How did Enslaved Southerners view the War split from "Why the interest on Black Confederates"

ForeverFree

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It always seems to lead back to one big bad question. Why would any Blacks fight for or support the South? The answer is that the relationship of blacks and whites in the South was more complex and even more tolerant than modernists admit sometimes. We don't intend to reinterpret history but we intend to explore it with eyes wide open.
I am curious @8thFlorida, and I ask this of others as well: what do you believe was the general view of enslaved southerners to the war? The noted scholar W.E.B. DuBois called the black experience during the war a "general strike." The Pulitzer Prize winning historian Steven Hahn has called it the greatest slave rebellion in history, albeit, not one where every rebel took up a weapon. Most historians seem to feel that enslaved people - who were 96% of the CSA's black population - saw the war (or more precisely, the presence of the Union) as an opportunity to gain freedom, not as an opportunity to "fight for the South." This is a generalization - we would not expect that 3.5 million enslaved people would act as a monolith - but this is the consensus among modern scholars, I think it's fair to say.

Do you agree?

This is a letter from Major General Patrick Cleburne. In January 1864, he proposed granting freedom to slaves who enlisted in the Confederate army. These are some excerpts from his proposal:

Moved by the exigency in which our country is now placed we take the liberty of laying before you, unofficially, our views on the present state of affairs. The subject is so grave, and our views so new, we feel it a duty both to you and the cause that before going further we should submit them for your judgment and receive your suggestions in regard to them.

...We (Confederates) can see three great causes operating to destroy us: First, the inferiority of our armies to those of the enemy in point of numbers; second, the poverty of our single source of supply in comparison with his several sources; third, the fact that slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.

The enemy already opposes us at every point with superior numbers, and is endeavoring to make the preponderance irresistible. President Davis, in his recent message, says the enemy "has recently ordered a large conscription and made a subsequent call for volunteers, to be followed, if ineffectual by a still further draft." In addition, the President of the United States announces that "he has already in training an army of 100,000 negroes as good as any troops," and every fresh raid he makes and new slice of territory he wrests from us will add to this force.

...In touching the third cause, the fact that slavery has become a military weakness, we may rouse prejudice and passion, but the time has come when it would be madness not to look at our danger from every point of view, and to probe it to the bottom. Apart from the assistance that home and foreign prejudice against slavery has given to the North, slavery is a source of great strength to the enemy in a purely military point of view, by supplying him with an army from our granaries; but it is our most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.

Wherever slavery is once seriously disturbed, whether by the actual presence or the approach of the enemy, or even by a cavalry raid, the whites can no longer with safety to their property openly sympathize with our cause. The fear of their slaves is continually haunting them, and from silence and apprehension many of these soon learn to wish the war stopped on any terms. The next stage is to take the oath to save property, and they become dead to us, if not open enemies. To prevent raids we are forced to scatter our forces, and are not free to move and strike like the enemy; his vulnerable points are carefully selected and fortified depots. Ours are found in every point where there is a slave to set free.

All along the lines slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information. It is an omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources, and yet acting so safely and secretly that there is no means to guard against it. Even in the heart of our country, where our hold upon this secret espionage is firmest, it waits but the opening fire of the enemy's battle line to wake it, like a torpid serpent, into venomous activity.

...we propose... that we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war.​

Cleburne says that at January 1864 "slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness." @8thFlorida, do you think Cleburne was correct? And what do you make of him requesting that slaves be used as Confederate soldiers - do you think that in his travels, by January 1864, he was simply unlucky to not have encountered any of the tens of thousands of slaves who are claimed to have been fighting for the Confederacy?

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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The shooting war between the United States and the Confederate States began in April 1861. We can gain some insight into how enslaved Southerners viewed the Civil War from the following letter. In it, concerned white citizens in Liberty County, Georgia, along the southeast coast, estimated that 20,000 freedom seekers had escaped bondage along the East Coast (probably from EE Virginia to NE Florida) by August 1862. This not only represented a loss of labor and assets, but also, it "demoralized" the remaining slave population. The concerned citizens proposed a solution: why not treat these runaways as traitors, and summarily execute them?

