Why Men Went to War
Men from the North and South went to war for different reasons. In the North men went to war to prevent the South from seceding from the Union. For those in the North the breaking up of the Union was not an option. When the newly formed Confederacy seized Federal Forts (such as Fort Sumter, South Carolina) the call came to those of the North to join and form the Union Army to protect the United States as it was. Initially, President Lincoln stated that slavery that currently existed would not be abolished but that no new slave states would be formed. For men in the south this was considered a threat to their way of life. Men of the South went to war to protect their way of life that included slavery. The elimination of slavery would mean the elimination of wealth to many southerners.
There are other reasons that men went to war and fought for the North and South. One reason was out of duty or honor to the country they chose.
Many joined to prove their manliness or to feel more manly. Others joined to show or prove that they were courageous, especially in battle. While many learned that they were not courageous and shirked to the sidelines, and safety, others were courageous in battle.
For many young men the Army of the North or South offered a sense of adventure and excitement. These men found glory in battle and the opportunity to prove their masculinity. For others, not serving brought a sense of shame that was unacceptable. Some may have joined the fight for economic reasons.
Black Civil War soldiers fought for more reasons than the white Union soldiers. Black soldiers fought for equal rights, citizenship, and emancipation of all blacks. Emancipated slaves were the only blacks allowed to serve in the Union Army.
Initially, blacks were forbidden to serve “because a Federal law dating from 1792 barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. army (although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812)” (The National Archives). Frederick Douglas said it best about why black soldiers fought:
“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, the U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”
The three groups of soldiers who did fight each had something different to lose if their side lost the war. The white southerners would lose their wealth and way of life. The black soldiers would lose their opportunity for total emancipation and citizenship. The northern soldiers would lose the Union to two countries: The Union and the Confederacy.
Of all three groups the blacks had the most to lose. In all 620,000 soldiers of all sides lost their lives in the War. They gave the ultimate sacrifice for going to war.
Reconstruction: What the U.S. Could Have Done
To understand what more the U.S. could have done to assist blacks during the period called “Reconstruction” we must understand what went wrong. The amendments to the U.S. Constitution provided that blacks had the right to vote, citizenship, and the right to own land.
But, those states that were part of the Confederacy passed codes and grandfather clauses that again took this right from blacks. For the four million newly freed slaves that hoped for equality their hopes were dashed by these new codes. Blacks were met with violence and intimidation by Southern whites. This discouraged blacks from asserting their newly acquired rights. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedman’s Bureau) was wrought with inefficiency, corruption and suffered from lack of funds to complete its mission. Although the Bureau established over a thousand schools for black Americans the education they received was substandard as compared to the education received by white students.
To ensure the success of the monumental task of integrating black Americans into American society the United States should have invested more money and manpower into the Freedman’s Bureau. Codes and Grandfather clauses should have been met with stiff penalties from the Federal Government. An oversight committee should have been established by Congress to stem abuses, inefficiencies, and corruption. White intimidation and violence should have been met with stiff penalties and jail sentences where appropriate. Federal legislation should have been established sooner to stem violence and intimidation.
The five military districts established to regain order in the South should have had more authority over state and local governments to ensure the fair treatment of black Americans. Although educational institutions were established to educate the black population the blacks should have been integrated into white schools sooner so that black and white children would have grown up together and learned side by side. Perhaps this may have stopped some of the prejudice. passed down from one generation to the next. Programs that gave land to the blacks should not have been allowed to retake the land and return it to white plantation owners. The ‘forty acres and a mule” rule should have held true for all black Americans of that time. Black Americans should have been told of all their rights and responsibilities as citizens so that they would have known when they were wronged. Organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, should have been monitored sooner as terrorist organizations and terroristic threats should have been outlawed sooner.
It is easy to look back and recommend what might have been done during the Civil War. It was much harder than recruiting soldiers and ensure the newly acquired rights of black Americans. Perhaps other nations faced with similar situations can learn from what happened in the United States during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Freeman, Joanne. “The Timeline of the Civil War, 1861”. Web.
Gordon, John B. “Causes of the Civil War”. Reminiscence of the Civil War (Chapter 1). Web.
Grimsley, Mark. “Civil Warriors”. Web.