Why the Civil War was fought will be forever debated, especially here on the internet. And usually, no one ever changes their mind in these debates. But a couple of days ago, I found the letter of a Union Private cited in the Time-Life Book Voices of the Civil War: Soldier Life. It’s great to hear what the war was about from someone who was actually there. Here is the entry as it appears in the book.
Private Orson Young, 96th Illinois Infantry
Concerned that President Lincoln might be defeated by a peace-seeking rival, Young wrote this letter to his parents in Lake County, Illinois, from newly captured Atlanta on September 22, 1864, expressing his determination to press on to final victory. Still a teenager, the writer himself was too young to vote.
It is cowardly and insulting to the soldiers to talk of peace or cessation of hostilities after such a glorious campaign as ours has been. Let us go on, till the rebels cry for peace and lay down their arms. Let us not talk of peace, if we must let the rebels come back with their institution of human slavery. If peace could be had today with all things as they were before the rebellion, I would not accept it. Slavery was the cause of all this bloodshed, and it is madness to go back to slavery.
Four millions of human beings are suffering under the chain and the lash. They have been appealing for years to the Almighty God for justice. In the anguish of their hearts, the slaves almost thought there was no God. But God heard their prayers. We are now paying the price of our national sin. Shall we be so rash as to allow slavery to continue and call the wrath of a just God upon us again?
Some men in the north are so afraid of having to come and fight that they would accept peace on any terms. I have not suffered enough yet to make me feel that way. Sometimes I have thought “what was the use of it to me, if the union was saved and my life was lost?” Then my conscience would ask me what I was born for- just to live for myself alone? No I cannot believe that.