The request for the treatment of escaping slaves is noted in this excerpt from the Official Records:

(To) Brigadier-General MERCER, Commanding Military District of Georgia, Savannah:

GENERAL: The undersigned, citizens of Liberty County, of the Fifteenth District, would respectfully present for your consideration a subject of grave moment, not to themselves only, but to their fellow- citizens of the Confederate States who occupy not only our territory immediately bordering on that of the old United States, but the whole line of our sea-coast from Virginia to Texas.

We allude to the escape of our slaves across the border lines landward, and out to the vessels of the enemy seaward, and to their being also enticed off by those who, having made their escape, return for that purpose, and not infrequently attended by the enemy. The injury inflicted upon the interests of the citizens of the Confederate States by this now constant drain is immense.

Independent of the forcible seizure of slaves by the enemy whenever it lies in his power, and to which we now make no allusion, as the indemnity for this loss will in due time occupy the attention of our Government from ascertained losses on certain parts of our coast, we may set down as a low estimate the number of slaves absconded and enticed off from our sea-board at 20,000, and their value at from $12,000,000 to $15,000,000, to which loss may be added the insecurity of the property along our borders and the demoralization of the negroes that remain, which increases with the continuance of the evil, and may finally result in perfect disorganization and rebellion.

The absconding negroes hold the position of traitors, since they go over to the enemy and afford him aid and comfort by revealing the condition of the districts and cities from which they come, and aiding him in erecting fortifications and raising provisions for his support, and now that the United States have allowed their introduction into their Army and Navy, aiding the enemy by enlisting under his banners, and increasing his resources in men for our annoyance and destruction.

Negroes occupy the position of spies also, since they are employed in secret expeditions for obtaining information by transmission of newspapers and by other modes, and act as guides to expeditions on the land and as pilots to their vessels on the waters of our inlets and rivers. They have proved of great value thus far to the coast operations of the enemy, and without their assistance he could not have accomplished as much for our injury and annoyance as he has done; and unless some measures shall be adopted to prevent the escape of the negroes to the enemy, the threat of an army of trained Africans for the coming fall and winter campaigns may become a reality.

Meanwhile the counties along the seaboard will become exhausted of the slave population, which should be retained as far as possible for the raising of provisions and supplies for our forces on the coast. In the absence of penalties of such a nature as to insure respect and dread, the temptations which are spread before the negroes are very strong, and when we consider their condition, their ignorance and credulity, and love of change, must prove in too many cases decidedly successful.

No effectual check being interposed to their escape, the desire increases among them in proportion to the extent of its successful gratification, and will spread inland until it will draw negroes from counties far in the interior of the State, and negroes will congregate from every quarter in the counties immediately bordering on the sea and become a lawless set of runaways, corrupting the negroes that remain faithful, depredating on property of all kinds, and resorting, it may be, to deeds of violence, which demonstrates that the whole State is interested in the effort to stop this evil; and already have negroes from Middle Georgia made their escape to the sea-board counties, and through Savannah itself to the enemy.

...It is, indeed, a monstrous evil that we suffer. Our negroes are property, the agricultural class of the Confederacy, upon whose order and continuance so much depends--may go off (inflicting a greet pecuniary loss, both private and public) to the enemy, convey any amount of valuable information, and aid him by building his fortifications, by raising supplies for his armies, by enlisting as soldiers, by acting as spies and as guides and pilots to his expeditions on lend and water, and bringing in the foe upon us to kill and devastate; and yet, if we catch them in the act of going to the enemy we are powerless for the infliction of any punishment adequate to their crime and adequate to fill them with salutary fear of its commission. Surely some remedy should be applied, and that speedily, for the protection of the country aside from all other considerations.

A few executions of leading transgressors among them by hanging or shooting would dissipate the ignorance which may be supposed to possess their minds, and which may be pleaded in arrest of judgment.

