Would the South Have Armed Slaves?

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#1
The answer to this question is, of course, yes - in March 1865, when it was far too late. In November 1864, Davis proposed arming 40,000 slaves to no result. There was also Cleburne's infamous January 1864 proposal to arm slaves in exchange for their freedom at the war's completion, also to no result.

My question: was there even a chance the Confederacy would have armed slaves when there was still even a glimmer of hope to not lose the war? My own tentative answer is that there was never really a chance. Most Southerners would never accept it, and many soldiers would likely have mutinied or deserted. Davis' many political enemies, such as Robert Toombs, Joseph E. Brown, Alexander H. Stephens and Zebulon B. Vance would be at the head of the outrage. Davis may even have found his actions grounds for impeachment proceedings.

Despite this, one idea I had was this:
- Point of divergence: William H. T. Walker is killed at Chickamauga.
- Cleburne approaches Johnston privately with his proposal. Johnston suggests sending it to the president, but recommends sending through Robert E. Lee.
- Lee brings it to Davis, and he and Judah Benjamin bring him round to the idea. Lee publicly approves Cleburne's proposal, somewhat calming the outrage. Yet here I still can't see Lee's support making a difference.

But what say you?
 

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jgoodguy

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#2
The answer to this question is, of course, yes - in March 1865, when it was far too late. In November 1864, Davis proposed arming 40,000 slaves to no result. There was also Cleburne's infamous January 1864 proposal to arm slaves in exchange for their freedom at the war's completion, also to no result.

My question: was there even a chance the Confederacy would have armed slaves when there was still even a glimmer of hope to not lose the war? My own tentative answer is that there was never really a chance. Most Southerners would never accept it, and many soldiers would likely have mutinied or deserted. Davis' many political enemies, such as Robert Toombs, Joseph E. Brown, Alexander H. Stephens and Zebulon B. Vance would be at the head of the outrage. Davis may even have found his actions grounds for impeachment proceedings.

Despite this, one idea I had was this:
- Point of divergence: William H. T. Walker is killed at Chickamauga.
- Cleburne approaches Johnston privately with his proposal. Johnston suggests sending it to the president, but recommends sending through Robert E. Lee.
- Lee brings it to Davis, and he and Judah Benjamin bring him round to the idea. Lee publicly approves Cleburne's proposal, somewhat calming the outrage. Yet here I still can't see Lee's support making a difference.

But what say you?
I agree with the observation that the arm the slaves impulse increased when the military situation was desperate and decreased when the military situation was not desperate. Arm the slaves would have only lasted until there were military successes. Then there is the problem of finding slave owners willing to let the CSA government have their slaves. The CSA always had problems obtaining slaves for work, much less getting killed.
 
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#3
I agree with the observation that the arm the slaves impulse increased when the military situation was desperate and decreased when the military situation was not desperate. Arm the slaves would have only lasted until there were military successes. Then there is the problem of finding slave owners willing to let the CSA government have their slaves. The CSA always had problems obtaining slaves for work, much less getting killed.
Agree.. like Sec of State Robert MT Hunter said when asked on the topic "What are we fighting this war for if not to protect our property". Sending them off to die doesn't do that.

And plenty of people had the same opinion as General Stevens of the SConfederacy who said "If slavery is to be abolished then I take no more interest in our fight. The justification of slavery in the South is the inferiority of the negro. If we make him a soldier, we concede the whole question."

It was only in absolute desperation that Congress was finally willing to pass the vote. A few weeks before Appomattox.
 

jgoodguy

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#5
I was working on a story based on Clebure's proposal getting enacted by the Confederate Congress. Was enthusiastic about the concept, until i read into Craig Symonds' book on Patrick Cleburne Stonewall of the West and read the chapter on his proposal, and how futile the possibility of its enactment was.
It is a good example of what we moderns think is an excellent solution to a problem, is inconceivable to the 19th-century secessionists. The internal logic of taking a position on slavery that results in the loss of both slavery and independence can be mind-boggling.

Jefferson Davis said it very well. Died of a Theory.
...
Of all New World slave societies, the Confederacy stood alone in predicating its very existence on the ideological defense of slavery, and thus rendering slaves’ military service a contradiction in terms. No other Atlantic slave power — not even the Brazilian planters who stood largely unopposed within their nation until the 1870s — so fiercely constructed ideological defenses of slavery as a legitimate, and indeed beneficial, modern social institution. And so, likewise, the Confederacy stood alone in contradicting the Atlantic norm of trading slaves service for freedom.

