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
The naval officers had been around the world. They had associated with sailors, officers and captains from the world's navies and merchant fleets. The naval officers knew they were Yankees. Not northern Yankees and southern Yankees. As for the sailors of the world's merchant fleets, they hated the trans-Atlantic slave trade and more than eager to see slavery ended in the western hemisphere.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
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Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The common Confederate soldier believed what he had been told. The southern way of life was threatened. There is also a literature of young white southerners being told the freed slaves would be competitors for the sexual attentions of white women. I don't know how persuasive that was, but for young men on the verge of manhood, it had to be a factor.
 

CaptSpook

Private
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Apr 13, 2020
Slavery was the way of life in the South everything was connected to it the South had very few industries and as https://civilwartalk.com/members/wausaubob.20113/ mentioned was rurally backward when it came to farming.

Most of the Souths jobs were centred around slavery or in supporting slavery via the various infrastructure's with few exceptions.

The key to understanding why Confederate soldiers fought has to be who were the first states to succeed from the Union and you will find all the cash crop states went first those that had the most to lose S Carolina , Alabama , Texas , Louisiana , Mississippi , All of the white populations of those states were employed mainly in the slave trade or in supporting the slave trade therefore the soldiers who fought in those states were fighting to protect their way of life because without slaves they would be without jobs to support their family's.

The further you go North like Virginia , N Carolina , Tennessee the less impact the slave trade has and you will find other means of employment like Logging , Farming , Animal Husbandry and so the reliance of slave labour becomes less and we start to see more opposition to succession.

Personally I think their is a distinct split in the South and why soldiers fought in the cash crop states it was to protect their way of life but in the Northern Southern states its seems to be about principle and because they felt the federal government was flexing to much muscle , Don't get me wrong slavery was still important in states like Virginia and N Carolina but they weren't reliant on it like S Carolina therefore I can conclude their soldiers fought for different reasons.

In my opinion.
Good point, that Southern soldiers were motivated somewhat differently from one southern region to the next.
 

CaptSpook

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Apr 13, 2020
Samuel Phillips Lee, cousin of Robert E. Lee, who didn't follow the same treasonous path. Served in the US Navy. When asked why he didn't join Virginia he replied; "When I find the word Virginia in my commission, I will join the Confederacy"
Good point and there were many others within families that were divided in such a way. It's one of the nastier characteristics of a civil war.
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
Samuel Phillips Lee, cousin of Robert E. Lee, who didn't follow the same treasonous path. Served in the US Navy. When asked why he didn't join Virginia he replied; "When I find the word Virginia in my commission, I will join the Confederacy"
Different people different stances - otherwise there wouldn’t have emerged a Civil War ...
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
This has turned into a very interesting debate over the numbers or percentages of slave holders among southern states. I am reminded of a short book we were required to read in undergrad school on "How to Lie With Statistics", supporting Viper's last reply perfectly. I agree with most of what is presented here and can only recommend folks keep in mind "historical context" (all the things happening during that period under discussion that might have affected peoples' attitudes and decisions) when attempting to understand behavior of any period in history.

Getting back to the original question: "What Was In The Mind Of Most Of The Confederate Soldiers As To Why They Were Fighting And Willing To Die?"

I doubt most Confederate soldiers carried statistics in their heads. From all the letters, diaries, testimonials, and so on that I can recall reading over the years, I believe it was a sense of honor and loyalty to their states, regardless of the narrative at the time (slavery, states rights, national banking and taxation, interstate commerce, and others), that drove them to fight. The phrase "Those damned Yankees" and other more colloquial variations of it, can represent one or any number of reasons why Confederates would be angry enough to fight a civil war as part of a larger Confederacy of States. Ultimately, if you were a Virginian, your honor demanded you follow your State under the Confederate (and Virginia State) flags to "resist the invasion of those damned Yankees" (my quote). R.E. Lee is an example of one's intense sense of honor, which compelled him to choose (reluctantly) loyalty to his State over that of the United States.

While I don't defend or condone Lee's decision, I must acknowledge that things were very different in those days, things that led folks to behave in ways that from today's perspective we might judge to be wrong or misguided.
I remember that book! In fact, I used to have a copy (lent it to someone and it was never returned). My take-away was that the number one comes up with is very much a function of the criteria used. And watch out for averages! There are 3 types of averages but most people assume only the one. People are very apt to throw around statistics backed up by terminology that non-mathematicians don't understand. Also the context (as you say).
 

Scott1967

First Sergeant
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Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Good point, that Southern soldiers were motivated somewhat differently from one southern region to the next.
Exactly.