R. &. MALLARD
P. W. FLEMING
E. STACY,
Committee of Citizens of the 15th Dist., Liberty County, Ga.
**************
SOURCE: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series IV, Volume 2. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.​

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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ForeverFree said: one of our members seemed to say, "well of course black southerners fought for the South - they were fighting for their homes." This represents a totally failed view of black life in the South.
I can imagine some blacks would fight for the South because they lived there. Was it against their self interest? We would certainly say so now, and many of their peers would say so then. But it was also the only home they knew and they either saw little prospect of or little benefit in Union victory, especially before the Emancipation Proclamation. By proving themselves loyal they might advance their personal lot much as immigrants in the North enlisted to prove their dedication to their new country despite sometimes facing discrimination (especially the Irish). Minorities are not monolithic and some members will value their personal advancement over that of their fellow minority members.
Josh, I have two major problems with the comment "well of course black southerners fought for the South - they were fighting for their homes."

The first is that, it implies that enslaved Southerners ~ who were 96% of the Confederacy's black population ~ had the same concept of "home" as white southerners. Historians tell us, that is not true. The slaves' homes, like slaves themselves, were the property of the owner. For enslaved Southerners, their homes were houses of bondage; whites Southerners, slave owners especially, did not view their homes in this way. So the premise that enslaved Southerners' notion of "home" was the same as for white Southerners is incorrect on its face. And these difference in worldview would have serious consequences in the way that enslaved Southerners and white Southerners behaved during the war.

Second, we have to ask: exactly how many enslaved Southerners actually did fight for the South? We know that black enlistment was illegal until March 1865, weeks before Lee surrendered at Appomattox. When people start talking about "blacks fighting for 'the South'", especially enslaved people, I have to ask, who were these people and exactly how many of them were there?

I am sure that on an ad hoc basis some enslaved Southerners had a gun in their hands and used it. But the evidence of such is anecdotal, mainly because Southern whites themselves did not want enslaved people in the army. Even if enslaved people wanted to fight, they could not, because white Southerners would not allow it. Until March 1865.

So that comment ~ "well of course black southerners fought for the South - they were fighting for their homes" ~ contains premises that do not align with the history we know, and that's my main concern.

- Alan
 

matthew mckeon

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Josh, I have two major problems with the comment "well of course black southerners fought for the South - they were fighting for their homes."

The first is that, it implies that enslaved Southerners ~ who were 96% of the Confederacy's black population ~ had the same concept of "home" as white southerners. Historians tell us, that is not true. The slaves' homes, like slaves themselves, were the property of the owner. For enslaved Southerners, their homes were houses of bondage; whites Southerners, slave owners especially, did not view their homes in this way. So the premise that enslaved Southerners' notion of "home" was the same as for white Southerners is incorrect on its face. And these difference in worldview would have serious consequences in the way that enslaved Southerners and white Southerners behaved during the war.

Second, we have to ask: exactly how many enslaved Southerners actually did fight for the South? We know that black enlistment was illegal until March 1865, weeks before Lee surrendered at Appomattox. When people start talking about "blacks fighting for 'the South'", especially enslaved people, I have to ask, who were these people and exactly how many of them were there?

I am sure that on an ad hoc basis some enslaved Southerners had a gun in their hands and used it. But the evidence of such is anecdotal, mainly because Southern whites themselves did not want enslaved people in the army. Even if enslaved people wanted to fight, they could not, because white Southerners would not allow it. Until March 1865.

So that comment ~ "well of course black southerners fought for the South - they were fighting for their homes" ~ contains premises that do not align with the history we know, and that's my main concern.

- Alan
The enslaved southerners who were freed and enlisted in the US Army were fighting for their homes and families: only their homes and families were still to be achieved.
 

ForeverFree

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I can imagine some blacks would fight for the South because they lived there. Was it against their self interest? We would certainly say so now, and many of their peers would say so then. But it was also the only home they knew and they either saw little prospect of or little benefit in Union victory, especially before the Emancipation Proclamation. By proving themselves loyal they might advance their personal lot much as immigrants in the North enlisted to prove their dedication to their new country despite sometimes facing discrimination (especially the Irish). Minorities are not monolithic and some members will value their personal advancement over that of their fellow minority members.
Josh, two more comment on your comments.

Above, you ask the key question in regards to the behavior of enslaved persons: what was in "their self interest?" That is what we should focus on: what did these folks see as their best interest?

