Confederate Officer asks to recruit Black troops

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DRW

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Anderson J. Peeler was a young Tallahassee lawyer when he joined Co. I of the 5th FL infantry. Quickly promoted to 3rd and then 1st Lt., Peeler gained the admiration of his comrades for his battlefield courage and leadership. He was wounded and captured during the Lang- Wilcox advance on Gettysburg's 2nd day. After a month convalescing at Camp Letterman (under the care of Euphemia Goldsborough), Peeler was sent to Johnson's Island prison where he spent quite a literary internment, writing plays performed by the Camp's theatrical troupe and a florid, maudlin novella "Arthur Murray - Our Little Hero, or the Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock" about an orphaned Fredericksburg boy who volunteers as drummer for his fallen father's VA regiment and then falls himself at Gettysburg. Peeler was exchanged and paroled in March 1865 and arrived in Richmond (how did those logistics work out?).

I'm interested in Peeler because one prominent scholar described him as the primary author of Florida's black codes during the Dec. '65 - Jan. '66 state legislative session. Peeler was also one of two state assemblymen to vote against the XIII Amendment (although he opposed on state rights grounds).
While looking over Peeler's CSR on fold3.com, I came across the following letter (which was very hard to read):
Dated March 23, 1865, Richmond addressed to John C. Breckinridge. Peeler first writes that he arrived in Richmond the day before and explains a bit about his military background (first volunteering on April 1, 1861, at Pensacola), then continues as follows:
I approve most heavily the actions of the Government in placing negroes in the field as soldiers and am satisfied that they can be made effective and valuable as auxiliaries. The company I am entitled to command as captain consists now of only nine men which will be consolidated in a few days. As I cannot enter active service [illeg.] my exchange and after such a long separation from family and friends desire to accept the furlough rendered by the Govt. I am anxious while at home to do everything in my power to promote the interests of the Negro Bill as passed by Congress among the people of my state by urging prompt and immediate action. Believing I can do much good in this way, I wish to engage in the work of recruiting and enlisting negroes. I respectfully ask for authority to raise one or more companies of negroes in the State of Florida or to be detailed as recruiting officer of negro troops and to open a [illeg.] for this purpose at Tallahassee or elsewhere in the state. Signed A. J. Peeler, 1st Lt. 5th Fl Regt.

I'm not sure how to reconcile this letter with Peeler's activities shortly after the war in consigning Blacks to inferior, quasi-citizen status. Maybe there is no inconsistency?

[Edited to correct typo in 1st line of letter from "heavily" to "heartily"]
 
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AndyHall

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This line is curious:

I approve most heavily the actions of the Government in placing negroes in the field as soldiers and am satisfied that they can be made effective and valuable as auxiliaries.

That sounds like something less than regular, front-line troops. I wonder what he meant -- garrison troops for rear areas, holding down quiet parts of the front? There were lots of officers who supported increased use of African Americans in some military capcity to free up existing units to fight; in his famous January 1865 letter to Secretary of War James Seddon, Howell Cobb advised, "use all the negroes [sic.] you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them." It's a subtle distinction, but I wonder if that's what Peeler is driving at here.
 
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Dacluver

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Just because he wanted to recruit them to serve doesn't mean he thought highly of them in any matter. He makes a comment that only nine men of his company are still alive. He is very aware of the death rate of soldiers in battle, and is trying to send black men straight to the front.
 

ForeverFree

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I'm not sure how to reconcile this letter with Peeler's activities shortly after the war in consigning Blacks to inferior, quasi-citizen status. Maybe there is no inconsistency?
Remember, being pro-black enlistment was not the same as being pro-emancipation which was not the same thing as pro-equality. In fact, the CSA law that allowed finally allowed black enlistment specified that it did NOT authorize a change in "relations between and master and slave." That law, unlike the laws which authorized the Emancipation Proclamation, did not provide for black freedom in any way.

The Davis administration issued orders which required that slaves be given "the status of a free man" before enlistment. That is, it required owners to manumit any slave who would become a soldier. Thus, the CSA's black enlistment policy became a voluntary manumission policy. It was not like the Union's emancipation policy, which promised freedom to large groups of enslaved people regardless of their military service (or lack thereof).

Recall also this January 11, 1865, letter from CSA General Robert E Lee’s to Virginia's Andrew Hunter (from The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Series 4 – Volume 3, page 1012-13):

Dear Sir:

Considering the relation of master and slave, controlled by humane laws and influenced by Christianity and an enlightened public sentiment, as the best that can exist between the white and black races while intermingled as at present in this country, I would deprecate any sudden disturbance of that relation unless it be necessary to avert a greater calamity to both.

(But) Should the war continue under the existing circumstances, the enemy may in course of time penetrate our country and get access to a large part of our negro population. It is his avowed policy to convert the able-bodied men among them into soldiers, and to emancipate all… Many have already been obtained in Virginia, and should the fortune of war expose more of her territory, the enemy would gain a large accession to his strength. His progress will thus add to his numbers, and at the same time destroy slavery in a manner most pernicious to the welfare of our people. Their negroes will be used to hold them in subjection, leaving the remaining force of the enemy free to extend his conquest. Whatever may be the effect of our employing negro troops, it cannot be as mischievous as this.