Slavery was more important the further South you went S Carolina voted unanimously to leave the Union but Virginia was split until Lincoln called for volunteers they both left on different agendas imho so their troops fought for different reasons S Carolina was forever shackled to slavery and Virginia on a point of principle.
 

GwilymT

Sergeant Major
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Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
I don't put any stock in the "slave holding families" stats. Those statistics are nothing more than an attempt to shame (virtue signal) more people for something that a very small percentage of Southerners actually did. Own Slaves.

My parents owned lots of things I never had any ownership in. Same as my Grandparents.

The fact is, around 5% of Southerners actually owned slaves. In that %, are some Black folks as well. <--- my last two sentences are historical facts.
On the contrary household stats are often used as way of seeing economic realities. True, a family of seven people own slaves, the slaves are likely only owned by one individual. However, everyone in the household benefits from it. The existence of the slaves are just as important to the economic health and lifestyle to a spouse or any children as they are to the named owner. Economists and policy makers talk about households with automobiles or internet access though the car or internet account is likely only in one person’s name- This is done because it would be silly to pretend that other members the household don’t benefit from these things. The amount of folks who actually own a home is much smaller than the whole population but we don’t pretend that everyone who’s name isn’t on a deed is homeless.

The percentage of slave holding households is a much more accurate way to get a picture of the impact of slavery on the population than a percentage of individual slave owners. Pro-confederates try to move away from this in a deliberate effort to minimize the affect of slavery on the southern economy and social system.
 
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wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
Maybe we could benefit from Census Bureau numbers. Because based on this map, https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3861e.cw0013200
I'd be willing to say that most Confederate soldiers came from southern counties with between 20-50% of the population enslaved. I think its fair to say they knew slavery and they knew slaves, and it was part of the fabric of southern life and the agricultural round of seasons.
I offer that speculation because not many white people lived in the counties with a very high % of enslaved people. And in counties with a very low % of slavery, the young men had to be wondering, what's the problem?
 
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CaptSpook

Private
Joined
Apr 13, 2020
Exactly.

Slavery was more important the further South you went S Carolina voted unanimously to leave the Union but Virginia was split until Lincoln called for volunteers they both left on different agendas imho so their troops fought for different reasons S Carolina was forever shackled to slavery and Virginia on a point of principle.
Correct me if I'm wrong -- North Carolina was also very near voting against secession.
 

Scott1967

First Sergeant
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Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Correct me if I'm wrong -- North Carolina was also very near voting against secession.
In between a rock and a hard place comes to mind , NC was like Virginia they didn't have to rely on Slavery as much so again opinion was split , What changed was they were then stuck in between Virginia and SC so they had to decide what was a prudent course of action knowing if they sided with the North they would have been invaded virtually straight away imho..

Its interesting I often wonder if Sherman went easy on N Carolina because of the impossible situation they were put in perhaps someone can throw some light on that.
 
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wausaubob

Colonel
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Location
Denver, CO
We speculate what they were thinking at the start of the war, but by the time they would yell "Here's your mule" which @Rhea Cole could explain for you, they were thinking about trying to live through the war. By the time there were 530 deserters and 5000 or more men surrendered at Chattanooga in a battle that saw only about 380 Confederates KIA, they were probably thinking Grant should hurry up and get it over with, while they still had a chance to live. A lot of them were conscripts, or late volunteers, and when the US retained Kentucky and regained Tennessee, a lot of Confederate soldiers saw it was BS, and walked away.
 

nc native

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NC Piedmont
Correct me if I'm wrong -- North Carolina was also very near voting against secession.
You are right up until Lincoln called for troops from the loyal states left in the Union in May 1861. There were two votes on secession.
The first in January 1861 was a call for a secession convention that was a statewide vote. The call for a convention was narrowly defeated by 650 votes by the Unionists. In May 1861 many of the Unionists stayed home during the second vote and a convention was elected that approved North Carolina's secession from the Union. After Fort Sumter the Unionists in North Carolina figured it was just a matter of time before North Carolina would join the other Southern states so they basically gave up trying to keep that from happening.
 

Zack

First Sergeant
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Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
I've said it before: there is as much or more fixation on race today than there was during the war. A lot of this attempt to assign slavery as a motivation, even when the men themselves say otherwise, is projecting a modern bias back on to that generation and refusing to believe what they said.

"Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality.

This new administration comes into power, under the solemn pledge to overturn and strike down this great feature of our Union, without which it would never have been formed, and to substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races."

- excerpted from the Address of William L. Harris, commissioner from Mississippi, to the Georgia General Assembly, Dec. 17, 1860

“Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property, and her institutions; nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans. Especially is this true in the cotton-growing States, where, in many localities, the slave outnumbers the white population ten to one.

