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Why They Fought

Why They Fought

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Published by Kyle Snyder

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Published by: Kyle Snyder on Apr 14, 2012
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Kyle Snyder24 March 2010Hist 453: Civil War and ReconstructionProfessor HarveyWhy They FoughtBy the spring of 1865 the American civil war had already claimed the lives of overone million American lives. This number equated to approximately three percent of thepopulation of the United States during this period. This number included over 600,000soldiers killed on the battlefield or from diseases encountered in the unsanitary campsand field hospitals. Those who survived were the ill-fated ones who were often left withthe duty of clearing the battlefield of the dead, typically those of the opposing military,against their will. This reality was a true reminder of what they may face in the comingdays, weeks, or months, or what may become of them. It also raises questions as towhy these soldiers would willingly continue to fight for their cause. By remaining true totheir enlistment or even re-enlisting to serve past their original enlistment these menwould serve as the instrument of death in a long and brutal war.The book This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust describes some of themost gruesome images of the civil war. Those fighting the war seemed to be hit thehardest by the impact of the massive casualties around them. Faust states that
“Soldiers struggled for the words to describe mangled corpses strewn acrossbattlefields…” (Faust, vxi).
Descriptions like this make it hard to understand howsoldiers would keep fighting and re-enlist in the army. The moral dilemma of killinganother man to this day terrifies even the best trained soldiers. The physical motive for
killing another human is explained by Faust when he tells the story of Edwin Spofford, aMassachusetts man, who killed a southern supporter who had mortally wounded the
soldier standing next to him in Washington, D.C. in 1861. Faust states that “Duty and
self-defense released him from an initial sense of guilt and helped him to do the work of
a soldier.” What this meant was that many soldiers “…came to kill almost as a reflex, as
a response to what he saw as the murder of the comrade beside him
” (Faust, 35).
Forothers the motive to keep fighting had a far more religious tone. Chandra Manning tellsin the book What This Cruel War Was Over
how “…black troops believed that God
would use the war and their participation in it to achieve four main goals: the salvation ofthe Union and the realization of the legacy of the American Revolution, the destructionof slavery, the attainment of equal rights and justice for black Americans, and the
establishment of what black soldiers called the „manhood of the race,‟ by which they
meant recognition of both the masculinity of black adult males and the full humanity of
all African Americans”
(Manning, 125).As the war waged on, more issues began to arise that could impact both the
North and South‟s ability to successfully wage the war. One of the issues was the
problem with having enough soldiers to fight the war. By 1863 and 1864 the originalthree year contract most soldiers signed were about to expire. This would leave bothsides with the bulk of their veteran soldiers leaving the army and severely hinderingtheir ability to continue to wage the war. The southern solution was simple, extend allthe enlistments and terminate the possibility of losing soldiers. In the North the
“…soldiers‟ decisions about reenlisting or going home would be voluntary” (Manning,
149). At a time when the attitude of those about to re-enlist was filled with ideas about
the war being almost over and won, due to the recent military successes of the Union, itbecame harder to get these men to remain. The government enticed some to stay with
“…bounties, alcohol, furloughs, and manipulation of peer pressure and unit pride”
(Manning, 149). For others, the life of a soldier was much more profitable andworthwhile than the life they would have without the military. Although these methodswere only a temporary fix, eventually many reenlisted because the fight for freedom wasworth the sacrifices many were making. By reenlisting these men also guaranteed thewar would continue until the final battle had been won.The longevity of the war stemmed from a longstanding distrust between theNorth and the South. Many of these feelings derived from the political differences thatdivided the Northern and Southern way of life. The North, which was mainly republican,had wanted the abolition of slavery throughout the entire country. The South, mainlydemocrats, had wanted the government to return back to the way it was prior to the warwhen slavery was allowed. Neither side was willing to give up their political agendas
which prevented a peace treaty in 1864. “…Lincoln‟s irreducible conditions consisted of 
both reunion and abolition
, his detractors insisted that only the president‟s stubbornness
on emancipation prevented a peaceful settlement, just as President Davis hoped wouldhappen if he kept quiet about a separate Confederate nation as a precondition to
settlement” (Manning, 149
). Political preference was not the sole source for thedivision. The pro and anti slavery movements were more embedded in the culture ofthe region where the individual grew up. Despite strong political ties to the slavery
debate “…m
ost Union troops, even those who considered themselves loyal Democrats,nothing could make a platform that opposed emancipation and the war palatable

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