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In Their Own Words

May 26, 1862

Conversation with Union Soldiers

Evidence that in the early years, many volunteers had joined the Union Army for reasons other than freeing southern slaves can be found in the following letter from Georgian Lavender Ray to his mother, written from Chattanooga. Ray had just returned from a trip to Huntsville, Ala. under a flag of truce to exchange prisoners. Referring to his conversation with several Union soldiers, he noted:

“… I soon had some three or four around me and was in a big argument defending our Confederacy. They treated me very gentlemanly and did not say anything insulting to me, but we often gave each other a cut about our national affairs… . I told them … that their Yankee papers bragged of sending South the numerous scrappings of the Yankee nation to overpower us and liberate and arm our Negroes. They, being Western men, said they were not Yankees and hated the name and liked us better than they did the Yankees. [They] said they believed in slavery and if their government passed the emancipation bill they would all go home. This last I believe, for all the other Western men said the same thing, saying they were fighting for the Union and not for the Negro. I then referred to the Declaration of Independence to show them it was wrong to try to make us submit to a government we did not wish to. This stumped them… .”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), “Dear Mother: Don’t grieve about me. If I get killed, I’ll only be dead.”: Letters from Georgia Soldiers in the Civil War (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), p. 126.