This proved to be a critical weakness, uniquely condemning the slave power of the Confederacy to be undone by the very institution it sought most to conserve. In 1865, Confederate congressman Howell Cobb of Georgia rebuked those who called for the Confederacy’s enlistment of black soldiers: “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.” Confederate President Jefferson Davis demurred: “If the Confederacy falls there should be written on its tombstone, ‘Died of a theory.’”
 

Carronade

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#8
I was working on a story based on Clebure's proposal getting enacted by the Confederate Congress. Was enthusiastic about the concept, until i read into Craig Symonds' book on Patrick Cleburne Stonewall of the West and read the chapter on his proposal, and how futile the possibility of its enactment was.
Sorry to hear you're not pursuing your idea. Speculative fiction by definition can depart from actual history.
 

wbull1

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#10
Im continuing the project still. Just gonna be slightly less realistic than i thought it would be.

Completely unrealistic, which is no reason not to write the project. You might consider the idea that the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, made up of free Creoles, was accepted as a volunteer group since none of them were slaves [did not happen] and that their performance in battle showed that black soldiers could do very well. Then blacks who fought alongside their masters demonstrate bravery. That might lead to a gradual change in attitudes. Good luck.
 
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#11
Agree.. like Sec of State Robert MT Hunter said when asked on the topic "What are we fighting this war for if not to protect our property". Sending them off to die doesn't do that.

And plenty of people had the same opinion as General Stevens of the SConfederacy who said "If slavery is to be abolished then I take no more interest in our fight. The justification of slavery in the South is the inferiority of the negro. If we make him a soldier, we concede the whole question."

It was only in absolute desperation that Congress was finally willing to pass the vote. A few weeks before Appomattox.
And right there is why I support the Confederacy.
They were able to learn that slaves would indeed make good soldiers and good soldiers make good citizens.

It was a long hard way to learn and unfortunately that country does not exist anymore the country that took it over the United States of America parts of it still have trouble making that distinction. I'm not talking about the Old South I'm talking about what makes a good citizen.
 

unionblue

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#12
The answer to this question is, of course, yes - in March 1865, when it was far too late. In November 1864, Davis proposed arming 40,000 slaves to no result. There was also Cleburne's infamous January 1864 proposal to arm slaves in exchange for their freedom at the war's completion, also to no result.

My question: was there even a chance the Confederacy would have armed slaves when there was still even a glimmer of hope to not lose the war? My own tentative answer is that there was never really a chance. Most Southerners would never accept it, and many soldiers would likely have mutinied or deserted. Davis' many political enemies, such as Robert Toombs, Joseph E. Brown, Alexander H. Stephens and Zebulon B. Vance would be at the head of the outrage. Davis may even have found his actions grounds for impeachment proceedings.

Despite this, one idea I had was this:
- Point of divergence: William H. T. Walker is killed at Chickamauga.
- Cleburne approaches Johnston privately with his proposal. Johnston suggests sending it to the president, but recommends sending through Robert E. Lee.
- Lee brings it to Davis, and he and Judah Benjamin bring him round to the idea. Lee publicly approves Cleburne's proposal, somewhat calming the outrage. Yet here I still can't see Lee's support making a difference.

But what say you?
No.
 

wbull1

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#13
And right there is why I support the Confederacy.
They were able to learn that slaves would indeed make good soldiers and good soldiers make good citizens.

It was a long hard way to learn and unfortunately that country does not exist anymore the country that took it over the United States of America parts of it still have trouble making that distinction. I'm not talking about the Old South I'm talking about what makes a good citizen.

Excuse me, but the Confederacy did not learn anything. They passed the law making it possible for slaves to be trained, with their owner's permission, but none were ever involved in fighting. The Confederates learned former slaves made good soldiers when they had to face United States Colored Troops. Confederates offer of citizenship was theoretical since none was ever awarded to former slaves. Citizenship came when the Constitution of the United States was amended. The actions you support were performed — by the United States not by the Confederacy.
 

jackt62

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#14
While Pat Cleburne advocated arming slaves, it's important to remember that his was not a typical southern background. His southern loyalty had more to do with the friendship and affection he felt from his community and neighbors after immigrating from Ireland and eventually relocating to Helena, Arkansas. The continuance and importance of the slave system was not integral to Cleburne's thought process; arming slaves was to his military mind, simply a realistic way to raise needed manpower. That's why his proposal was anathema to the southern leadership, his proposal was quietly put on the back burner, and Cleburne's prospects for promotion stymied.
 

