th Wisconsin wrote in January, 1863 :

I have no heart in this war if the slaves cannot go free. Our cause is nobler even than the Revolution, for they fought for their own freedom, while we fight for that of another race.

Walter S. Poor entered the war a private on 4/27/1861 at New York City, NY. In Company B 10th NY Infantry. On 3/29/1864 he was commissioned into Field & Staff NC Union 2nd Infantry where he rose in rank to Lieutenant -Colonel. He wrote in 1861-1862 :

If the doom of slavery is not sealed by the war, I shall curse the day I entered the Army, or lifted a finger in the preservation of the Union,”

Sergeant William F. Pippey Company H 29th Massachusetts, discharged as a 2nd Lieutenant for disability in 1863 wrote in 1862 :

If anyone thinks this Army is fighting to free the Negro, they are terribly mistaken.”



12954_130059160731.jpg


Brevet Brig-General Charles Sheils Wainwright while a Major in the 1st NY Light Artillery in 1861-1862 :

If Lincoln caves in to the Black Republicans and makes this an abolition war, I for one will be sorry I ever lent a hand to it.”

P2086424.gif


Colonel Walter Quintus Gresham of the 53rd Indiana wrote his wife from Tennessee in 1862 :

I am no abolitionist, but the more I see of slavery, in all its enormity, the more I am satisfied that it is a curse to our country.”

Source : " For Cause & Comrades" by James McPerson
 

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#14
The question of whether slavery was the main cause of the war is often laid with weight on southerners as if it is a yes or no opinion. I firmly believe that more fought against the north for different reasons and that Lincoln catered in the Slavery Issue to the forefront. Of course years of debates led up to that moment. My question is simple: Did a majority of white U.S. soldiers in the Civil War enlist and fight to free the slaves? Why did the average Union soldier join? Why did the officers defend the Union? Was it because of slavery? If it was, the attitudes in the modern north sure don't match that sentiment today, do they? So why did most Union soldiers join? I think it fair to reverse the typical stereotype of southerners and pose the question to northerners. I am not defending the ideal of slavery. Please be objective and think about this before you reply. I wish we could do a multi-faceted poll on this topic.
This thread might be of interest:

Why preserve the Union?: Unionism vs Secessionism

From the first (my) post in the thread:

Slavery explains the reasons for disunion, it does not explain the reasons for union. That is, slavery does not explain the reasons why so many Americans wanted to keep the Union together.

These two forces - secessionism and unionism - were kind of like a yin and yang. You don't get the full picture until you see both sides of the circle. Protecting slavery was the driving force for the white southern elites who championed a separate slave states' nation.

...unionism, IMO, was driven by the feeling that the putative Confederate regime was an economic, military and geo-political threat that was created by traitors who sought to annul an election they lost fair and square. And the threat being made, would not be ignored.


...As I posit above, there was a force called unionism that compelled Americans to preserve the Union in the face of slave state secessionism. Unionism was not northernism: there were southerners who supported preserving the Union.

My opinion is that 1860-1865 unionism was mainly a response to the actions of secessionists. Unionists did not care so much about the reasons that caused the slave states to dissolve the union (although many recognized that slavery was the underlying cause); they were upset that the union was being dissolved, period. Even more, the method that the union was dissolved - by armed force - was especially outrageous. This opinion may be controversial.
Unionism was the cause of the United States resisting the political anarchy and military and economic threat that was the Confederacy. Now, it that why an individual soldier fought? Maybe, maybe not. Many fought out of Unionism, for sure. Many fought out of patriotism - and that's NOT the same as Unionism. Some fought because the bonus payments were a great inducement. Some were drafted. Some were abolitionists who did want to see the slave power destroyed, but this was surely a minority.

- Alan
 

major bill

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#15
My dad joined the Navy in 1942 because he was bored with his job, he volunteered for the invasion of the Philippines because he was bored fueling planes in Detriot. So the main reason, real reason the US fought in World War Two was because young men were bored.
 
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#16
My dad joined the Navy in 1942 because he was bored with his job, he volunteered for the invasion of the Philippines because he was bored fueling planes in Detriot. So the main reason, real reason the US fought in World War Two was because young men were bored.
good approach.........that's a whole new topic......too modern to discuss I suppose.....people do fight for different reasons in every war. Its sort of like the American Revolution. Some feared an English victory so they remained fearfully loyal to the Crown. Some wanted more British control of the colonies while others wanted a new nation. Indians were really confused. The British offered them arms and more to help them. The Americans offered them almost nothing. My grandmother's people, the Catawba made the mistake of joining the colonists and were almost extinct within two decades for America did not honor their allies afterwards. I guess every war is multi-faceted. When I taught at the university, I had to give a complete explanation of how the war emerged. That's why I posed the questions. Slavery was a cause but it was one of many. Pro-southern teachers swore the war was not at all about slavery. Pro-union teachers swore it was all about slavery. Decades of debates have led us to this moment. Few gave objective answers to the questions. As usual some totally defended the Slavery side while few went against it. Though there were some really good quotes. I only meant to pose a different approach and see the results. Same old same old. I liked your response though. My great uncle joined the military because he liked flying big planes and he dropped the first Hydrogen bomb in a test. Nothing was ever found of him or the plane. He fought because he liked to fly planes.
 
