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Why Hoosier  
Soldiers Fought 


Purpose of Lesson: This lesson (1)introduces students to the reasons Hoosiers were fighting in and supporting the Civil War and (2) allows students to debate those reasons among themselves.

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Analyze primary source materials from the Civil War
  • Describe reasons for fighting for and supporting the North in the Civil War
  • Compare Unionist and abolitionist points of view
  • Debate reasons Hoosiers were fighting the Civil War

Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Eighth Grade Social Studies)

Social Studies

8.1.21 Analyze the causes and effects of events leading to the Civil War, including development of sectional conflict over slavery.

8.1.22 Describe the importance of key events in the Civil War, including the battles of Antietam, Vicksburg , and Gettysburg , and the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address (1861 to 1865).

8.1.27 Recognize historical perspective by identifying the historical context in which events unfolded and by avoiding evaluation of the past solely in terms of present-day norms.

Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:

Civil War historian James McPherson has studied the diaries and letters of 1,076 soldiers, Union and Confederate, officers and enlisted men, from every region of the country that sent soldiers to the war ( For Cause and Comrades, 1997). Using these resources, he offers answers to the question: Why did men fight in the Civil War?

McPherson looks at three categories of motivation: initial (enlistment through training and the first battles fought), combat, and sustaining (why so many men who had entered the war in 1862 reenlisted and fought until the end in 1865).

McPherson finds two primary motivations for initial enlistment: first, young men's romantic visions of war and heroism; second, the concept of doing one's duty for country, state, home, and family. Related to the concept of duty were 19th-century ideals of masculine honor (i.e., refusing to do one's duty would bring shame on the individual and his family, while willingly taking on one's duty would bring honor on all concerned.)

Combat motivations were more complex. Part of what sustained all soldiers during combat was the body's rush of adrenalin under extreme stress, what some psychologists have called "combat narcosis." But to fight in battle after battle, soldiers also needed to deal with their fears before the fighting began. Soldiers who did not break and run or try to avoid battle tended to be motivated by the quality of their officers, their religious faith, and their commitment to their comrades. The last quality was related both to the positive traits of courage and duty as well as to trying to avoid the negative traits of cowardice and shame. As McPherson puts it, "Civil War soldiers went forward with their comrades into a hail of bullets because they were more afraid of "showing the white feather" than they were of death."

According to McPherson the third type of motivation sustaining motivation was the key to many soldiers who fought on long after their initial desire for glory had disappeared in the realities of fatigue, injury, and the death of comrades. One sustaining motivation was the support soldiers received from home, both in letters and in visits on furlough. As the war dragged on and casualties mounted, another motivation, particularly during combat, was revenge for injured and dead comrades. The primary sustaining motivations, however, were rooted in soldiers' deepest beliefs about themselves and their country. Only a minority of Union soldiers (probably 3 in 10, as McPherson estimates from his sample) had gone to war seeking the abolition of slavery, both because they desired the freedom of slaves and because they believed that slavery had disastrous effects on American society.

Many Union soldiers, however, fought for four years as ardent opponents of abolition. What was their primary sustaining motivation? McPherson finds that again and again, those soldiers who fought the longest and hardest were motivated by patriotism, by a strong commitment to preserving their country, or as they usually put it, to preserving the Union. McPherson explains:

"Union soldiers did not think that they could 'retire into their own country' if they lost the war 'and possess everything they enjoyed before the war began.' Most of them believed that they would no longer have a country worthy of the name . . . . Northern soldiers also picked up Lincoln 's theme that the United States represented the last best hope for the survival of republican government in a world bestrode by kings, emperors, and despots of many stripes. If secession fragmented America into the dis-United States, European aristocrats and reactionaries would smile in smug satisfaction at the confirmation of their belief that this harebrained experiment in government of, by, and for the people would indeed perish from the earth."


Lesson Activities:

A. Teacher should review with students the motivations for men to enlist, fight, and remain in the military.

B. Divide students into three groups. Each group will represent one of three common motivations for supporting the North in the Civil War.

C. Students will read letter(s) or journal entries to learn about Hoosier soldiers and politicians who are examples of each of the three.


#1 Fighting for the Union Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Diary of Daniel Williams, Owen County Indiana , 1862

The heavy tread of the soldiers marching by, that stirring music Yankee Doodle, and the Stars and Stripes as they floated in the breeze made me feel proud that I was an American Citizen and that we all had offered our services in defense of the Constitution and those stars and stripes which floated so proudly.

The government our fathers had handed down to us, the best the sun ever shone upon. Should we suffer it now to go down? The flag that nations dreaded and dare not insult, and the protections of our homes where our companions and children are. Who would not offer his services to help put down rebellion which had trailed our flag in the dust? None but a traitor himself.

Ara Fraizer, Owen County Indiana, letter to his parents, May 16, 1863

It is the policy of the administration at present to arm and equip all negroes who are willing and fit for the service, and put them into the United States army. The Adjutant General of the United States is here now raising all the negro companies and regiments he can, and he has raised five regiments already.

