What Was In The Mind Of Most Of The Confederate Soldiers As To Why They Were Fighting And Willing To Die?

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I am new to the forum, but I had a question. I know it is hotly debated as to the motives of the southern states seceding from the union and fighting a civil war. Seems like the arguments center on whether it was mainly to protect state's rights or to protect slavery. And many think that slavery just happened to be the most current/volatile issue that tested federal vs. states rights. My questions are: Of all the men who fought for the south, how many of them were actual slave owners? I have to believe it was a minority percentage. If the south was fighting mainly to preserve slavery, you're telling me that thousands of young southern men marched off to war to kill/be killed just to protect the rights of wealthy plantation owners who employed slaves? I would not go to war, nor send my sons to war for that reason. What was in the mind of most of the confederate soldiers as to WHY they were fighting and willing to die?
 

Andersonh1

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I am new to the forum, but I had a question. I know it is hotly debated as to the motives of the southern states seceding from the union and fighting a civil war. Seems like the arguments center on whether it was mainly to protect state's rights or to protect slavery. And many think that slavery just happened to be the most current/volatile issue that tested federal vs. states rights. My questions are: Of all the men who fought for the south, how many of them were actual slave owners? I have to believe it was a minority percentage. If the south was fighting mainly to preserve slavery, you're telling me that thousands of young southern men marched off to war to kill/be killed just to protect the rights of wealthy plantation owners who employed slaves? I would not go to war, nor send my sons to war for that reason. What was in the mind of most of the confederate soldiers as to WHY they were fighting and willing to die?

"For Cause and Comrade" will definitely answer some questions about why men fought the war, North and South. You're right about the slave owners being a small percentage, less than 10% if taken individually I think. You can get to 32% of the population if you count slave owning families in 1860. McPherson, in looking at letters and diaries, gives the percentage of men who gave slavery as a reason for fighting at about 20%, so a fifth of those in his sample.
 

rpkennedy

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I am new to the forum, but I had a question. I know it is hotly debated as to the motives of the southern states seceding from the union and fighting a civil war. Seems like the arguments center on whether it was mainly to protect state's rights or to protect slavery. And many think that slavery just happened to be the most current/volatile issue that tested federal vs. states rights. My questions are: Of all the men who fought for the south, how many of them were actual slave owners? I have to believe it was a minority percentage. If the south was fighting mainly to preserve slavery, you're telling me that thousands of young southern men marched off to war to kill/be killed just to protect the rights of wealthy plantation owners who employed slaves? I would not go to war, nor send my sons to war for that reason. What was in the mind of most of the confederate soldiers as to WHY they were fighting and willing to die?
Joseph Glatthaar did a statistical analysis of the Army of Northern Virginia and found that for those who enlisted in 1861 (prior to conscription), about 40% were either slaveowners in their own right or came from slaveowning households. For reference, that is about 9 points higher than the general population of the Confederate states. That number understandably declined as conscription continued (wealthier families could avoid service although many did not) but a good estimate would put those from slaveowning households is between 25-30%.

Ryan
 

7thWisconsin

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Joseph Glatthaar did a statistical analysis of the Army of Northern Virginia and found that for those who enlisted in 1861 (prior to conscription), about 40% were either slaveowners in their own right or came from slaveowning households. For reference, that is about 9 points higher than the general population of the Confederate states. That number understandably declined as conscription continued (wealthier families could avoid service although many did not) but a good estimate would put those from slaveowning households is between 25-30%.

Ryan
I think your figures are about right here. Also remember the slaveholder exemption, which meant that property owners with a larger number of enslaved persons wouldn´t be represented in the ranks. I think literacy is one of the issues that complicates researching Confederate motivation. Those most literate, willing and able to commit their thoughts to paper were by and large the more prosperous and educated class, who tended to view the war differently than the working class.
 

rpkennedy

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I think your figures are about right here. Also remember the slaveholder exemption, which meant that property owners with a larger number of enslaved persons wouldn´t be represented in the ranks. I think literacy is one of the issues that complicates researching Confederate motivation. Those most literate, willing and able to commit their thoughts to paper were by and large the more prosperous and educated class, who tended to view the war differently than the working class.

I tend to agree that there was a literacy gap which will skew the results to Union sources and Confederate sources that were more educated and, potentially, wealthier. That said, the numbers seem to indicate that the slaveowning families generally put their money where their mouths were and while there were those show did use the exemption, most still sent their sons to war even if they did not do so themselves.

