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

wausaubob

Colonel
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Denver, CO
This is most probably not possible.
Given your thesis
that officers and soldiers are to be recruited from that white population of 1,5 M (related to the ownerships of slaves), you have to deduce
1) the women (about 750000)
2) then your pool is 750000, but you‘ll have to deduce the children and the elder people - both groups should in the least add up to 50% (given the fact that the Confederacy overstepped the age limitations for war service in both directions)
or rather probably 33% (as being that portion of the male population being really able to give such service).
3) This leads to a pool of between 375000 and 250000 people who could serve as officers and soldiers.

As far as I know the confederate army exceeded that (by far?) -
hence other motivations like Dixie-patriotism,
notions of honour
and/or the relation of grooups of different age should also have been of a certain relevance
(I read once a letter from a west-virginian town where the writer depicted secession as a idea most popular to younger people whereas the parent generation (there) tended to be loyalist....but cannot remember where to find that source again....
*Edited* Soldiers who were not slave owners themselves were from the areas in which slavery was common. Those areas of what became Confederate states which contained few slaves, also provided few volunteers for the Confederate armies. And the men often made their way to US controlled territory to avoid conscription too. I believe Freehling wrote that every state other than So. Carolina formed US regiments. Resistance movements were numerous.
 
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wausaubob

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That map has no real corelation to secession sentiment and county slave population. Many of the counties in West Virginia that voted for secession had slave populations of 1.2%, 1.3, and even 0.0. The Virginia and Tennessee votes are popular votes, the others are convention votes.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e7/1860-61_Secession_in_Appalachia_by_County.jpg
And yet, they resisted and with the help of US regiments, they were removed from the Confederate conscription zone. Therefore men who were in what tried to become the Confederacy who lived in areas with few slaves were not subject to conscription.
I have to wonder what's the reason so much effort is applied to separating the Confederacy from slavery. It makes Grant's prediction appear very accurate.
 

Piedone

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I have to wonder what's the reason so much effort is applied to separating the Confederacy from slavery.
While I absolutely do understand the reason for your wondering I assure you that (at least) my personal reason is the endeavour to get to a balanced assessment - and I can do nothing else but question every thesis that is presented - just to evaluate it‘s convincibility.
But I do understand that this is tedious sometimes.
 

wausaubob

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Those areas of what had been the south up to 1860 that had few slaves either never joined the Confederacy, or dropped out fairly quickly. Even New Orleans had few slaves and many immigrant longshoremen. It was occupied by the US and Confederate conscription did not apply there.
 

wausaubob

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Hopefully this quote is within fair comment parameters:
1634129671537.png

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/08/small-truth-papering-over-a-big-lie/61136/
 

CaptSpook

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Apr 13, 2020
No one who fought for the Confederacy was so ignorant to not know the war was begun over the issue of slavery. I refuse to believe the men of the time were so stupid and so unaware of the one major issue of the day that kept being unable to be solved but was endlessly debated and talked about since the founding of the country.

I only wish it were true, as my direct ancestors were slaveholders and members of the Confederate army. We have to get over this present-day nonsense that our ancestors didn't fight for slavery, even if they didn't own slaves. They knew they were fighting for a way of life they had all grown up with and a social system they all agreed with. We can add other reasons they make us here in the present feel more comfortable about, i.e., fighting to protect their homes, families, state, etc., but we need to understand that they KNEW slavery was the cause and at the bottom of every reason they enlisted or were drafted into service.

As for setting up that table and asking passerby's if they know what the Civil War was about, I seriously doubt you'll get 90% to say it was all about slavery as the teaching of history in this country is largely a State 'hit-or-miss' proposition.

We've just got to get past this idea that our ancestors were too stupid or too perfect to not know that slavery brought on the war. It's for our own good, and our children's good, to know they were just like us today.

Flawed human beings who made a mistake and supported the worst cause a people ever fought for.

Unionblue
I respect the opinions of everyone on this thread and also, I can see the debate going on long into the future.

I agree with the last two sentences of your second paragraph, except for the last part "...but we need to understand that they KNEW slavery was the cause and at the bottom of every reason they enlisted or were drafted into service."

My opinion based on many years of primary and secondary source material from Southern soldiers, wives and sweethearts, politicians, and others from the South is that you are correct in that slavery, being deeply embedded in their culture, was thought of as an important part of their "way of life they had all grown up with and a social system they all agreed with". Simply put, slavery was one (and perhaps a prominent) element that compelled them to rebel in order to maintain that "way of life" and social system. Yet, what caused the war was the act of rebellion, to separate from the central government (to maintain that way of life and social system, slavery being part of it). In other words, if the South had not attempted to secede from the United States, there would have been no civil war.

But most Southern soldiers fought to maintain that uniquely southern way of life, slavery included. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind was written with that theme in mind -- their way of life and social system including slavery was indeed gone with the wind.
 

