The United States Civil War: Soldiers' Motivations | Free Essay Example

The United States Civil War: Soldiers’ Motivations

Words: 1135
Topic: History

The United States Civil War started in 1861 and ended in 1865 (Keene, Cornell, and O’Do 2-4). It was a terrific war that ended up costing many lives. The key players were the Union soldiers fighting on behalf of the Northern States and the Confederate soldiers fighting on behalf of Southern States (Henretta and Edwards 2).

Using available secondary data, particularly personal letters of soldiers, McPherson discovered the motivating factors of both the Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers. In addition, McPherson was able to find out what sustained the soldiers throughout the war (McPherson 59). The findings indicated that the good number of soldiers who were taking part in the Civil War were motivated by the ideological and political values of the causes their sides were advancing. This paper, therefore, explores the motivating factors for soldiers from both sides during the civil war.

At the time of civil war, similar factors motivated both the Northern soldiers as well as those from the South, the only distinction they had a different understanding of the concepts used (McPherson 22). Both Union Soldiers from the North and Confederate Soldiers from the South believed that they were fighting for their freedom and liberty; however, these terms meant different things for both sides.

Ideological factors

Civil War soldiers, according to McPherson were motivated by their ideologies. With this, they strongly upheld the beliefs held by their sides in courage, responsibility, as well as honor (McPherson 101). As McPherson indicated, a good number of soldiers from the North sincerely fought for the cause of the Union. That is, they deprecated the sins of rebellion and treason as well as fearing the outcome if the north adopted the slavery practice. In addition, some Union soldiers’ advocated emancipation, particularly as an effective tool for measuring the war and reprimand for secession motives (McPherson 100).

On the other hand, Confederate soldiers were motivated by the factors that drove the American Revolution. They saw themselves as people who were fighting for their independence, and more so, they fought against suppression. On top of fighting for their place, most Confederate soldiers were fighting to maintain slavery and liberty. In other words, most southerners had a reservation with the impacts of black liberty (McPherson 21).

Change and courage factors

McPherson as well indicated that change had some motivating effects on soldiers. A good number of soldiers upheld their loyalty and commitment at a time when everybody from home encouraged them to quit the process (McPherson 4-6). For instance, according to McPherson, as the victory for Union Soldiers became more and more apparent, Union soldiers were more and more encouraged by success. On the other hand, the resolve of Confederate soldiers strengthened or was driven by some aspect of hopes and honor of protecting their boundaries from being taken over by Northern soldiers.

Courage was another key reason that had the soldiers fighting despite the calls from family members to pull out. As McPherson indicated soldiers came to realize that for them to deliver victory and protect their homes, courage was not an option. They had to drive away the fears that characterized each of their steps in order to surmount the taunting task that lay ahead.

On top courage, a sense of worth motivated soldiers to confront their opponents instead of running away or absenting their duty. In the end, cohesion among soldiers was an important motivating factor for soldiers from both sides (McPherson 20). That is, soldiers did not only want to avoid being perceived as cowards particularly in front of their fellow soldiers, they recognized that the only thing would make them effective was fighting together.

The soldiers from both sides held personal reputation as overriding to identity of their families. That is, they thought that that acts of cowardice would vilify them and their loved ones in times after the civil war. They were also encouraged by religious proclamations. For the most part of the civil war, soldiers from North did not have abolitionist idea. In other words, union soldiers did fight for abolition cause. Instead, fought or reacted with abhorrence to the issue of emancipation (McPherson 45). That is, they unwaveringly engaged in the fight to uphold the liberty they had natured since the time of American Revolution, fighting to defeat aspects of subversion and lawlessness.

Whilst many soldiers came in contact with the disturbing issues of slavery and abhorred it, many southern Solders felt disgust with the idea to free slaves as it was seen as a way of weakening the southern society which heavily depended on slavery and agriculture (McPherson 67). A good number of soldiers only accepted the emancipation idea after they had seen the benefits associated with it.

In fact, Confederate soldiers were not motivated by the issue of slavery. According to McPherson many southern soldiers interviewed indicated that slavery was not one of the reasons why they fought, they fought for their freedom and liberty (McPherson 45). The southern soldiers believed that they had a duty and responsibility to protect Southern respect, culture, society and even institutions. That is why even in hard times, their spirits did not waver and this is attributed to their ideological cause, which entailed some sense of duty and respect. They also had some religious belief that they were taking part in just cause.

Encouragement messages

Both armies from the Northern side and Southern side received mails and letters and some other written material that encouraging information. This provided them with some knowledge about their opponents. McPherson indicated the way one of the Union soldiers was depressed after receiving news of their underperformance in the Eastern sides. In genera, messages from loved ones had an insightful impact on the morale of soldiers (McPherson 109). Newspapers as well functioned as means through which information connected to situation in their society was received.


According to studies conducted by McPherson motivating factors are classified in three classes: initial motivation which entailed factors that encouraged them to join the army. Sustaining motivational factors which kept soldiers intact and united to their cause and lastly combat motivational factors helped soldiers to confront adversities with courage. As it has been seen in the discussion, initial motivational factors entailed some sense of patriotism, a sense of duty and respect. In this line, loyalty, discipline, ambition and even respect to their leaders enhanced their fighting spirits.

The acts that were associated with the military court also acted as a motivation as they feared being humiliated or shot at for surrendering. At their lowest points, religion acted as their motivating factor as they believed that they were engaged not only in a righteous but just cause as well. Other motivating factors included group cohesion, encouragement from fellow soldiers and a desire not to let their society be taken over by opponents.

Works Cited

Henretta, James, Rebecca Edwards, and Robert O. Self. America: a Concise History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin Printer, 2012. Print.

Keene, Jennifer, Cornell T. Saul, and Edward T. O’Donnell. Visions of America: A History of the United States. New York: Prentice Hall PTR, 2012. Print.

McPherson, James. What They Fought For, 1861-1865. New York: Turtleback Books, 2012. Print.