In the ante-bellum era, enslaved people had no choice but to submit to the coercion of the mastery. All of their actions were dictated by the despotism of enslavers (borrowing the language of the US Constitution, a despot is a person who deprives another of their natural rights to lie, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness). For slaves lacking a viable option, things like outward pledges of loyalty would have been the logical thing to do. These actions were, of course, behaviors based on the inherent vulnerability of people of color, as opposed to examples of them fighting for their "southern homes" in the same way that white Southerners would have conceived things.

The presence of Union forces gave enslaved people choices, and the closer that Union forces were, the more choices that black people had. Absent the presence of Union forces, it would be crazy for a slave to offer signs of resistance; that hadn't worked out well in the ante-bellum period.

So what's the point? Well, just because a slave is picking cotton in a plantation, that doesn't mean she supports slavery. Yet some people are trying to fashion the actions of slaves who, for example, might have dug ditches or provided other labor, as "supporting the Confederacy." But such labor, as with all slave labor, was the product of coerced obedience. We should not view forced obedience as a "choice" made by enslaved Southerners.
*********

The presence of the Union changed things. With the presence of the Union, enslaved people had viable options, and we often saw their behavior change. With interesting consequences.

Some people might think this counter-intuitive, but for many slaves, for some periods of time, the Civil War was the best time they ever had. As white men went to war, and there was less coercive control on the plantation, and slaves took liberties that bedeviled the whites who were left. It was for exactly this problem that the 20 negro law was passed. In many cases, slaves were badly needed to make up for the loss of white men, or the impressment of chattel property. Many used the situation to their advantage.

In a small number of cases, enslaved people were given inducements - such as wages or in-kind property - to keep slaves from fleeing to the Union lines. For many slaves it was the best of times.

But for many slaves, even with the Union around, flight was practically difficult, or even perilous as a war was waging. Many slaves did find it in their self interest to stay put, as opposed to being a war refugee. Some people will say that such behavior evidences support of the South or their masters; it is properly viewed as slaves, weighing their options, and doing what is in their best interests, not the interests of the Confederacy or the (white) South."

So yes, things were very very complicated in the South, and perhaps nothing that an individual slave did should surprise us.
********

@Joshism, to be sure, I agree with much of what you are saying. Your point of slaves acting in the self-interest is a point we should all focus on, and that includes gaining an understanding of what they saw as their best interest. I am really just adding to my point that that enslaved Southerners had their own unique view of the South, separate from that of white Southerners. It seems like some folks (not you @Joshism) are jumping to the false conclusion that those two groups automatically had the same interest because they lived on the same real estate. But that's not how it worked.

- Alan
 

ForeverFree

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The enslaved southerners who were freed and enlisted in the US Army were fighting for their homes and families: only their homes and families were still to be achieved.
It is so important to realize that enslaved Southerners did not hate the South, they hated enslavement.

Enslaved Southerners in the USCT, for example were not so much fighting "the South," as they were fighting to transform the South. They would re-make the South, not by destroying it, but by destroying slavery.

- Alan
 
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ForeverFree

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This is an excerpt from a newspaper account of a Meeting between Black Religious Leaders and Union Military Authorities in January 1865 in Savannah GA. The meeting was described as an "interview" between Colored Ministers and Church Officers with Secretary of War Stanton and Maj-Gen W T Sherman. Stanton and Sherman are asking these black men for their views on the war, the Union's goals, and black enlistment.

Of note is that the African American men are under no illusion that the United Stats entered the War with the goal of ending slavery. They understand that the emancipation policy is a strategy to achieve victory by incentivizing black support for the Union. But that being the case, they say they will support the Union cause:

First: State what your understanding is in regard to the acts of Congress and President Lincoln's [Emancipation] proclamation, touching the condition of the colored people in the Rebel States.

Answer–So far as I understand President Lincoln's proclamation to the Rebellious States, it is, that if they would lay down their arms and submit to the laws of the United States before the first of January, 1863, all should be well; but if they did not, then all the slaves in the Rebel States should be free henceforth and forever. That is what I understood.

Second–State what you understand by Slavery and the freedom that was to be given by the President's proclamation.

Answer–Slavery is, receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage, and placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor, take care of ourselves and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom.