Ryan
 

7thWisconsin

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I tend to agree that there was a literacy gap which will skew the results to Union sources and Confederate sources that were more educated and, potentially, wealthier. That said, the numbers seem to indicate that the slaveowning families generally put their money where their mouths were and while there were those show did use the exemption, most still sent their sons to war even if they did not do so themselves.

Ryan
Especially at the beginning of the war, yes. Somewhat like in the Union where the older men of the communities enlisted early: they had the most skin in the game (no pun intended).
 

Joshism

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Especially at the beginning of the war, yes. Somewhat like in the Union where the older men of the communities enlisted early: they had the most skin in the game (no pun intended).

As community leaders I would think there was an expectation of leading by example, especially back then, especially in the South.
 

GwilymT

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I am new to the forum, but I had a question. I know it is hotly debated as to the motives of the southern states seceding from the union and fighting a civil war. Seems like the arguments center on whether it was mainly to protect state's rights or to protect slavery. And many think that slavery just happened to be the most current/volatile issue that tested federal vs. states rights. My questions are: Of all the men who fought for the south, how many of them were actual slave owners? I have to believe it was a minority percentage. If the south was fighting mainly to preserve slavery, you're telling me that thousands of young southern men marched off to war to kill/be killed just to protect the rights of wealthy plantation owners who employed slaves? I would not go to war, nor send my sons to war for that reason. What was in the mind of most of the confederate soldiers as to WHY they were fighting and willing to die?
They had been told by their pastors that defense of the institution of slavery was their Christian duty and that the Republican Party represented and evil attempt to overturn god’s order which was exemplified in ideal southern slave society. For many southerners, the war was a religious war in defense of slavery against godless abolitionists who would marry their daughters to the sons of ham.

I’ll dig out some of the prominent sermons of the day that were repeated time and again all throughout the south. Once you read the sermons and hold that southerners were a religious folk, their motivations become very clear.

Propaganda was as powerful on the uneducated then as it is now.
 
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GwilymT

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"For Cause and Comrade" will definitely answer some questions about why men fought the war, North and South. You're right about the slave owners being a small percentage, less than 10% if taken individually I think. You can get to 32% of the population if you count slave owning families in 1860. McPherson, in looking at letters and diaries, gives the percentage of men who gave slavery as a reason for fighting at about 20%, so a fifth of those in his sample.
However, this ignores the fact that the amount of southerners who relied on and participated in the slave economy is much higher. The effort to minimize the affect of slavery on the entire society is unhelpful. One’s interest in the slave economy can easily be equated to one’s modern interest in the housing market- even if they don’t own a home or really don’t have an accurate sense of the market they know it affects them and they know what they’ve been told.
 

GwilymT

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During the secession winter of 60-61, secessionist fire eaters found a potent ally in the form of southern religion. From the pulpit, southern preachers preached the righteousness of secession and secession as a remedy to the perceived threat to slavery. Here is a link to the famous “Thanksgiving Sermon” of Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, delivered November 29, 1860:

http://civilwarcauses.org/palmer.htm
In this sermon, Palmer argues for the righteousness of slavery as a Christian duty and implores his congregation that the only way to safeguard slavery and the southern way of life is to secede from the Union.

He states that:

It is my purpose—not as your organ, compromitting you, whose opinions are for the most part unknown to me, but on my sole responsibility—to speak upon the one question of the day; and to state the duty which, as I believe, patriotism and religion alike require of us all. I shall aim to speak with a moderation of tone and feeling almost judicial, well befitting the sanctities of the place and the solemnities of the judgment day.

Secession in defense of slavery isn’t merely a patriotic duty but a religious duty. As a Christian, regardless of if you are a slaveholder or not, it is your religious and patriotic duty to defend slavery.

He continues:

In determining our duty in this emergency it is necessary that we should first ascertain the nature of the trust providentially committed to us. A nation often has a character as well defined and intense as that of an individual. This depends, of course upon a variety of causes operating through a long period of time. It is due largely to the original traits which distinguish the stock from which it springs, and to the providential training which has formed its education. But, however derived, this individuality of character alone makes any people truly historic, competent to work out its specific mission, and to become a factor in the world's progress. The particular trust assigned to such a people becomes the pledge of the divine protection; and their fidelity to it determines the fate by which it is finally overtaken. What that trust is must be ascertained from the necessities of their position, the institutions which are the outgrowth of their principles and the conflicts through which they preserve their identity and independence. If then the South is such a people, what, at this juncture, is their providential trust? I answer, that it is to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of domestic slavery as now existing.

