Lieutenant Joseph J. Hoyle heroically fought for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. He fought for the 55th regiment of North Carolina, which was comprised of many members from Western North Carolina, specifically Cleveland County. Lieutenant Hoyle left his home as a farmer and teacher and volunteered to fight for the Confederate Army. As an erudite member of the army, Lieutenant Hoyle wrote many articles that were printed in the “Spirit of Age”. These published letters, along with letters to his wife, provided Hoyle with an outlet to lament his beliefs and emotions about the war as well as describe the battles and camp life of the 55th North Carolina Regiment. During the war, he wrote a letter to Sarah, his wife, at least once every week, but many times he wrote even more frequently. Although he was a Lieutenant throughout much of the war, Hoyle also made a great impact with the letters he wrote that depicted why and how he endured the war for so long.
Common sentiments for supporting the Confederate cause during the Civil War were slavery and states’ rights. These motivations played a part in the lives of Confederate soldiers and the South’s decision to withdraw from the Union. Many were motivated to fight in order to preserve the institution of slavery. A second primary motivation was states’ rights. Individuals in North Carolina believed their rights as citizens had been infringed upon and the only way to regain these rights was to secede from the Union. Other citizens were motivated to aid the Confederate cause to preserve their honor, or to maintain their cherished way of life. Ultimately, these motivations for fighting became the national basis for explaining why Southern individuals chose to take up arms against the Union Army. Historian James McPherson argued that many characteristics influenced a particular soldier’s motivation to fight. He included, “group cohesion, ideals of manhood and masculinity, concepts of duty, honor, and courage; functions of leadership, discipline, and coercion; role of religion, fear, stress, pain, and death.” (McPherson 1994, 1) These all played at least a minor role in motivating the Confederate soldiers. The largest motivation to fight, according to McPherson, was that Confederate soldiers fought against a tyrannical government, the Union, to preserve independence and liberty (McPherson 1994, 7). McPherson furthered the argument to entail a second primary motivating factor for Confederate soldiers, patriotism (McPherson 1994, 13). Patriotism, as he described, sought to preserve the efforts of the nation’s forefathers and the ideals they fought for in the American Revolutionary War (McPherson 1994, 28). Furthering this national ideology that backed the Confederate soldiers McPherson claimed, “ most Confederate soldiers believed they were fighting for liberty and slavery, one and inseparable...for our [Confederate] liberty, against the tyrants of the North” (McPherson 1994, 51). Letters by Hoyle in the 55th Regiment will provide evidence for the claim that these overarching motivations did not always provide personal motivation to soldiers in the Confederate Army.
Confederate nationalist sentiments, as depicted by McPherson, did arise in Hoyle’s letters but they proved to be secondary motivations for Hoyle’s continued efforts for the Confederate army. McPherson’s argument generalized the Confederate soldier to those who own slaves and those who do not. His argument focused on the Confederate soldiers at large, of whom, one-third owned or came from slave-owning families. He went on to state that the least motivated soldiers came from non-slaveholding families; Lieutenant Hoyle would have fallen into this category (McPherson 1994, 15).
According to McPherson Lieutenant Hoyle should be unmotivated to fight since he had no personal slaves that he sought to maintain through a Confederate victory (McPherson 1994, 15). Ironically, McPherson did acknowledge that the primary motivating forces for the soldiers were revealed in their personal letters. (McPherson 1994, 69) However, I have found letters to reveal different personal motivations for soldiers fighting than those concluded by McPherson. Lieutenant Joseph J. Hoyle, of the 55th Regiment of North Carolina was a soldier with these different, and very personal motivations. Although he simultaneously fought for his country, freedom, and liberty, his perseverance and courage to fight, came from his faith, his family, and his comrades. For nearly three years Hoyle fought in the Confederate Army. His letters to his wife during this time exposed his personal beliefs, and created support for Hoyle to endure the fight. Amidst atrocious conditions (freezing temperatures, poor supplies, and falling men), Hoyle’s motivations for fighting enabled him to persevere longer than even notions of freedom and Confederate democracy ever could have. Hoyle fought to honor and glorify his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for his home (specifically his beloved wife Sarah), and for his comrades. The support for this argument was largely found in letters composed by Hoyle to his wife throughout his entire career in the Confederate army. The letters told of deeper emotions including the motivation behind why Joseph J. Hoyle chose to enlist, re-enlisted, and fought for the Confederacy for three long years.