Third: State in what manner you think you can take care of yourselves, and how can you best assist the Government in maintaining your freedom.

Answer: The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor–that is, by the labor of the women and children and old men; and we can soon maintain ourselves and have something to spare. And to assist the Government, the young men should enlist in the service of the Government, and serve in such manner as they may be wanted. (The Rebels told us that they piled them up and made batteries of them, and sold them to Cuba; but we don't believe that.) We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own.

Fourth: State in what manner you would rather live–whether scattered among the whites or in colonies by yourselves.

Answer: I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us in the South that will take years to get over; but I do not know that I can answer for my brethren. [Mr. Lynch says he thinks they should not be separated, but live together. All the other persons present, being questioned one by one, answer that they agree with Brother Frazier.]1

Sixth–State what is the feeling of the black population of the South toward the Government of the United States; what is the understanding in respect to the present war–its causes and object, and their disposition to aid either side. State fully your views.

Answer–I think you will find there are thousands that are willing to make any sacrifice to assist the Government of the United States, while there are also many that are not willing to take up arms. I do not suppose there are a dozen men that are opposed to the Government. I understand, as to the war, that the South is the aggressor. President Lincoln was elected President by a majority of the United States, which guaranteed him the right of holding the office and exercising that right over the whole United States. The South, without knowing what he would do, rebelled. The war was commenced by the Rebels before he came into office.

The object of the war was not at first to give the slaves their freedom, but the sole object of the war was at first to bring the rebellious States back into the Union and their loyalty to the laws of the United States. Afterward, knowing the value set on the slaves by the Rebels, the President thought that his proclamation would stimulate them to lay down their arms, reduce them to obedience, and help to bring back the Rebel States; and their not doing so has now made the freedom of the slaves a part of the war.

It is my opinion that there is not a man in this city that could be started to help the Rebels one inch, for that would be suicide. There were two black men left with the Rebels because they had taken an active part for the Rebels, and thought something might befall them if they stayed behind; but there is not another man. If the prayers that have gone up for the Union army could be read out, you would not get through them these two weeks.

Eighth: If the Rebel leaders were to arm the slaves, what would be its effect?

Answer: I think they would fight as long as they were before the bayonet, and just as soon as soon as they could get away, they would desert, in my opinion.
Note the third question, where the comment "The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor" is made by one of the black men. Following this, Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15 on January 16, 1865. This so-called "Forty acres and a mule" order "instructed officers to settle these refugees on the Sea Islands and inland: 400,000 total acres divided into 40-acre plots. Though mules (beasts of burden used for plowing) were not mentioned, some of its beneficiaries did receive them from the army."

- Alan
 
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The shooting war between the United States and the Confederate States did not begin until April 1861. In March of 1861, several enslaved Southerners from the Pensacola area of Florida attempted to gain freedom at Fort Pickens, a Union held fort in NW Florida. This communication from A. J. Slemmer, First Lieutenant, First Artillery, Commanding, describes the incident:

FORT PICKENS, FLA., March 18, 1861.
Lieut. Col. L. THOMAS, Assistant Adjutant-General, U. S. Army.

SIR: I have the honor to report that since my last report nothing has happened to disturb the peaceable relations existing between the U. S. forces and those opposing us.
...
On the morning of the 12th instant four negroes (runaways) came to the fort entertaining the idea that we were placed here to protect them and grant them their freedom. I did what I could to teach them the contrary. In the afternoon I took them to Pensacola and delivered them to the city marshal to be returned to their owners. That same night four more made their appearance. They were also turned over to the authorities next morning.
...
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. J. SLEMMER, First Lieutenant, First Artillery, Commanding.​

At the time, the Union was still adhering to the laws that fugitive slaves had to be returned to their masters. The enslaved men in question were indeed returned to their owners.

Why did these Southerners seek freedom at a Union fort? They probably heard that Southern whites were concerned that the incoming president was, to use the language of the day, a "BlackRepublican" who intended to abolish slavery. Perhaps they understood that a war between Southern whites and Northern whites was brewing; and that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But the US was nowhere near ready to embrace enslaved Southerners as allies; after all, the shooting war had not yet begun. Times would change, but not yet. These Southerners, unfortunately for them, were ahead of their time.