BlueandGrayl

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#15
Completely unrealistic, which is no reason not to write the project. You might consider the idea that the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, made up of free Creoles, was accepted as a volunteer group since none of them were slaves [did not happen] and that their performance in battle showed that black soldiers could do very well. Then blacks who fought alongside their masters demonstrate bravery. That might lead to a gradual change in attitudes. Good luck.
Creoles are probably a much better option for a hypothetical CSCT (Confederate States Colored Troops).
 
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#16
The answer to this question is, of course, yes - in March 1865, when it was far too late. In November 1864, Davis proposed arming 40,000 slaves to no result.
There were several results: public debate, which largely ended up in favor of the idea, and eventual pressure on a reluctant Congress to legalize black soldiers for the CS. It just took time, something Davis chided the Congress for, since time over the winter could have been spent on recruiting and training.
 

Harvey Johnson

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#18
The answer to this question is, of course, yes - in March 1865, when it was far too late. In November 1864, Davis proposed arming 40,000 slaves to no result.
Not quite. He proposed putting 40,000 blacks into the army as noncombatants and compensating their owners in order to keep them on active duty until the war was won, when they would be freed. He added, however, that if it ever became necessary to use them as soldiers, "there seems to be no reason to doubt what should then be our decision."*

My question: was there even a chance the Confederacy would have armed slaves when there was still even a glimmer of hope to not lose the war? . . .

. . . [O]ne idea I had was this:

- . . . William H. T. Walker is killed at Chickamauga.
- Cleburne approaches Johnston privately with his [January 1864] proposal. Johnston suggests sending it to the president, but recommends sending through Robert E. Lee.
- Lee brings it to Davis, and he and Judah Benjamin bring him round to the idea. Lee publicly approves Cleburne's proposal, somewhat calming the outrage. Yet here I still can't see Lee's support making a difference.

But what say you?
The above scenario might have resulted in arming the slaves soon enough to prolong the war due to the influence of Lee and Benjamin. After the war, for example, ex-Virginia Governor Henry Wise accused his son of disgracing the family name by taking a Union loyalty oath. When the son explained that Lee advised it, Wise replied: "That alters the case. Whatever General Lee says is right, I don't care what it is."

There was, however, another omnipotent challenge to Confederate survival. Specifically, on March 1, 1865 federal War Secretary Stanton directed that all Union soldiers be armed with breechloading shoulder arms. Given such a technological disadvantage the chances of a Rebel victory would be as slim as an Apache Indian getting elected Pope.

* William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis (New York: HarperCollier, 1991), 597
 
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jgoodguy

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#19
Not quite. He proposed putting 40,000 blacks into the army as noncombatants and compensating their owners in order to keep them on active duty until the war was won, when they would be freed. He added, however, that if it ever became necessary to use them as soldiers, "there seems to be no reason to doubt what should then be our decision."*



The above scenario might have resulted in arming the slaves soon enough to prolong the war due to the influence of Lee and Benjamin. After the war, for example, ex-Virginia Governor Henry Wise accused his son of disgracing the family name by taking a Union loyalty oath. When the son explained that Lee advised it, Wise replied: "That alters the case. Whatever General Lee says is right, I don't care what it is."

There was, however, another omnipotent challenge to Confederate survival. Specifically, on March 1, 1865 federal War Secretary Stanton directed that all Union soldiers be armed with breechloading shoulder arms. Given such a technological disadvantage the chances of a Rebel victory would be as slim as an Apache Indian getting elected Pope.

* William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis (New York: HarperCollier, 1991), 597
Good points, but IMHO I'd add that Davis was just one actor in this political drama. I believe him to be a Southern Nationalist, but there were others whose ideology was different. IMHO they believed the Southern Nation was a means to the end of protecting slavery instead the end being Southern independence.
 

wbull1

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#20
Good points, but IMHO I'd add that Davis was just one actor in this political drama. I believe him to be a Southern Nationalist, but there were others whose ideology was different. IMHO they believed the Southern Nation was a means to the end of protecting slavery instead the end being Southern independence.

I'm not clear on the difference. It seems to me Davis said the need for an independent nation was to protect slavery. His response to the north arming black soldiers was to suggest hanging Butler and captured black soldiers.
 

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