No doubt some of our copperhead friends almost swoon over such an abolition doctrine, and think it an unpardonable sin, but I endorse the whole plan and with my hand upon my heart say Amen! I can stand it very well to have the negroes take the place and property of their secesh masters and take their muskets and shoot them (if need be). For I certainly think more of a good Union Negro than of any white traitor.

I am for putting down this abominable rebellion, let it cost what it may. For I consider that I, with thousands of others, have left home, friends, and relations and everything that makes life comfortable and not only that, but periled our lives for the sole purpose of putting down the rebellion and to maintain this government, the best that the world ever knew. I know that it is not to gain political power or a great name or to get the Greenbacks, as had been said of us; but it is to fight for the Union .

Let me say in conclusion, that those who will stand back and dispute about political plans and not give even their influence to the Union cause, but quarrel over such trifling things when their country is in danger; who cry, I am for the Union, while doing all they can against it and saying all they can to stop this war, when nothing but war will ever restore the Government as it should be: I say such men are too low to be put on a level with jackasses too mean to be counted worthy the dignity of a dog.


J. V. Hadley, Hendricks County Indiana, to Mollie Hill, February 24, 1863

For many long years yet I fear there will still be war. And while there is war among us there is no peace for me. I love peace but I love my country more. I am now wedded to war and while God gives me strength I mean to share her fortunes until the issue comes. I am as sanguine today in the belief that the Union will be restored as I ever was. I believe there is a day coming when this Union will again be united, when its people will again be happy, when we will love where we now hate, and where we now have war we will have domestic happiness. And when I view the end of this war see men returning to their families with heads crowned with glory won and nestling in their bosoms the consciousness of having done their duty "my heart is burning to be one of those."

For Students:

The three soldiers quoted above are probably representative of the "average" Hoosier soldier. They enlisted early in the war and fought honorably, either until their discharge or until the end of the war. During some of their free time in camp, they recorded their experiences for friends and family, either in diary form or in letters sent back home. And in their writings, they sometimes spoke of their motivations for fighting.

Look at the three texts above and answer the following questions:

1. What does Daniel Williams mean when he say he offered his services "in defense of the Constitution"? How does he describe the national government? Why does he place such emphasis on the flag?

2. Look at the third paragraph of Ara Fraizer's letter. What does he say he is fighting for? Who are the traitors he writes about? And why does he now support freeing the South's black slaves?

3. What does J. V. Hadley mean when he writes that he is "wedded to war"? What is his view of the Union? What does he believe to be his "duty"?

4. What do all of these men mean when they say that they are fighting for the Union? Make a list of as many reasons as you can find in the three text selections.

#2 An Anti-Abolitionist Fighting for the Union Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

October 5, 1862, Louisville, Kentucky

We have no politics here. But too much abolitionism. But I have seen slavery in fact, and it is not so bad as you might suppose.

October 15, 1862, Frankfort, Kentucky

We have not had preaching in camp for 2 weeks, the chaplain being at home. He is back now. There will be meeting tonight. But it is (sad to say) abolition. Mother said she was afraid I would turn to an abolitionist. If I had been one at home, I have seen enough to make me a Negro hater since I came here. We was down to Versailles last Sabbath, took 251 prisoners and lots of negros. They got to ride when we came back and we walked with 56 lbs. on our backs, so much for being white. We were cheered by the blacks and pointed at by the whites. It makes my blood boil to think of it.

March 22, 1863, Camp near Murfreesboro, Tennessee

You need not be afraid of my deserting or taking a French furlough [going home on furlough and not returning to duty]. I think too much of my character and my country. I would like to see you but I will wait till I can come without being called Deserter.

We hear some talk of the Draft being resisted by those who oppose the [Emancipation] Proclamation. I don't know who will oppose it or who won't, but if any of my friends and relatives talk of resistance, my advice is to them to come to Kentucky or Tennessee and see what effect war has upon the country and the people in the vicinity of those large Armies, before they inaugurate a war at home.

I have got three or four letters from D. F. Clark [a relative]. He is a pretty strong antiwar man. I think there is some danger of his taking the wrong horn of the Dilemma, but perhaps he will come out right at the end of the Race. My political views are the same as when I left home. I am opposed to Abolitionism with all my might. And I never, Never, want to Compromise with the Traitors.

August 9, 1873, Decherd, Tennessee

One year ago today I enlisted, what for I couldn't tell. I did it without reflecting what the life of a Volunteer was. I didn't appreciate the comforts and blessings of home. In fact, I done it just to be doing, and as luck would have it, I was entrapped so securely that Begging off would have been silly. The first six months I made a dunce of myself by fretting about spilt milk. I then came to the conclusions to make the best of a bad bargain. Since then I have had good health and have been contented. The war has been prolonged much longer than I then thought it would be . . . . My time is one third out, and I have escaped unhurt so far unless my morals are injured. Of that it is not for me to judge of myself.

June 5, 1864, Carter's Station, Georgia

There is quite a strong element here that will support the worthy Oliver P. Morton for governor of Indiana again. But I can't see it in that light . . . .