- Alan

> In May of 1861, Gen Benjamin Butler would begin giving asylum to enslaved Southerners under his "contraband of war" policy.
 
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KansasFreestater

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I am curious @8thFlorida, and I ask this of others as well: what do you believe was the general view of enslaved southerners to the war? The noted scholar W.E.B. DuBois called the black experience during the war a "general strike." The Pulitzer Prize winning historian Steven Hahn has called it the greatest slave rebellion in history, albeit, not one where every rebel took up a weapon. Most historians seem to feel that enslaved people - who were 96% of the CSA's black population - saw the war (or more precisely, the presence of the Union) as an opportunity to gain freedom, not as an opportunity to "fight for the South." This is a generalization - we would not expect that 3.5 million enslaved people would act as a monolith - but this is the consensus among modern scholars, I think it's fair to say.

Do you agree?

This is a letter from Major General Patrick Cleburne. In January 1864, he proposed granting freedom to slaves who enlisted in the Confederate army. These are some excerpts from his proposal:

Moved by the exigency in which our country is now placed we take the liberty of laying before you, unofficially, our views on the present state of affairs. The subject is so grave, and our views so new, we feel it a duty both to you and the cause that before going further we should submit them for your judgment and receive your suggestions in regard to them.

...We (Confederates) can see three great causes operating to destroy us: First, the inferiority of our armies to those of the enemy in point of numbers; second, the poverty of our single source of supply in comparison with his several sources; third, the fact that slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.

The enemy already opposes us at every point with superior numbers, and is endeavoring to make the preponderance irresistible. President Davis, in his recent message, says the enemy "has recently ordered a large conscription and made a subsequent call for volunteers, to be followed, if ineffectual by a still further draft." In addition, the President of the United States announces that "he has already in training an army of 100,000 negroes as good as any troops," and every fresh raid he makes and new slice of territory he wrests from us will add to this force.

...In touching the third cause, the fact that slavery has become a military weakness, we may rouse prejudice and passion, but the time has come when it would be madness not to look at our danger from every point of view, and to probe it to the bottom. Apart from the assistance that home and foreign prejudice against slavery has given to the North, slavery is a source of great strength to the enemy in a purely military point of view, by supplying him with an army from our granaries; but it is our most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.

Wherever slavery is once seriously disturbed, whether by the actual presence or the approach of the enemy, or even by a cavalry raid, the whites can no longer with safety to their property openly sympathize with our cause. The fear of their slaves is continually haunting them, and from silence and apprehension many of these soon learn to wish the war stopped on any terms. The next stage is to take the oath to save property, and they become dead to us, if not open enemies. To prevent raids we are forced to scatter our forces, and are not free to move and strike like the enemy; his vulnerable points are carefully selected and fortified depots. Ours are found in every point where there is a slave to set free.

All along the lines slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information. It is an omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources, and yet acting so safely and secretly that there is no means to guard against it. Even in the heart of our country, where our hold upon this secret espionage is firmest, it waits but the opening fire of the enemy's battle line to wake it, like a torpid serpent, into venomous activity.

...we propose... that we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war.​

Cleburne says that at January 1864 "slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness." @8thFlorida, do you think Cleburne was correct? And what do you make of him requesting that slaves be used as Confederate soldiers - do you think that in his travels, by January 1864, he was simply unlucky to not have encountered any of the tens of thousands of slaves who are claimed to have been fighting for the Confederacy?

- Alan
The letter from Cleburne is fascinating. He was one insightful guy. Thank you for sharing it -- as well as your own thoughts, as always, well-informed and well-expressed.
 

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This is an excerpt from a newspaper account of a Meeting between Black Religious Leaders and Union Military Authorities in January 1865 in Savannah GA. The meeting was described as an "interview" between Colored Ministers and Church Officers with Secretary of War Stanton and Maj-Gen W T Sherman. Stanton and Sherman are asking these black men for their views on the war, the Union's goals, and black enlistment.

