Understanding what motivated Americans to go to war. 

Week 2 Discussion: Understanding what motivated Americans to go to war.

A central interpretive idea that I started this week’s lecture revolved around the question of whether or not the Civil War was inevitable. In it we must weigh to what extent the start of the war hinged on contingency (random events that change its course) and to what extent the war itself was inevitable, carried forward by the inexorability of human events. But for this discussion, I want you to think a bit more about the mindset of nineteenth century America. After watching Red Badge of Courage and reading the first three chapters of McPherson, you should have a little better understanding of how men and women (and in particular men- the voters of the era, but also women as the Victorian-era “moral center” of the home) viewed their world.

What I want us to do collectively in discussion is to unpack the motivations that Americans on both sides of the of the conflict had for making the terrible decision to go to war. You can think about this in the macro scale (i.e., the influence of an event like the violence in Kansas) or in the micro scale (my friends all enlisted and I was caught up in the moment and enlisted too). Because the fact is that when it comes to human motivation, there are many combinations of reasons why people do what they do. Sometimes there is one key factor that dominates their thinking and all the other factors only play bit roles. Other people need the weight of multiple reasons to make up their mind. But when you went down the muster roll of the armies and listed the names of the officers and men there, if you were to list next to their name the reasons why they now stood there with a rifle in hand you would come up with a widely varied list.

Thus, let us use this discussion post to enumerate the many reasons why Americans fought in the war. Collectively it doesn’t necessarily point to the fact that war was inevitable, but it may, in articulating the many reasons both North and South took up arms in 1861, why this incredibly destructive conflict began.

Guide:

Your discussion reflection should draw upon lecture two and may draw upon lecture one for support. Ideally it will also speak to reading selections from McPherson, Escott and/or Masur, as well as the film The Red Badge of Courage, and in some measure what you write should serve as evidence that you understand this material. I am not asking you to list a bunch of motivations for fighting in the Civil War, I’m asking you to list ONE and to discuss it in some detail and historical context, ideally supporting it with evidence from the lecture, readings, or film (direct quotes, etc.) It is important that you read the discussion posts that have come before yours and try to move into terrain that is unique from what your classmates have already said. I will do my best to reply to these as they post so as to aid students making subsequent posts forge into new ideas.

Posts that receive full credit should do the following:

  • Reveal clearly that you’ve listened to the week’s course material.
  • Clearly articulate a point that speaks directly to the question being asked.
  • Avoids as much as possible the duplication of comments already made by other students.

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