If it end in subverting slavery it will be accomplished by ourselves, and we can devise the means of alleviating the evil consequences to both races.

All of the above indicates that while Confederates were finally willing to use negroes as soldiers, there was never a consensus that all slaves would be freed, or that freed slaves would be considered citizens. R E Lee suggests that even after slaves were freed, the CSA could, in an ominous sounding phrase, "devise the means of alleviating the evil consequences to both races."

Finally: recollect that the authorization for black enlistment came just a month before Lee's surrender to Grant. Only a very small number of black men were enlisted. There never was a critical mass of black soldiers who could be seen as having been been owed something for their service.

Given this, I don't see any inconsistency, myself.

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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This line is curious:

I approve most heavily the actions of the Government in placing negroes in the field as soldiers and am satisfied that they can be made effective and valuable as auxiliaries.

That sounds like something less than regular, front-line troops. I wonder what he meant -- garrison troops for rear areas, holding down quiet parts of the front? There were lots of officers who supported increased use of African Americans in some military capcity to free up existing units to fight; in his famous January 1865 letter to Secretary of War James Seddon, Howell Cobb advised, "use all the negroes [sic.] you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them." It's a subtle distinction, but I wonder if that's what Peeler is driving at here.
I wondered what that meant, also.

- Alan
 
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Anderson J. Peeler was a young Tallahassee lawyer when he joined Co. I of the 5th FL infantry. Quickly promoted to 3rd and then 1st Lt., Peeler gained the admiration of his comrades for his battlefield courage and leadership. He was wounded and captured during the Lang- Wilcox advance on Gettysburg's 2nd day. After a month convalescing at Camp Letterman (under the care of Euphemia Goldsborough), Peeler was sent to Johnson's Island prison where he spent quite a literary internment, writing plays performed by the Camp's theatrical troupe and a florid, maudlin novella "Arthur Murray - Our Little Hero, or the Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock" about an orphaned Fredericksburg boy who volunteers as drummer for his fallen father's VA regiment and then falls himself at Gettysburg. Peeler was exchanged and paroled in March 1865 and arrived in Richmond (how did those logistics work out?).

I'm interested in Peeler because one prominent scholar described him as the primary author of Florida's black codes during the Dec. '65 - Jan. '66 state legislative session. Peeler was also one of two state assemblymen to vote against the XIII Amendment (although he opposed on state rights grounds).
While looking over Peeler's CSR on fold3.com, I came across the following letter (which was very hard to read):
Dated March 23, 1865, Richmond addressed to John C. Breckinridge. Peeler first writes that he arrived in Richmond the day before and explains a bit about his military background (first volunteering on April 1, 1861, at Pensacola), then continues as follows:
I approve most heavily the actions of the Government in placing negroes in the field as soldiers and am satisfied that they can be made effective and valuable as auxiliaries. The company I am entitled to command as captain consists now of only nine men which will be consolidated in a few days. As I cannot enter active service [illeg.] my exchange and after such a long separation from family and friends desire to accept the furlough rendered by the Govt. I am anxious while at home to do everything in my power to promote the interests of the Negro Bill as passed by Congress among the people of my state by urging prompt and immediate action. Believing I can do much good in this way, I wish to engage in the work of recruiting and enlisting negroes. I respectfully ask for authority to raise one or more companies of negroes in the State of Florida or to be detailed as recruiting officer of negro troops and to open a [illeg.] for this purpose at Tallahassee or elsewhere in the state. Signed A. J. Peeler, 1st Lt. 5th Fl Regt.

I'm not sure how to reconcile this letter with Peeler's activities shortly after the war in consigning Blacks to inferior, quasi-citizen status. Maybe there is no inconsistency?
Here's something similar from North Carolina :

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=burgwyn&GSfn=william&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=29&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=24132900&df


To Raise a Negro Battalion in North Carolina.jpg
 

ForeverFree

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Use them in every position available that doesn't require the use of a firearm.
That could certainly be how this particular person looked at it. But one has to wonder, how would that have helped the Confederates, given that they really needed men who would fire a gun in anger at the enemy.

- Alan
 
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brass napoleon

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That could certainly be how this particular person looked at it. But one has to wonder, how would that have helped the Confederates, given that they really needed men who would fire a gun in anger at the enemy.

- Alan
By employing them in auxilliary roles, they would free up white soldiers to fire the guns. This, in fact, was the same role many Union officers envisioned and implemented for the USCT troops under their command.

"Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion full 100,000 are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks, thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men. So far as tested, it is difficult to say they are not as good soldiers as any."