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#17
This thread might be of interest:

Why preserve the Union?: Unionism vs Secessionism

From the first (my) post in the thread:

Slavery explains the reasons for disunion, it does not explain the reasons for union. That is, slavery does not explain the reasons why so many Americans wanted to keep the Union together.

These two forces - secessionism and unionism - were kind of like a yin and yang. You don't get the full picture until you see both sides of the circle. Protecting slavery was the driving force for the white southern elites who championed a separate slave states' nation.

...unionism, IMO, was driven by the feeling that the putative Confederate regime was an economic, military and geo-political threat that was created by traitors who sought to annul an election they lost fair and square. And the threat being made, would not be ignored.


...As I posit above, there was a force called unionism that compelled Americans to preserve the Union in the face of slave state secessionism. Unionism was not northernism: there were southerners who supported preserving the Union.

My opinion is that 1860-1865 unionism was mainly a response to the actions of secessionists. Unionists did not care so much about the reasons that caused the slave states to dissolve the union (although many recognized that slavery was the underlying cause); they were upset that the union was being dissolved, period. Even more, the method that the union was dissolved - by armed force - was especially outrageous. This opinion may be controversial.
Unionism was the cause of the United States resisting the political anarchy and military and economic threat that was the Confederacy. Now, it that why an individual soldier fought? Maybe, maybe not. Many fought out of Unionism, for sure. Many fought out of patriotism - and that's NOT the same as Unionism. Some fought because the bonus payments were a great inducement. Some were drafted. Some were abolitionists who did want to see the slave power destroyed, but this was surely a minority.

- Alan
A Tennessean might view that differently than one from South Carolina, though I am a Tennessean with all my ancestors coming from South Carolina. Secession is a good point. I know one thing for sure. Many want to join a cause as it is noble, but that passion fades to misery soon after. Im not sure why each soldier chose the route they took. I gave a representative and rough poll of why most Confederates joined, and Ive read many diaries and letters primarily from Tennessee. Very few mention slavery because few had them here. My county had the second highest ratio of all West Tennessee in regard to southern sympathies yet the majority of slaves in this county were owned by a few farmers. I read the slave schedules. The American Revolution had occurred less than a century before and the War of 1812 only 48 years earlier. I feel many southerners felt similar to the colonists when Lincoln won an election without winning in the south. The South didn't elect Lincoln nor do they have much political persuasion today. Im sure many southerners viewed their choice as patriotism too
 
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#19
Forgive me if this has been mentioned already, but how many men fought because they were expected to fight? I would think it would be very hard to not volunteer when most of the men around you are.
That's exactly my point. Peer pressure. Even trying to impress a young lady you were courting could be a cause. I see the causes as being many rather than one. I agree with Slavery as a cause but I don't agree with it being the only cause. Many ask "Was the Civil War fought over slavery?" That's a loaded question that labels southerners as all being slave owners in a sense. I cant discuss modern politics but the Civil War is more about slavery today than it was fifty years ago. As a teacher, I saw history progress over time. Native American History has just begun to open up, and for the most part they are still an invisible people. Yet their history goes back thousands of years and their influence on America was far greater than most will admit. I like intellectual discussions for after I left teaching, Ive had few. Sometimes people do not understand why I say what I say and they don't recognize the sarcasm. The thread was posted to present another side to the "Was the Civil War fought over Slavery?" question. It is all to easy for many to throws rocks at us southerners. Ive read the many statements of the men that organized on my farm. of the 109 men, only 4 owned slaves. I think your point fits the majority of the others. I think there was a jubilant hoorah when they rushed off to war. Of that 109, one came home within a month and is buried across the road from me. He died from disease. I think the passion weakened over time and reality hit.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#20
That's exactly my point. Peer pressure. Even trying to impress a young lady you were courting could be a cause. I see the causes as being many rather than one. I agree with Slavery as a cause but I don't agree with it being the only cause. Many ask "Was the Civil War fought over slavery?" That's a loaded question that labels southerners as all being slave owners in a sense. I cant discuss modern politics but the Civil War is more about slavery today than it was fifty years ago. As a teacher, I saw history progress over time. Native American History has just begun to open up, and for the most part they are still an invisible people. Yet their history goes back thousands of years and their influence on America was far greater than most will admit. I like intellectual discussions for after I left teaching, Ive had few. Sometimes people do not understand why I say what I say and they don't recognize the sarcasm. The thread was posted to present another side to the "Was the Civil War fought over Slavery?" question. It is all to easy for many to throws rocks at us southerners. Ive read the many statements of the men that organized on my farm. of the 109 men, only 4 owned slaves. I think your point fits the majority of the others. I think there was a jubilant hoorah when they rushed off to war. Of that 109, one came home within a month and is buried across the road from me. He died from disease. I think the passion weakened over time and reality hit.

I could see where it feels there are proverbial rocks thrown when it was not black and white ( you should forgive the pun ). This whole argument has been hammered away at from unreasonable perspectives for so long where are individual soldiers, stories of Confederates, men still buried, unknown graves scattered over Gettysburg's battlefield? I have a feeling at least here at Civil War Talk you'll find less of the ' all Southerners fought for slavery ' than elsewhere though. There are enough very astute historians who get cranky over revisionism that it keeps us pretty honest or at least arguing the point.
 



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