In order to get to the real cause of secession, let us look to the preachers. The preachers tell us it was slavery.
This sermon was reprinted and repeated throughout the south. In a admittedly religious society, the religious and community leaders were telling the people to take up arms in defense of slavery.
 

Andersonh1

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However, this ignores the fact that the amount of southerners who relied on and participated in the slave economy is much higher. The effort to minimize the affect of slavery on the entire society is unhelpful. One’s interest in the slave economy can easily be equated to one’s modern interest in the housing market- even if they don’t own a home or really don’t have an accurate sense of the market they know it affects them and they know what they’ve been told.

It doesn't ignore anything. I stated the percentage of men who avowed the defense of slavery as a reason to fight, based on McPherson's samples, and did not go beyond that into assumptions about what they may or may not have thought based on how the economy may or may not have affected them.
 

48th Miss.

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I have been out of this arena for a bit since I found most of what I was looking for but returned today to check on slavery opinions at the founding and forward and came across this thread. Of course the the book mentioned above about causes answers a lot it is always interesting to see how some, not Anderson1, appear to think that the slave economy stopped at the shore line and Mason Dixon line.
 

GwilymT

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I have been out of this arena for a bit since I found most of what I was looking for but returned today to check on slavery opinions at the founding and forward and came across this thread. Of course the the book mentioned above about causes answers a lot it is always interesting to see how some, not Anderson1, appear to think that the slave economy stopped at the shore line and Mason Dixon line.

I don’t see where anyone claimed that the slave economy stopped at the Mason Dixon line on this thread.
 

jackt62

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However, this ignores the fact that the amount of southerners who relied on and participated in the slave economy is much higher. The effort to minimize the affect of slavery on the entire society is unhelpful. One’s interest in the slave economy can easily be equated to one’s modern interest in the housing market- even if they don’t own a home or really don’t have an accurate sense of the market they know it affects them and they know what they’ve been told.
Very true. The argument over how many southerners were actual slave owners misses the point. Which is that the southland's economic and cultural systems were integrally connected to the system of chattel slavery, regardless of whether a particular individual actually owned slaves.
 

Andersonh1

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Very true. The argument over how many southerners were actual slave owners misses the point. Which is that the southland's economic and cultural systems were integrally connected to the system of chattel slavery, regardless of whether a particular individual actually owned slaves.

The entire nation's economic system was integrally connected to the slave system. Yet I don't see anyone claiming that northern soldiers fought for slavery.
 
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Pete Longstreet

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"Foote recounts a story from 1862, during the early stages of the U.S. Civil War, when a group of federal soldiers closed in on a young, undernourished Confederate somewhere in Tennessee. This "single, ragged Confederate obviously didn't own any slaves," Foote notes. Yet, when asked by a group of Yankee soldiers why he was fighting, the Rebel replied, "I'm fighting because you're down here," which, according to Foote, "was a pretty satisfactory answer.”
 

jackt62

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The entire nation's economic system was integrally connected to the slave system. Yet I don't see anyone claiming that northern soldiers fought for slavery.
For sure, many northern folks and cities (such as New York and the shipping industry in New England), benefited from the slave economy. But the disparity between the northern and southern economies was such that the southern economy was heavily reliant on cotton, whereas that of the north was based on greater manufacturing, mercantile and craft trades.
 

Yankee Brooke

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I'm sure there were nearly as many reasons as there were soldiers in the army. Some were obviously there to defend slavery. Others may have signed up to guarantee they had three meals a day(boy, would they end up disappointed), or because all their friends were there, they thought it might be fun but were too ashamed at the thought of running when they found out it wasn't. I believe I even have seen some diary entries that basically boil down to "dad made me."
 

GwilymT

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For sure, many northern folks and cities (such as New York and the shipping industry in New England), benefited from the slave economy. But the disparity between the northern and southern economies was such that the southern economy was heavily reliant on cotton, whereas that of the north was based on greater manufacturing, mercantile and craft trades.

Correct. While certain sectors of the northern economy were intricately intertwined with slavery the economy was quite diversified and the society itself wasn’t dependent upon the institution. The same cannot be said about the south.
 
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