- Abraham Lincoln, Third Annual Message to Congress, December 8, 1863

Source: <<http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29504
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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It doesn't seem as if, in some places there was any thought enslaved would exchange status post-war as a result of being in the ranks. Just gives reasons why it was thought all black ' citizens ' would be happy for the chance to do it. On the other hand it's vague on what exactly would transpire once the troops were in uniform.

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north c4.JPG
 

brass napoleon

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This line is curious:

I approve most heavily the actions of the Government in placing negroes in the field as soldiers and am satisfied that they can be made effective and valuable as auxiliaries.

That sounds like something less than regular, front-line troops. I wonder what he meant -- garrison troops for rear areas, holding down quiet parts of the front? There were lots of officers who supported increased use of African Americans in some military capcity to free up existing units to fight; in his famous January 1865 letter to Secretary of War James Seddon, Howell Cobb advised, "use all the negroes [sic.] you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them." It's a subtle distinction, but I wonder if that's what Peeler is driving at here.
Yes, but there's another important distinction. Peeler is explicitly saying that they should be used "as soldiers", where Cobb was adamant that they should not be (in the same letter you quoted):

The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong; but they won t make soldiers. As a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier.

- Howell Cobb to Secretary of War Seddon, January 8, 1865

Source: <http://books.google.com/books?id=4QY5AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA97&lpg=PA97
I believe Peeler is envisioning them as non-combat soldiers, in the same capacity that half the USCT troops were employed (according to Lincoln, above).
 
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ForeverFree

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By employing them in auxilliary roles, they would free up white soldiers to fire the guns. This, in fact, was the same role many Union officers envisioned and implemented for the USCT troops under their command.

"Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion full 100,000 are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks, thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men. So far as tested, it is difficult to say they are not as good soldiers as any."

- Abraham Lincoln, Third Annual Message to Congress, December 8, 1863

Source: <<http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29504
See, here's the thing. What if there are not enough white soldiers left to fire guns in the first place?

- Alan
 

brass napoleon

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See, here's the thing. What if there are not enough white soldiers left to fire guns in the first place?

- Alan
Well, the fact is that in March, 1865 the Confederate army was short manpower in ALL positions. Regardless of the case, if we interpret Peeler's words as recommending the usage of black troops to fill non-combat roles, that would certainly free up white soldiers to move into combat roles. Would it be "enough"? Certainly not enough to win the war, but by this point nothing would be enough for that.

However, this points out an important distinction between Peeler's vision and Cobb's vision. If it was determined that more combat roles were needed than could be filled by whites, the black soldiers could conceivably be moved into that role (whether Peeler himself desired that or not). This exact scenario did happen with USCT troops on occasion.
 
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ForeverFree

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Well, the fact is that in March, 1865 the Confederate army was short manpower in ALL positions. Regardless of the case, if we interpret Peeler's words as recommending the usage of black troops to fill non-combat roles, that would certainly free up white soldiers to move into combat roles. Would it be "enough"? Certainly not enough to win the war, but by this point nothing would be enough for that.
I understand what you're saying, but I still find Peeler's comments unreasonable. Beggars can't be choosers. He says in his letter that "The company I am entitled to command as captain consists now of only nine men which will be consolidated in a few days." That's a 90% decrease in the ranks of that one company. It seems to me that even after all the non-combat roles were filled, there still wouldn't be enough men to fire at the enemy. The reasonable thing to do would be to consider the new soldiers available for any and all roles. Just my opinion.

- Alan
 

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By the time the recruitment of Black Troops was being seriously being bandied about in the south, The CS had shot it's bolt.It was a need for manpower and cannon fodder,not a gesture of trust to the loyal black man. The white cannon fodder and rifle totters had been depleted and a need for replacements was a very high concern.There were even offers of freedom for blacks willing to serve with the ANV. It was a stop gap to forestall defeat, had it been a magnanment it would have happened in '61 or '62,BUT IT DID NOT, UNTIL DEFEAT WAS AT HAND AND THE LARGEST MAN POWER POOL LEFT WAS THE BLACKC
 

brass napoleon

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I understand what you're saying, but I still find Peeler's comments unreasonable. Beggars can't be choosers. He says in his letter that "The company I am entitled to command as captain consists now of only nine men which will be consolidated in a few days." That's a 90% decrease in the ranks of that one company. It seems to me that even after all the non-combat roles were filled, there still wouldn't be enough men to fire at the enemy. The reasonable thing to do would be to consider the new soldiers available for any and all roles. Just my opinion.

- Alan
Agreed. I never meant to imply I believed what he said was reasonable. Only trying to understand what he meant by it.
 
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DRW

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I appreciate the points expressed that there is not necessarily anything inconsistent about a Confederate officer promoting black soldiering and, within twelve months, drafting legislation that some scholars have condemned as the most brutish of the black codes from the 1865-1866 years. But are there no commonalities (e.g.., political, social, etc) among those Confederate officers and politicians who endorsed enlisting African Americans? And how about those who opposed?
 

civilken

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Just the idea he was thinking about it puts him in a much different position than most southern soldiers .
 
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