GwilymT

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Pittsburgh
That map has no real corelation to secession sentiment and county slave population. Many of the counties in West Virginia that voted for secession had slave populations of 1.2%, 1.3, and even 0.0. The Virginia and Tennessee votes are popular votes, the others are convention votes.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e7/1860-61_Secession_in_Appalachia_by_County.jpg
There is a strong correlation throughout the south of percentage of slave population and support for secession. This is most clearly evidenced by the simple fact that no state which had outlawed slavery previous to 1860 seceded.
 
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wausaubob

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I respect the opinions of everyone on this thread and also, I can see the debate going on long into the future.

I agree with the last two sentences of your second paragraph, except for the last part "...but we need to understand that they KNEW slavery was the cause and at the bottom of every reason they enlisted or were drafted into service."

My opinion based on many years of primary and secondary source material from Southern soldiers, wives and sweethearts, politicians, and others from the South is that you are correct in that slavery, being deeply embedded in their culture, was thought of as an important part of their "way of life they had all grown up with and a social system they all agreed with". Simply put, slavery was one (and perhaps a prominent) element that compelled them to rebel in order to maintain that "way of life" and social system. Yet, what caused the war was the act of rebellion, to separate from the central government (to maintain that way of life and social system, slavery being part of it). In other words, if the South had not attempted to secede from the United States, there would have been no civil war.

But most Southern soldiers fought to maintain that uniquely southern way of life, slavery included. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind was written with that theme in mind -- their way of life and social system including slavery was indeed gone with the wind.
War is not a conservative strategy in general. And the US Civil War was not conservative. Within about 18 months they had greatly weakened slavery in the US. As to whether what they were thinking on the ground changed from heroic optimism to rational self interest, I don't know. But the morale of Confederate soldiers fluctuated after July 1863.
 

16thVA

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And yet, they resisted and with the help of US regiments, they were removed from the Confederate conscription zone. Therefore men who were in what tried to become the Confederacy who lived in areas with few slaves were not subject to conscription.
I have to wonder what's the reason so much effort is applied to separating the Confederacy from slavery. It makes Grant's prediction appear very accurate.

There is a strong correlation throughout the south of percentage of slave population and support for secession. This is most clearly evidenced by the simple fact that no state which had outlawed slavery previous to 1860 seceded.
Men in West Virginia were subjected to Confederate conscription in southern WV, southern counties voted in the 1863 Confederate elections, even in Wheeling in 1863 10% of the vote was write-in votes for Confederate Virginia candidates. The slave population in western Virginia was not an indication of loyalties, counties with few slaves gave half or more of their soldiers to the Confederacy. What is forgotten here is loyalty to the state of Virginia, which kicked in when the war started in earnest, men who voted against the secession ordinance enlisted in Virginia Confederate units in great numbers. The Cleveland Morning Leader on May 6, 1861 said-

"There still remains that old 'State pride' which has been the vain-glorious boast of the Old Dominion...Western Virginia has too many Union men, and is too near Ohio, to actively join in such a resistance, but still, that impulse and State pride will be against us and we must expect to be hampered with it."

Aaron Sheehan-Dean wrote in his "Why Confederates Fought: Family & Nation in Civil War Virginia", pg. 210, -

"Many counties in the northwest did organize Confederate units, with most enrolling 25 percent of their eligible men and many in excess of 50 percent."

It wasn't the density of slave population but state pride that motivated them. They were defending Virginia as it was, as a slave state, while having a minimal share of that slave population. The slave population map does not tell the real story behind support for the Confederacy, at least not in West Virginia.

Confederate_recruitment_in_West_Virginia.jpg
 

CaptSpook

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War is not a conservative strategy in general. And the US Civil War was not conservative. Within about 18 months they had greatly weakened slavery in the US. As to whether what they were thinking on the ground changed from heroic optimism to rational self interest, I don't know. But the morale of Confederate soldiers fluctuated after July 1863.
Good point, that the soldiers' (and I would add citizens') morale changed after the first several years of conflict, which proved much worse than anyone could have guessed back then. (I can't recall how many letters from citizen-soldiers of both sides who in their patriotic zeal predicted the war would be over in a matter of a few months.) As the war progressed and the body count grew, so did disillusionment in some and greater resolve in others to see a completion of the war in their favor.
 

OleMissCub

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We've got 11 pages now of people talking about slavery, states rights, religion, etc. But I think the root of it all is much, much simpler:

Peer/social pressure had more to do with it than any other factor IMO. Very few people at that time would have wanted to appear to be cowards in front of their community. You can throw tribalism into that mix as well. The world those men lived in was exponentially smaller than it is today. Their entire world was their local community i.e. their tribe. If a company was being formed in your community, well by god you better enlist or else you'll be labeled a coward and risk being socially ostracized from your tribe.

Then, once they actually got into combat their primary motivation was the sense of comradery they felt for their mates and the internal obligation they felt not to let their brothers down. This is a universal truth among all soldiers in every war ever fought.
 

bdtex

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CaptSpook

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We've got 11 pages now of people talking about slavery, states rights, religion, etc. But I think the root of it all is much, much simpler:

Peer/social pressure had more to do with it than any other factor IMO. Very few people at that time would have wanted to appear to be cowards in front of their community. You can throw tribalism into that mix as well. The world those men lived in was exponentially smaller than it is today. Their entire world was their local community i.e. their tribe. If a company was being formed in your community, well by god you better enlist or else you'll be labeled a coward and risk being socially ostracized from your tribe.

