“Knowing” what our Civil War ancestors fought for, and the ways that “knowledge” is expressed

Posted on June 13, 2009 by


It’s rare, but certainly not impossible… there are times when the sentiments of a Civil War ancestor are clearly expressed in letters, diaries, and other wartime documents. For the most part, however, I’d argue that we rarely know the reasons for which our Confederate ancestors were serving. That’s why I find it rather bold of someone when they say, for example, that their Confederate ancestor was fighting because of “Lincoln’s usurpation of the Constitution,” and so on… all of this based on nothing more than a service record (sometimes with fewer than five pages in the file). What evidence exists? How much of what one knows and expresses is fact-based and how much is opinion-based? Just because a person has the names and service records of some ancestors that served in gray does not necessarily mean that they enlisted for the things that “top-down analysis” of the Confederacy might suggest or even that they were ready to risk all to defend the Confederate “Cause.” How far were they really willing to go for “Cause?”

There are other factors that need to be considered, other evidence that might significantly water-down the stories… stories that might be more reflective of the zeal (for the “Cause”) of the persons telling the stories than the actual “zeal” of the Confederate soldiers “remembered.” Take another look… what is revealed in the service record that is not being identified? Consider, for example, the date of enlistment… does it fall before or after the three conscription acts? Does it happen to occur immediately prior to the enforcement of one of the three conscription acts? What about other members of the family or the immediate community? Ultimately, there is much to consider and these are but a few examples.

In upcoming posts (more than likely beginning in about a week or so), I’ll begin giving examples of what I’m writing about here, and in many cases I will cite examples of my own ancestors in gray.