If the policy of the Republicans is carried out according to the programme indicated by the leaders of the party, and the South submits, degradation and ruin must overwhelm alike all classes of citizens in the Southern States. The slave-holder and non-slave-holder must ultimately share the same fate; all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life, or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting and destroying all the resources of the country. Who can look upon such a picture without a shudder? What Southern man, be he slave-holder or non-slave-holder, can without indignation and horror contemplate the triumph of negro equality, and see his own sons and daughters in the not distant future associating with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality, and the white man stripped by the heaven-daring hand of fanaticism of that title to superiority over the black race which God himself has bestowed?"
- excerpted from the Letter of Stephen F. Hale, commissioner from Alabama, to Governor Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky, Dec. 27, 1860
 
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GwilymT

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
"Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality.

This new administration comes into power, under the solemn pledge to overturn and strike down this great feature of our Union, without which it would never have been formed, and to substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races."

- excerpted from the Address of William L. Harris, commissioner from Mississippi, to the Georgia General Assembly, Dec. 17, 1860

“Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property, and her institutions; nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans. Especially is this true in the cotton-growing States, where, in many localities, the slave outnumbers the white population ten to one.

If the policy of the Republicans is carried out according to the programme indicated by the leaders of the party, and the South submits, degradation and ruin must overwhelm alike all classes of citizens in the Southern States. The slave-holder and non-slave-holder must ultimately share the same fate; all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life, or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting and destroying all the resources of the country. Who can look upon such a picture without a shudder? What Southern man, be he slave-holder or non-slave-holder, can without indignation and horror contemplate the triumph of negro equality, and see his own sons and daughters in the not distant future associating with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality, and the white man stripped by the heaven-daring hand of fanaticism of that title to superiority over the black race which God himself has bestowed?"
- excerpted from the Letter of Stephen F. Hale, commissioner from Alabama, to Governor Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky, Dec. 27, 1860
How can we accept these statements and still think the Confederate cause just?
 

Florida Rebel

Corporal
Joined
May 31, 2019
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?

From AndersonH1: "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.

From Pete Longstreet: "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."

From Florida Rebel: It's 2021 and we're still fighting the war! Personally, I miss the great Southern writers and historians like Shelby Foote and Douglas Southall Freeman. But since they have left our world, virtually no one has replaced them. Certainly I'm thankful for some terrific posters like AndersonH1, UAskme, Pete Longstreet, Viper and a few others. But man, we are sure minorities now! How is it that since the war ended and all the way to the late 1990's, there was still strong Southern pride, numerous statues and schools named after our heroes and people who believed in the cause and would never think about smearing the repuation of Lee, Jackson, Stuart and other great Southern soldiers we were taught to love and admire? From the end of the war to just about 20 years ago, believing in "the Lost Cause" and honoring the men and women who fought the good fight so the Southern people could be independent was common and acceptable. But today, anyone who still thinks that way is not only an imbecile, he is dead wrong. Is this how we are going to teach history in the 21st century?
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
How can we accept these statements and still think the Confederate cause just?
I think the relevant question is not if we think it just, the question is rather if it is conceivable that anyone of us living at that time in the South would have thought otherwise.

If the conclusion is we would NOT then it might seem possible to call the secessionists „scum“ which was the conclusion another contributor in this forum drew.

If the conclusion is that we
- when living in such society
- under such conditions
- in those times
would have thought quite the same
then we should reconsider how to assess things and especially people.

Let me introduce a little (admittedly) provoking question:
How would an average American of those times have thought about the idea of let‘s say a million Indians living in his home-state getting the vote?

There is probably no way to evade the reality of a highly racist past -
with southern slavery being the most solidified and also most objectionable form of it - but not THAT far away from the notions of an overwhelming majority of white people THEN.
 

RedRover

Corporal
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
How is it that since the war ended and all the way to the late 1990's, there was still strong Southern pride, numerous statues and schools named after our heroes and people who believed in the cause and would never think about smearing the repuation of Lee, Jackson, Stuart and other great Southern soldiers we were taught to love and admire? From the end of the war to just about 20 years ago, believing in "the Lost Cause" and honoring the men and women who fought the good fight so the Southern people could be independent was common and acceptable. But today, anyone who still thinks that way is not only an imbecile, he is dead wrong. Is this how we are going to teach history in the 21st century?


You mention past and recent "strong Southern Pride...", and that it has been promoted since the end of the war.

But during the war Confederate leaders were satisfied pride comes before a fall and encouraged its suppression...

