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Union Soldiers Condemn Slavery

Although the attitudes of many white Union soldiers toward slavery and emancipation ranged from indifference to outright racial hostility, others viewed the issue as central to their participation in the war. The following quotations, taken from letters, diary entries, and contemporary newspaper interviews with white Union soldiers, reveal the attitudes of those who viewed slavery as both a primary cause of the conflict and a key rationale for fighting.

“… The rebellion is abolitionizing the whole army… [time spent in the South has forced Union troops] “to face this sum of all evils, and cause of the war… You have no idea of the changes that have taken place in the minds of the soldiers in the last two months… men of all parties seem unanimous in the belief that to permanently establish the Union, is to first wipe [out] the institution [of slavery].”

— “Enlisted Soldier,” Third Wisconsin, quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal, October 1861.


“… As long as we ignore the fact (practically) that Slavery is the basis of this struggle so long are we simply [cutting] down a vigorously growing plant that will continually spring up and give new trouble at very short intervals. We must emancipate.” 

— Q.M. Sgt. Thomas Low, 23rd New York Artillery, diary entry, March 29, 1862.


“… Our Government handles slavery as tenderly as a mother would her firstborn… When shall it be stricken down as the deadly enemy of freedom, virtue, and mankind?” 

— Lt. P.V. Wise, First Wisconsin, quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal, January 20, 1862.


“As sure as God is God and right is right, so sure may we look for the war to end . . . in the accomplishment of its glorious object, . . . the liberation of this oppressed and down trodden race . . . I would prefer ten years war yet and no more slavery, than Peace tomorrow, with slavery. Such is my abhorance of that Barbarous institution.”

— Sgt James Jessee, Eighth Illinois, diary entry, December 31, 1863.

Source | Letters cited in Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, 2007), 45, 49-50, 76, 119.
Creator | Various
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Various, “Union Soldiers Condemn Slavery,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 21, 2023,

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