Department Chair

Andrew D. Nicholls, Ph.D., Professor of History

Date of Award


Access Control

Open Access

Degree Name

History, M.A.


History and Social Studies Education Department


Dr. Gary Marotta, Professor of History

Department Home page

First Reader

Dr. Gary Marotta, Professor of History

Second Reader

Dr. Kenneth S. Mernitz, Associate Professor of History


The American Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States. Over 620,000 lives were lost during this war. Yet, what motivated volunteer soldiers to fight so valiantly for so long is the focus of this paper. After reading over 100 individual diaries and letters from volunteer Civil War soldiers from Western New York, who fought on the Union side, I have concluded that certain motivations influenced soldiers more than others to keep fighting. Motivations of the thrill of combat, adventure, and hatred of the enemy served as the initial motivations for Western New York Civil War soldiers to go to war. While the motivations of duty, honor, patriotism, and ideology/religion functioned as both initial and sustaining motivations, the impulses of courage, self-respect and group cohesion were the main sources of combat motivation. This paper focuses on volunteer soldiers specifically from Western New York and looks at their initial motivations, along with their sustaining motivations. I focused my research specifically on Western New York because of its heterogeneous population makeup and the large role it played with the Underground Railroad due to its close proximity to Canada. This paper keeps in mind the time period in which the Civil War took place and society’s values in antebellum America. This paper also looks at the technological innovations which took place during the Civil War and how they changed the battlefield for the volunteer soldier. This paper does not ignore the draft which occurred later in the war, and the draft riots associated with it. Finally, it looks at how the soldiers survived after the war was over.