A DAY OF FASTING & HUMILIATION ...
by JEFFERSON DAVIS, PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES

WHEREAS, it hath pleased almighty God, the Sovereign Disposer of events, to protect and defend
us hitherto in our conflicts with our enemies as to be unto them a shield.
And whereas, with grateful thanks we recognize His hand and acknowledge that not unto us, but
unto Him, belongeth the victory, and in humble dependence upon His almighty strength, and
trusting in the justness of our purpose, we appeal to Him that He may set at naught the efforts of
our enemies, and humble them to confusion and shame.
Now therefore, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, in view of impending
conflict, do hereby set apart Friday, the 15th day of November, as a day of national humiliation and
prayer, and do hereby invite the reverend clergy and the people of these Confederate States to
repair on that day to their homes and usual places of public worship, and to implore blessing of
almighty God upon our people, that he may give us victory over our enemies, preserve our homes
and altars from pollution, and secure to us the restoration of peace and prosperity.
Given under hand and seal of the Confederate States at Richmond, this the 31stday of October,
year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty one.
By the President, Jefferson Davis.


And from the Army of Northern Virginia, in 1863:

1633800293548.png


And after the war, Ryan's popular, "The Conquered Banner.." (1865), published in the first issue of Confederate Veteran Magazine...

Furl that Banner, for 'tis weary;
Round its staff 'tis drooping dreary;
Furl it, fold it, it is best;
For there's not a man to wave it,
And there's not a sword to save it,
And there's no one left to lave it
In the blood that heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
Furl it, hide it--let it rest!

Take that banner down! 'tis tattered;
Broken is its shaft and shattered;
And the valiant hosts are scattered
Over whom it floated high.
Oh! 'tis hard for us to fold it;
Hard to think there's none to hold it;
Hard that those who once unrolled it
Now must furl it with a sigh.

Furl that banner! furl it sadly!
Once ten thousands hailed it gladly.
And ten thousands wildly, madly,
Swore it should forever wave;
Swore that foeman's sword should never
Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
Till that flag should float forever
O'er their freedom or their grave!

Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
Cold and dead are lying low;
And that Banner--it is trailing!
While around it sounds the wailing
Of its people in their woe.

For, though conquered, they adore it!
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those who fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it!
But, oh! wildly they deplored it!
Now who furl and fold it so.

Furl that Banner! True, 'tis gory,
Yet 'tis wreathed around with glory,
And 'twill live in song and story,
Though its folds are in the dust;
For its fame on brightest pages,
Penned by poets and by sages,
Shall go sounding down the ages--
Furl its folds though now we must.

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently--it is holy--
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not--unfold it never,

Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people's hopes are dead!

The South seems pretty unique in memorializing soldiers who lost a war, and that was in keeping with the above. Some modern historians seem to argue that "Southern pride" (racial, military, regional, what have you, etc.) was the cause of the CS army's battlefield successes, while the Confederates themselves largely felt otherwise...
 
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Joined
Nov 15, 2019
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.
You make an excellent point regarding committing thoughts to paper. I have read and or owned hundreds of Confederate letters over the years and very, very few mention slavery at all. The vast majority of extant letters are from middle class or upper middle class people. There are a few reasons for this.....as you mentioned most of that class of people could write, they also could afford paper and postage and their letters were much more likely to have been preserved by their descendants. It may sound crass but among the poorer folks, letters home, once read a few times, might have ended up as toilet paper.
 

Florida Rebel

Corporal
Joined
May 31, 2019
As many people who read my posts know, I honestly believe the vast majority of southern soldiers were NOT fighting a war to maintain slavery. They were fighting for their homes, their state and their region's independence from other people (the North) whose values they did not share. As easy as it was for most people to understand this, and have for well over 100 years, the "progressive people" of this era don't get it. Sadly, as we have seen in the state of VA, once political power has been achieved, these people are only too happy to re-write history and tear down most all the Confederate monuments and statues. But these people don't care if they are lying or greatly stretching the truth. They firmly believe everything was about slavery and nothing else. If slavery was so important to maintain and keep, what took the southern states of VA, NC, TN and AR so long to join the Confederacy? And why didn't the slave holding states of DE, MD, KY and MO also leave the Union and join the Confederacy? But they didn't! But today it doesn't matter. Now it is told - and believed - that ALL Southern soldiers marched to war so the South could keep slavery. As ridiculous as that sounds, and it does, these same people and "progressives" want to believe the Northern soldiers marched south to fight a war so all the slaves could be set free. Really? Go anywhere you want, in a school or a shopping mall, set up a table and blindly ask as many people under the age of 40 this question; "Why" was the Civil War was fought? I'll bet 90% will answer and say "to free the slaves." As a nation of people who should know better and be smarter, when did we get so stupid? But here we are in 2020 and 2021. Crazy, isn't it?
 
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