In What they Fought For, 1861–1865, author James McPherson analyzes 25,000 letters and personal diary entries written by Confederate and Union soldiers in order to determine their motivations for fighting in the war. Ironically, both Confederate and Union soldiers fought for freedom; however, their views of freedom varied greatly.
Confederate soldiers fought for the right to own slaves and to save democracy, believing it was each state’s right to own and trade slaves. Slavery was necessary for agricultural success in the South, and the institution had been ingrained in Southern culture for one hundred years.
Union soldiers fought for freedom and preservation of the union. Many soldiers equated slavery to bondage and fought to end the racial injustice caused by slavery. However, others were neither for nor against slavery and did not fight to free slaves. The majority of Union soldiers believed the secession of Southern states resulted in anarchy, and they fought to unify the country.
When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it resulted in a divided North and a terrified South. Confederate soldiers wrote home encouraging their families to invest in slaves while the morale of Union soldiers faded, as controversy surrounding the issue of slavery increased. After the Proclamation was issued, 190,000 freed black men joined Union forces, and the North claimed victory over the South two years later.