Then, once they actually got into combat their primary motivation was the sense of comradery they felt for their mates and the internal obligation they felt not to let their brothers down. This is a universal truth among all soldiers in every war ever fought.
Great point and it is why I believe "historical period context" is critical in any discussion concerning any period of history.
 

GwilymT

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We've got 11 pages now of people talking about slavery, states rights, religion, etc. But I think the root of it all is much, much simpler:

Peer/social pressure had more to do with it than any other factor IMO. Very few people at that time would have wanted to appear to be cowards in front of their community. You can throw tribalism into that mix as well. The world those men lived in was exponentially smaller than it is today. Their entire world was their local community i.e. their tribe. If a company was being formed in your community, well by god you better enlist or else you'll be labeled a coward and risk being socially ostracized from your tribe.

Then, once they actually got into combat their primary motivation was the sense of comradery they felt for their mates and the internal obligation they felt not to let their brothers down. This is a universal truth among all soldiers in every war ever fought.
This is a great point. The reasons individuals signed up are as varied as the individuals themselves. And once you sign up, you’re in. However, the individual reason a single soldier may have joined up has nothing to do with the cause for which that individual may find him/her self fighting. Once enlisted they become an instrument of the state or movement they enlisted in. Old Johnny may have signed up because everyone in the county was signing up, he may have signed up for the pay, he may have signed up because he thought he was defending his home. Regardless, he was fighting for whatever the army was fighting for and in the case of the Confederacy he was fighting to break the Union and establish a Republic whose core value and reason for existence was the protection of and propagation of African Slavery in North America.
 

Philip Leigh

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According to historian William C. Davis, "The widespread Northern myth that Confederates went to the battlefield to perpetuate slavery is just that, a myth. Their letters and diaries, in the tens of thousands, reveal again and again that they fought because their Southern homeland was invaded. . ."
 

Zack

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According to historian William C. Davis, "The widespread Northern myth that Confederates went to the battlefield to perpetuate slavery is just that, a myth. Their letters and diaries, in the tens of thousands, reveal again and again that they fought because their Southern homeland was invaded. . ."

He did indeed, but before we go too crazy, he also wrote in the same book, “it is impossible to point to any other local issue but slavery and say that Southerners would have seceded and fought over it.”

Which brings us to @GwilymT ’s point that “the individual reason a single soldier may have joined up has nothing to do with the cause for which that individual may find him/her self fighting. Once enlisted they become an instrument of the state or movement they enlisted in.”
 

GwilymT

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He did indeed, but before we go too crazy, he also wrote in the same book, “it is impossible to point to any other local issue but slavery and say that Southerners would have seceded and fought over it.”

Which brings us to @GwilymT ’s point that “the individual reason a single soldier may have joined up has nothing to do with the cause for which that individual may find him/her self fighting. Once enlisted they become an instrument of the state or movement they enlisted in.”
Agreed. Very few Union soldiers signed up for the expressed purpose of freeing slaves. However, come late 1862 every Union soldier was fighting for that goal whether they liked it or not regardless of their own personal reasons for enlisting or staying. A Rebel soldier may have signed up thinking that they were protecting their home from invasion but whether they liked it or not they were fighting to break the Union to establish a slave republic- the stated cause of the leaders of the rebellion and the reason for its existence.
 

wausaubob

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What states were they defending? 😎 They were defending the 10 4/5ths states that had seceded, which contained nearly all the slaves in the US as of 1861. What was one of the primary activities of the US Armies and navies? Obstructing southerners trying to recapture slaves. :smile coffee: That activity was explicitly endorsed by Congress early in 1862. What was the effect of invasion of the secession states by US regiments? Slaves began to take bigger chances to escape. :unsure: How much slavery was left 8 months after the US Civil War concluded? None legally, and very little practically.
What was the primary election platform position of the Republican candidate in 1860? No slavery in the west. It won an election and was suddenly enforced in the first 16 months of the war.
No one has ever asserted that the Confederate soldiers went to war talking about slavery. But they were US regiments that marched to Appomattox singing John Brown's Body. Pretty sure about that. :playfull:
 

wausaubob

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Agreed. Very few Union soldiers signed up for the expressed purpose of freeing slaves. However, come late 1862 every Union soldier was fighting for that goal whether they liked it or not regardless of their own personal reasons for enlisting or staying. A Rebel soldier may have signed up thinking that they were protecting their home from invasion but whether they liked it or not they were fighting to break the Union to establish a slave republic- the stated cause of the leaders of the rebellion and the reason for its existence.
The difference was that the US soldier figured out quickly that ending slavery and adding the help of the freedmen to the US effort was the surest pathway to the US winning the war, and his possibly living to the end of the war. The preservation of slavery did not weaken the US directly, and only maintained what the south had.
The US soldiers and sailors realized they were fighting for a revolutionary result. The Confederate soldiers believed the war would be able to preserve the status quo.
 
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