Soldiers fought for their duty

Published 8:35 am Friday, June 8, 2012

Editor’s Note: This column is part of a series of local, historic articles written by members of the Urquhart-Gillette Camp 1471 Sons Of Confederate Veterans in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

by Vulpe Boykin

After reading so many articles in numerous publications making compelling arguments backed up by historical documentation as to the cause of the War Between the States or Civil War, depending what you call it, due mostly to the region of the country you are from.

Convincing arguments can be made for any of the many things that scholars believe caused the war, or any combination thereof. What causes much disagreement it seems is when one is arguing about what governments and their politicians stated that the causes of the war were and others are arguing about what the cause was that the individual soldier was fighting for.

They sometimes believe they are arguing the same subject and are not. If you read the letters of the actual soldiers that fought the war, those of the rank of sergeant and below, as I have, it is very obvious that if you were to be able to go back in time and ask them why they were willing to fight, you would get a different answer from almost every soldier you ask.

Their letters say they were fighting because the “Yankees” were down here, because they wanted to preserve the Union, because it was their duty as a citizen of their state, because they wanted to protect their hearth and family, because they had to have the bonus money they received to join to help their family that just came from Ireland to survive, because they wanted the money they were paid to be substitutes by someone drafted that did not want to serve and because they were drafted, both sides had a draft.

Although I cannot say there are none, I have not read a single letter written by a Southern soldier that said he was fighting to preserve slavery and very few from Northern soldiers that mentioned slavery at all, but have read several from each side that definitely stated they were not fighting for anything to do with slavery one way or the other.

Many of the letters written by Union soldiers immediately after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing only the slaves that lived in states that had succeeded from the United States (mistakenly most believe this proclamation freed all slaves when it actually freed no slaves) made it very plain they were definitely not fighting for anything to do with slavery and it was obvious they intentionally went to the trouble to mention that fact.

It simply is not logical that the every day middle class citizen who owned no slaves, (according to U.S Census records only somewhere between 2 percent and 4 percent of Southerners were slave owners) and at the price of slaves being an average of $2,000 each when the average middle class worker earned about $250 per year, it being very unlikely that even if he wanted to purchase and maintain slaves, would ever be able to afford to, would leave his home, family and way of life to earn a living to survive for years with very little if any communication with his family or livelihood, continue to suffer great physical hardship and risk everything from his life and health to all of his worldly goods so that someone much wealthier than himself could keep his property no matter what that property was.

The belief that anyone now or in the past would do this defies all reason, common sense and logic. They may have been people of another time but nowhere have I seen or read anything that brings me be to believe that they were less logical than persons of our own time.

I would not risk it all for my neighbor to own a million-dollar home or a Rolls Royce. I do not know why my ancestors fought for the Confederacy.

The only thing I know for a fact is they did. Some were horribly wounded and all left a comfortable non-slave owning life on small farms to risk everything to fight for what I would guess would be different reasons if I were able to go back in time and speak with them.

As to slavery, I do find it interesting that some lay it entirely at the doorstep of the slaveholding states that in 1860 included Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. Also the fact that many major businesses in the North before the war owned stock in plantations and sold products made with slave labor without any moral objection to it.

My research tells me that most soldiers on both sides fought for what they thought was their duty.

VOLPE BOYKIN of Carrsville is a member of Urquhart-Gillette Camp 1471 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He can be reached at 287-3309.