Soldiers did not fight to keep slavery

Published 9:17 am Thursday, July 5, 2012

by Volpe Boykin

After reading so many articles making compelling arguments backed up by historical documentation as to the cause of the Civil War, convincing arguments can be made for what scholars believe caused the war.

What causes much disagreement is when one is arguing about what governments and their politicians believe caused the war and others argue about what the individual soldier fought for.

They sometimes believe they are arguing the same subject and they are not.

If you read the letters from soldiers who fought in the war, those of the rank of sergeant and below — as I have — it is very obvious that if you could go back in time and ask them why they were willing to fight, you would get a different answer from almost every soldier.

Their letters say they were fighting because:

• The Yankees were down here.

• They wanted to preserve the Union.

• It was their duty as a citizen.

• They wanted to protect their hearth and family

• They needed the bonus money for joining to help their family that just came from Ireland to survive.

• They wanted the money they were paid to be substitutes by someone drafted that did not want to serve.

• They were drafted.

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 who mentioned slavery at all.

I 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 who 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. It was obvious they intentionally went to the trouble to mention that fact.

It simply is not logical since the everyday middle-class citizen did not own slaves; according to U.S. Census, between 2 percent and 4 percent of southerners were slave owners.

With the cost of slaves averaging $2,000 when the average middle-class worker earned about $250 per year, it was unlikely that even if he wanted to purchase and maintain slaves, he would ever be able to afford it.

It’s also unlikely that the same middle-class worker would leave his home, family and livelihood to suffer great physical hardship and risk everything so that someone much wealthier could keep his property.

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 they were less logical than people 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.

I find it not at all logical or sensible that any of them fought for the right to own slaves, or anyone else’s right to own them since I know they did not own slaves. And knowing their financial position and seeing nothing that would lead me to believe that any of them suddenly would become rich, I see nothing that would make it logical for them, even if they believed in slavery.

As to slavery, I do find it interesting that some lay it entirely at the doorstep of the slaveholding states, which 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.