Joe Wheeler wrote:This is true. There was a story of union and Reb pickets talking to each other across the lines at night (something that went on a lot). One of the union soldiers said "Hey Reb, why you fightin anyway?" The Reb soldier replied "Because you are down here". Fighting for his land and family and certainly not another mans slaves.
Of course, he WAS fighting for another man's right to own slaves, whether that was his primary reason or not, or whether he acknowledged it or not.
I think the common southern soldier was fighting primarily for national (state) pride, a sense of adventure/manly duty (especially back then), a way to escape some sort of hardship in civilian life, or they were drafted. The north wasn't coming to take their land or their families, though some southern soldiers may have used that as a political rationale, because it certainly sounds more noble than the truth of fighting to preserve slavery. As for the actual political reason for going for war, to preserve the system of slavery in the south, I doubt that was many of their primary reasons (though it certainly was for the southern aristocracy), but they didn't disagree with that reasoning (as they were fighting for it). Even if they didn't directly own slaves, they indirectly benefited from a racial caste system that placed them above slaves automatically, and no doubt were scared of the societal implications of abolishing such a system as poor whites. And some may have hoped one day to have slaves themselves.
Soldiers fighting for the north had the same primary reasoning as well, which is to say, little to do with politics. Adventure, escape from civilian hardship, national/state pride, drafting. There may have been some abolitionists in there, but I bet they were few and far between. Most probably disagreed with the slave system of the south, and definitely were against its expansion, as slave labor was something they couldn't compete against and a threat to their livelihood. They practically all still saw slaves as racially inferior though, and while some may have said, especially later in the war, they were fighting to free the slaves, the actual political reason for going to war was simply to preserve the union (at least at first). But freeing the slaves certainly sounded more noble than just preserving the union. And, of course, that was an eventual result of the war as well, even if it was not the intent of the north in the beginning.
I still find it remarkably sad that an aristocratic slave society was able to get so many poor people to fight on their behalf against their own interests and for the interests of a wealthy few. Of course, this is nothing new and happens throughout history, it's just always sad when it happens.
As for humanity not witnessing wars like this again... well this one was necessary. I hope wars never do happen again, but chattel slavery is an injustice so great that war is worth the cost to end it. All wars are sad, but this one had the very good result of beginning to address a grave injustice.