Of note is that the African American men are under no illusion that the United Stats entered the War with the goal of ending slavery. They understand that the emancipation policy is a strategy to achieve victory by incentivizing black support for the Union. But that being the case, they say they will support the Union cause:

First: State what your understanding is in regard to the acts of Congress and President Lincoln's [Emancipation] proclamation, touching the condition of the colored people in the Rebel States.

Answer–So far as I understand President Lincoln's proclamation to the Rebellious States, it is, that if they would lay down their arms and submit to the laws of the United States before the first of January, 1863, all should be well; but if they did not, then all the slaves in the Rebel States should be free henceforth and forever. That is what I understood.

Second–State what you understand by Slavery and the freedom that was to be given by the President's proclamation.

Answer–Slavery is, receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage, and placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor, take care of ourselves and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom.

Third: State in what manner you think you can take care of yourselves, and how can you best assist the Government in maintaining your freedom.

Answer: The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor–that is, by the labor of the women and children and old men; and we can soon maintain ourselves and have something to spare. And to assist the Government, the young men should enlist in the service of the Government, and serve in such manner as they may be wanted. (The Rebels told us that they piled them up and made batteries of them, and sold them to Cuba; but we don't believe that.) We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own.

Fourth: State in what manner you would rather live–whether scattered among the whites or in colonies by yourselves.

Answer: I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us in the South that will take years to get over; but I do not know that I can answer for my brethren. [Mr. Lynch says he thinks they should not be separated, but live together. All the other persons present, being questioned one by one, answer that they agree with Brother Frazier.]1

Sixth–State what is the feeling of the black population of the South toward the Government of the United States; what is the understanding in respect to the present war–its causes and object, and their disposition to aid either side. State fully your views.

Answer–I think you will find there are thousands that are willing to make any sacrifice to assist the Government of the United States, while there are also many that are not willing to take up arms. I do not suppose there are a dozen men that are opposed to the Government. I understand, as to the war, that the South is the aggressor. President Lincoln was elected President by a majority of the United States, which guaranteed him the right of holding the office and exercising that right over the whole United States. The South, without knowing what he would do, rebelled. The war was commenced by the Rebels before he came into office.

The object of the war was not at first to give the slaves their freedom, but the sole object of the war was at first to bring the rebellious States back into the Union and their loyalty to the laws of the United States. Afterward, knowing the value set on the slaves by the Rebels, the President thought that his proclamation would stimulate them to lay down their arms, reduce them to obedience, and help to bring back the Rebel States; and their not doing so has now made the freedom of the slaves a part of the war.

It is my opinion that there is not a man in this city that could be started to help the Rebels one inch, for that would be suicide. There were two black men left with the Rebels because they had taken an active part for the Rebels, and thought something might befall them if they stayed behind; but there is not another man. If the prayers that have gone up for the Union army could be read out, you would not get through them these two weeks.

Eighth: If the Rebel leaders were to arm the slaves, what would be its effect?

Answer: I think they would fight as long as they were before the bayonet, and just as soon as soon as they could get away, they would desert, in my opinion.
Note the third question, where the comment "The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor" is made by one of the black men. Following this, Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15 on January 16, 1865. This so-called "Forty acres and a mule" order "instructed officers to settle these refugees on the Sea Islands and inland: 400,000 total acres divided into 40-acre plots. Though mules (beasts of burden used for plowing) were not mentioned, some of its beneficiaries did receive them from the army."

- Alan
Wow, it's so enlightening to read the words -- and thus see how they viewed things -- of the people of that time,
at the time. Thanks for locating and sharing these invaluable records.
 

19thGeorgia

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We know that black enlistment was illegal until March 1865, weeks before Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

- Alan
Of all the black men who enlisted in the Confederate army -prior to March 1865- and then were discharged for that reason (which was a small number compared to the whole), I never came across one where the enlistment was described as "illegal." It was referred to as irregular or improper or some other similar term, but never illegal.
 

jgoodguy

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Of all the black men who enlisted in the Confederate army -prior to March 1865- and then were discharged for that reason (which was a small number compared to the whole), I never came across one where the enlistment was described as "illegal." It was referred to as irregular or improper or some other similar term, but never illegal.
Please provide the counts of each.
 

