Ohio History Journal

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"The Soldier's Creed"

"The Soldier's Creed"





Patriotism is an essential factor in waging war and shaping its

outcome. Since the causes of a war, as fixed in the minds of the

participants, affect both the deeper and shallower feelings of

patriotism and are in turn influenced by it, loyalty and the will to

fight are closely interrelated. The concern of the military in recent

years with the soldier's ideas of war aims has aroused interest in

his attitudes during previous conflicts. Among these the American

Civil War, with its complex causes and its typical American soldiers,

who were civilians in uniform, continues to raise questions that can

be answered only partially from the sources available.

Whatever the contributory causes of this war, one question often

asked is worth reconsidering: Did the northern soldier fight for his

country because it was embodied in the inseparable Union of all the

states, or did he take up arms primarily because of his conviction

that the slavery issue must be settled and no other recourse re-

mained? No contemporary poll of soldier opinion was taken. The

evidence from which conclusions are drawn must be winnowed

piecemeal from   scattered records.  By this painstaking process

Professor Bell Wiley has reached his conclusions on this and many

other facets of the soldier's thoughts and actions,1 but at best their

remarks are often brief and inconclusive. Additional evidence,

found in unusual detail in the document published herewith, pro-

vides a commentary on the motivations and spirit of patriotism dur-

ing the first year of the war.


* Lester J. Cappon is director of the Institute of Early American History and Cul-

ture at Williamsburg, Virginia.

1 In his The Life of Billy Yank, the Common Soldier of the Union (Indianapolis

and New York, 1951).