An examination of Civil War soldiers’ attitudes on race and slavery.
Manning (History, Georgetown Univ.) bases her study, originally her Ph.D. thesis at Harvard, on soldiers’ letters home, regimental newspapers and similar documentary evidence, much of it unpublished—and liberally quoted by the author. These materials confirm that even those who were neither slaveholders nor former slaves identified slavery as the main cause of the war. This is especially important in considering southern soldiers’ justifications for fighting a conflict in which few had any personal economic stake. For the Confederate soldier in the ranks, Manning argues, slavery was the validation of white manhood, even for non-slaveholders. As a result, soldiers on both sides firmly believed that the Union cause was ultimately the end of slavery—well before Lincoln committed the U.S. to that policy. Union soldiers moving into slaveholding areas got their first look at the reality of slavery early in the war, and many were radicalized by it. The northerners were appalled that many slaves were obviously the progeny of their owners—who nonetheless treated them as little better than barnyard animals. The degrading treatment of slave women and disrespect for the family was a disgrace in their eyes. As for the southerners, not even the failure of the Confederate government to provide for soldiers’ families at home outweighed importance of preserving slavery. Northern victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg became divine vindications of the Union’s goals, especially among black soldiers, whose willingness to fight hard gave white Union soldiers—most of whom still harbored racial prejudice—the experience of working for a common goal with blacks. A final blow to Confederate troops’ morale was a proposal in late 1864, endorsed by Lee himself, to permit slaves to serve in the army as a last-ditch effort to counter the Union pressure.
Convincing and eloquent.