The first 2 year of the Civil War was fought by volunteers. Thus soldier motivation was a critical aspect of the War. Given the lethality of Civil War battle, one has to ask why the average soldier, often a youth, on both sides fought. Few people in both th North and South understood the leahality of war with the weapons developed, but this soon became apparent. Today it seems almost incredible that you could get men to line up face to face and fire at each other or assault fixed positions with massed formations, but that is how the war was fought. So the soldiers had to be highly motivated to get men and youth to do this. An emense number of letters survive which help answer that question and many Civil War historians have accessed this resource. [McPherson, Fields.] Motivation varied sharply in the North and South. The single strongest motivation in the North was preservation of the Union. To an exent this was patrioic nationalistic fervor. And Lincoln played upon this by maneuvering to ensure that the Confederacy began the war by firing on Fort Sumter (April 1861). But to an impressive extent Federal soldiers understood that America was the best hope of hmanity. At the time, America was the only democratic republic of any importance. Democracy was still essentilly an experiment. The rest of the world was ruled by monarchies, some of which were still absolutist in character. One is tempted to think that young Americans understood the importace of their country better then than is the case tday. Lincoln captured this essential point in his Gettysburg Address. Freeing the slaves was another motivating factor, but Lincoln uderstood very well it was not as important as preservation of the Union. In fact the two were related. The slaves could not be freed unless the Union was preserved. Thus Lincoln did not issue the Emancipation Proclamation untill after 2 years of fighting (January 1863). There were other reasons such as community and family spirit. When family and fiends go off to war there was a strong motivaion to follow. Motivation in the South was in some way similar, but there were major differences. While the War was largely fought over slavery. Most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves. The basic issue for them was patriotism. Many because of the anti-slavery sentiment in the North had come to see themselves as living in a different country. And once the War began came to see themselves defending their states from a fioreign invader. This was by far the strongest motivaing factor. And the same community ad family relations at work in the North were also at work in the South.
The first 2 year of the Civil War was fought by volunteers. Thus soldier motivation was a critical aspect of the War. You can not fight a war with volunteers unless the population is strongly motivared. Conscription was eventually introduced in the North, but the first two years of the War was fought with volunteers. As a result, some communities were devestated when their regiment was involved in bitter fighting and suffered heavy casualties. The use of National Guard divisions meant that this tragedy alo occurred in World War I and II. The fact that locally rised regiments were the standard recruitung method meant that it was all too common during the Civil War.
Given the lethality of Civil War battle, one has to ask why the average soldier, often a youth, on both sides fought. Few people in both the North and South understood the leathality of war with the weapons developed, but this soon became all to apparent. Today it seems almost incredible that you could get men to line up face to face and fire at each other or assault fixed positions with massed formations, but that is how the war was fought. It is almost inconceivanle today that men could be enduced to do so. The soldiers had to be very highly motivated. Otherwise you could not get men and youth to do this.
We know a good deal about Civil War soldier motivation. America had along with the German states the best public education system in the world. Most of the soldiers were literate. An emense number of letters survive which help answer the questiin of motivation. Many Civil War historians have accessed this resource. [McPherson, Fields.]
Motivation varied. In some ways motivation was similar in both North and South. Civil war regiments were raised locally. Thus the men who fought side by side often came from the same small community. Thgey knew each other are who had friends and family in common. These were not anonanous individuals drawn together. Thus it was imprtant how tgey fought. Not only did thy not want to let down their unit and comrade, but they knew that what they did would be known to their family and friends. The men knew this and knew there was no way they could return home if they dishonored their friends and family. The issues involved, however, were very different. Southerners had a new nation and they were being invaded. Slavery was also an issue. A minority of southners owned slaves, but even those who did not felt that blacks should be restricted and controlled by state authority. Northners on the other hand had a union to preserve. It is notable how strongly this was felt theoughout the North, even by men who had little or no education. Slavery was also an issue in the north, albeit from a different perspective. This was by fae the greatest issue. Many albeit a minority were also committed to abolition and ending slavery. Some passionately so.
McPherson, James. Fields of Fury: The American Civil War (Atheneum, 2002). This well written book is aimed at younger readers. It includes many excerpts from the letters and dairies of young soldiers, both Federal and Confederate, helping to understand why they fought.
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