ForeverFree

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Of all the black men who enlisted in the Confederate army -prior to March 1865- and then were discharged for that reason (which was a small number compared to the whole), I never came across one where the enlistment was described as "illegal." It was referred to as irregular or improper or some other similar term, but never illegal.
(1) The enlistment of enslaved southerners could still have been illegal, even though the term irregular or improper was used on the form. If it was illegal, then that would mean it was also irregular or improper, or any other synonym that one wants to use.

(2) I am not really sure that it's significant that the term irregular or improper was used instead of illegal. But it seems you find some significance in it. Could you discuss your thoughts on this?

(3) How many cases of irregular or improper enlistment did you find which involved enslaved Southerners? I was specifically mentioning this group of persons.

- Alan
 

WJC

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I am curious @8thFlorida, and I ask this of others as well: what do you believe was the general view of enslaved southerners to the war? The noted scholar W.E.B. DuBois called the black experience during the war a "general strike." The Pulitzer Prize winning historian Steven Hahn has called it the greatest slave rebellion in history, albeit, not one where every rebel took up a weapon. Most historians seem to feel that enslaved people - who were 96% of the CSA's black population - saw the war (or more precisely, the presence of the Union) as an opportunity to gain freedom, not as an opportunity to "fight for the South." This is a generalization - we would not expect that 3.5 million enslaved people would act as a monolith - but this is the consensus among modern scholars, I think it's fair to say.

Do you agree?

This is a letter from Major General Patrick Cleburne. In January 1864, he proposed granting freedom to slaves who enlisted in the Confederate army. These are some excerpts from his proposal:

Moved by the exigency in which our country is now placed we take the liberty of laying before you, unofficially, our views on the present state of affairs. The subject is so grave, and our views so new, we feel it a duty both to you and the cause that before going further we should submit them for your judgment and receive your suggestions in regard to them.

...We (Confederates) can see three great causes operating to destroy us: First, the inferiority of our armies to those of the enemy in point of numbers; second, the poverty of our single source of supply in comparison with his several sources; third, the fact that slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.

The enemy already opposes us at every point with superior numbers, and is endeavoring to make the preponderance irresistible. President Davis, in his recent message, says the enemy "has recently ordered a large conscription and made a subsequent call for volunteers, to be followed, if ineffectual by a still further draft." In addition, the President of the United States announces that "he has already in training an army of 100,000 negroes as good as any troops," and every fresh raid he makes and new slice of territory he wrests from us will add to this force.

...In touching the third cause, the fact that slavery has become a military weakness, we may rouse prejudice and passion, but the time has come when it would be madness not to look at our danger from every point of view, and to probe it to the bottom. Apart from the assistance that home and foreign prejudice against slavery has given to the North, slavery is a source of great strength to the enemy in a purely military point of view, by supplying him with an army from our granaries; but it is our most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.

Wherever slavery is once seriously disturbed, whether by the actual presence or the approach of the enemy, or even by a cavalry raid, the whites can no longer with safety to their property openly sympathize with our cause. The fear of their slaves is continually haunting them, and from silence and apprehension many of these soon learn to wish the war stopped on any terms. The next stage is to take the oath to save property, and they become dead to us, if not open enemies. To prevent raids we are forced to scatter our forces, and are not free to move and strike like the enemy; his vulnerable points are carefully selected and fortified depots. Ours are found in every point where there is a slave to set free.

All along the lines slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information. It is an omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources, and yet acting so safely and secretly that there is no means to guard against it. Even in the heart of our country, where our hold upon this secret espionage is firmest, it waits but the opening fire of the enemy's battle line to wake it, like a torpid serpent, into venomous activity.

...we propose... that we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war.​

Cleburne says that at January 1864 "slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness." @8thFlorida, do you think Cleburne was correct? And what do you make of him requesting that slaves be used as Confederate soldiers - do you think that in his travels, by January 1864, he was simply unlucky to not have encountered any of the tens of thousands of slaves who are claimed to have been fighting for the Confederacy?

- Alan
Thanks for posting these excerpts. Though I'd heard of Cleburne's letter, I'd never read any of it before. He certainly presents a fair assessment.
 


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