February 19, 1865, Camp at Smith's Landing, Alabama

I haven't seen a paper of a later date than the 7th and no news in it. It is rumored that Grant has been defeated at Richmond, but the report lacks confirmation. Mobile is said to be in possession of the Yankees. The Peace Rumors have all passed off, and left nary peace for us . . . . We haven't much confidence in peace being brought about.

[Note: Grant was not defeated at Richmond, and Mobile fell to Union forces on April 12. Clark was discharged from his unit in June.]

I haven't heard from the Boys [his boyhood friends from home] . . . so I concluded I would let them know that if I wasn't an Abolitionist, I was still laboring in defense of the Star Spangled Banner.

For Students:

William Allen Clark was an Indiana Democrat who voted against Abraham Lincoln and against the state's Republican governor, Oliver Morton. He was also extremely prejudiced against all black people, slave or free, and was an ardent anti-abolitionist. Nevertheless, Clark enlisted in an Indiana Union regiment and fought until the end of the war. Answer the following questions based on the excerpts above from Clark 's letters to his family:

1. What are some of the many clues that tell you that Clark is against the abolition of slavery?

2. Based on Clark's letter of March 22, 1863 , why is he remaining in the army and fighting? Who are the traitors he refers to at the end of the letter?

3. What does his August 9, 1873, letter reveal about his initial motivations for enlisting? Does it suggest any reasons for why he remains in the army? Do you think Clark is the only soldier who might have held such opinions? Why or why not?

4. What reasons might Clark have to write, in his final letter above, that he wants "the Boys" to know that he is still "laboring in defense of the Star Spangled Banner"?

#3 Fighting for the Abolition of Slavery Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Excerpts from "The Cause and Cure of Our National Troubles," a speech before Congress, January 14, 1862

Do you say that the preservation of the Union must be kept in view as the grand purpose of the war? I admit it; but I say that nothing but slavery has brought the Union into peril. Its whole career has been a perpetual conspiracy against the Constitution, crowned at last by a deadly stab at its life. Am I told that this is a war for the life and liberty of a nation belonging chiefly to the white race, and not a war for the emancipation of black men? I frankly agree to it; but I insist that our national life and liberty can only be saved by giving freedom to all, and that all loyal men, therefore, should favor emancipation. Shall we attempt to carry on the war as if slavery had no existence? . . . . Shall we even shrink from the discussion of slavery lest we give offense to rebels and their sympathizers?

Slavery has been the evil genius of the government from its birth. It has frustrated the design of our fathers to form "a more perfect Union." It has made it impossible to "establish justice" or "to secure domestic tranquility." It has weakened the "common defense" by inviting foreign attack. It has opposed the "general welfare" by its merciless aristocracy in human flesh. It has denied us "the blessings of liberty" and given us its own innumerable curses instead. It has laid waste the fairest and most fertile half of the Republic, staying its progress in population, wealth, power, knowledge, civilization, the arts, and religion, thus heaping its burden on the whole nation, and costing us far more than the market value of all the millions [of slaves] in bonds. It has made the establishment of free schools and a general system of education impossible. It has branded labor as dishonorable and degrading. It has brought religion into scorn by bribing its supporters to espouse its revolting iniquity. It has laid its hand on the statesmen and intellects of the land and harnessed them, like beasts of burden, in its service. It has denounced the Declaration of Independence as an abomination and our fathers as hypocrites.

And as the fitting climax of its career of lawlessness, it has aimed its dagger at the government that has guarded its life and borne with its evil deeds for more than seventy years. This mighty rebel against all law, human and divine, is now within our grasp and we should strangle it forever.

For Students :

George Washington Julian became interested in the cause of abolition during his years as a lawyer in 1840s Indiana. He was elected to the Indiana General Assembly for one term in 1845-1846. He later served in the US House of Representatives from 1849 to 1851 and again, as a member of the Republican party, from 1861 to 1871. The speech which is excerpted above was given on the floor of the US House on January 14, 1962.

1. Julian tries to speak to those who say that the war is being fought only to support the Union. What reasons does Julian give for slavery being a threat to the Union? How is slavery a conspiracy against the Constitution?

2. What document is Julian quoting in the second paragraph of his speech? List all of his quotes from this document and how he relates them to the evils of slavery.

3. What does Julian mean when he says in the last paragraph that slavery has "aimed its dagger" at the government?

4. What does Julian seem to suggest would have happened if the North had won the Civil War but had not freed the slaves?


D. After students read and answer specific questions about their texts, all three groups should answer the following:

•  Describe your reasons for fighting or supporting the war effort.

•  Why might you have had such reasons?

•  Describe any misgivings you have about the war and why.

Once students answer the above questions, they should prepare a 1-2 minute statement about why they were fighting in or supporting the war. One student from each group should present their statement to the class.

When all three groups have presented their statements, pose the following questions to each group: What ideas do all three groups share in common? Which groups might have disagreements with another?

Other Sources :

James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1997)

Reid Mitchell, Civil War Soldiers: Their Expectations and Their Experiences (Simon & Schuster, 1988)