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>> 55 3 “This Is an Abolition War” Soldiers, Civilians, and the Purpose of the War In the first months of the Civil War, there were few more frightening terms than “abolition war.” Such a war to end slavery threatened to change the country in unforeseeable ways. Whether the Civil War was an abolition war was thus a critical question in itself, and the debate over this question plunged to the very heart of why soldiers fought, what they represented, and what they wanted the war to achieve. Civilians, both as private citizens and through their representatives in government, also debated the abolition issue, creating a spectrum of opinions on the virtue of abolitionism. Like the civilians at home, soldiers in the field did not agree amongst themselves on the purpose of the war, but they derived their opinions from their side of the experience divide. Soldiers experienced slavery and its consequences on a daily basis, while Northerners discussed the institution as an abstraction. Soldiers bore the burden of actually conducting the war, as opposed to those who merely debated the issue at home. As the participants who suffered and died in the conflict, soldiers asserted themselves as those best suited to decide if slavery should end, and, if it did end, how the future of the country should unfold. Just as Northerners differed in their opinions on the abolition issue, soldiers could not come to a consensus on how ending slavery fit into the purpose , conduct, and outcome of the war. Their views, ranging from agreement with the most radical of abolitionists to concurring with the most racist of slave-owners, mirrored the division of civilian opinion. Nonetheless, all soldiers did agree that their experience made them the ones who were most suitable to select an outcome. * * * For those who feared change in the racial construction of America, an abolition war was especially alarming. From their point of view, freeing slaves could be the catalyst for the downfall of the country. Opponents of 56 > 57 ought to enlist and direct ‘their ideals at the point of the bayonet’ to the rebel hearts . . . . Let them who believe in this war and regard it a great and glorious enterprise, let them go and do the fighting. But the Abolition war-preachers do not enlist.”4 While the opposition to abolition war unified those who would preserve slavery, a more widely divergent set of viewpoints emerged in justification, if not outright support, for abolition war. Some Union advocates embraced abolition as a potent economic tool against the South. “I am very sorry to learn there are so many men in the North who are dissatisfied with the means used to put down the rebellion,” Private Samuel Evans wrote to his father. “This is called an ‘abolition war.’ For the sake of a little argument, call it an abolition war. . . . So far as I am concerned about the matter it suits me in a good many points of view. My doctrine has been anything to weaken the enemy.”5 Other proponents of abolition war justified its existence by blaming the slave-owners for bringing the war upon themselves. “The adverse party charge that this is an Abolition war,” stated Charles Anderson, a Southerner who rallied to the Union cause. “They say the Abolitionists of the North have harassed and goaded into frenzy the Southern people, until they have been driven to adopt a scheme which is not at all native to their disposition. Now, I have said as much against the Abolition party . . . [but] I never thought them altogether evil, or all disunionists or fanatics. I thought them in grievous error . . . [but] I must now declare that I don’t believe this party has had anything to do in getting up the war, except being used as a sham and a lie on the part of the South.”6 Yet others supported abolition war as an anti-Southern tool while still embracing the racial perceptions that maintained slavery in the first place. “I admit this to be an abolition war and it will be continued as an abolition war so long as there is one slave at the South to be made free,” pronounced Iowa Governor William M. Stone. “I would rather eat with a nigger, drink with a nigger, live with a nigger, and sleep with a nigger than with a Democrat.”7 Governor Stone’s statement underscored the spectrum of Northern thought: one could be an emancipationist who desired the end of...


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