The American Civil War was a long bloody struggle between common men rather than trained military forces. As Southern states seceded from the Union, tensions grew and men flocked to enlist in their respective armies. By the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of men had fought and died. North Carolina played an important role in the Confederacy. About one-fifth of provisions and supplies used by the Confederate armies came from North Carolina. Around 125,000 men from North Carolina served in the Confederate military. Of those men only 19,000 were drafted into the army, which showed the true dedication of the men who were willing to volunteer to fight for the Confederacy (Girvan 2006, 1).
For many of these men, the motivation to fight was for God and country, to protect their families and their land after Union invasion and because they believed their cause was just. Many Confederate men believed that God was on their side and would aide them in defeating the Union army who invaded their homes and threatened their way of life. For Joseph Hoyle and most men of the 55th North Carolina slavery was not an issue or a motivation to fight because they were not slave owners. These men can be categorized with the Lost Cause, where the role of slavery in causing the war is denied. High morale helped keep men fighting and believing in the cause and for many, to survive the war. On the other hand, low morale led to desertion and men unwilling to fight. More than 23,000 men from North Carolina deserted during the Civil War, totaling more than any other state in the Confederacy (Girvan 2006, 1). For any military, in any war, an important factor has always been unit morale. As defined by Mark Dunkelman, “morale generally signifies the psychological state of an individual or group in reaction to current states of affairs” (Dunkelman 2004, 226). When unit morale was high, men were more willing to continue fighting because they have not yet started to lose hope in the cause. It is not uncommon for morale to fluctuate throughout a war. Units experienced high points and they experienced low points the longer the war dragged on. It is often seen that “morale was generally higher among front-line troops than those stationed in the rear” (McPherson, For Cause and Comrades 1997, 32).
Thousands of men died during the Civil War, more than any other major American wars combined. Many men died on the battlefield at the hands of fellow men, while many others died in camp or in hospitals of disease. All died probably thousands of miles away from home and their loved ones. When the war ended in 1865, roughly 40,275 soldiers from North Carolina were killed in battle or had died from disease, making one-fourth of Confederate soldiers killed from North Carolina (Girvan 2006, 1). With all death and killing that occurred during the war, many men ended the war feeling extremely demoralized and questioning if it was worth it in the end.
Throughout the war the morale of Joseph Hoyle and the men of the 55th North Carolina Infantry Regiment fluctuated due to a plethora of factors. High morale was caused by victories in battle, letters and packages from home, an increase in religious activity, and visits from loved ones in camp. Low morale was caused by losing battles, a lack of food and clothing, inclement weather, not receiving letters from home and the death of a close friend or family member. When morale was low, there was a higher risk of men giving up and deserting (Mitchell, Civil War Soldiers 1988, 168).
Many historians attribute low morale and the loss of the Confederacy to the events in the West and on the home front. Based off of Joseph Hoyle’s letters, what was happening in the West was irrelevant to the morale of the 55th North Carolina. As for the home front, Joseph Hoyle’s letters showed that it caused low morale among men, depending on what was happening at home, but it was not the sole, or biggest, factor in low morale. Gary Gallagher argues that military and non-military factors attributed to the morale of troops. He argues that an immense collection of interrelated factors are what determined the outcome of the war. These factors included the failure of confidence among southern whites on the home front, which was connected to the ebb and flow of the military (Gallagher 1992, 84). Archer Jones argues that morale was affected by the political factors of the war. Jones defines political factors as military actions that are supposed to directly produce a political result. He argues that both northern and southern strategists had to take into consideration the public and foreign nations opinions on military actions because the attitude of the public was very important during the war (Jones 1992, 45-46). Thus, Jones is saying that the public influenced the morale of troops. The sections of this paper fit into Gallagher’s argument because they are a mixture of military and non-military factors that affect morale. The sections on religion and providence are purely non-military factors which contribute to high morale. The section on factors that contribute to both high and low morale contains non-military and military factors that can affect morale negatively or positively. The section on hardships contains military factors in the sense that if these men were not in the army they would not be experiencing these hardships which are caused by military life. The final section on desertion mostly deals with military factors, but also pulls in Jones’s argument on the attitude of the public and how it could lower morale and cause men to desert and return home.