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Author Post
Fri Aug 15 2008, 04:38PM

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Joined: Tue Jul 17 2007, 02:46PM
Posts: 4077



Fourth Edition

Michael T. Griffith


@All Rights Reserved

In the July 1919 issue of The Journal of Negro History, Charles S. Wesley discussed the issue of blacks in the Confederate army:

The loyalty of the slave in guarding home and family during his master’s absence has long been eloquently orated. The Negroes’ loyalty extended itself even to service in the Confederate army. Believing their land invaded by hostile foes, slaves eagerly offered themselves for service in actual warfare. . . .

At the outbreak of the war, an observer in Charleston noted the war-time preparations and called particular attention to “the thousand Negroes who, so far from inclining to insurrections, were grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of shooting the Yankees.” In the same city, one of the daily papers stated in early January that 150 free colored men had offered their services to the Confederate Government, and at Memphis a recruiting office was opened. In June 1861 the Legislature of Tennessee authorized Governor Harris to receive into the state military service all male persons of color between the ages of fifteen and fifty and to provide them with eight dollars a month, clothing, and rations. . . . In the same state, under the command of Confederate officers, marched a procession of several hundred colored men carrying shovels, axes, and blankets. The observer adds, “they were brimful of patriotism, shouting for Jeff Davis and singing war songs.” A paper in Lynchburg, Virginia, commenting on the enlistment of seventy free Negroes to fight for the defense of the State, concluded with “three cheers for the patriotic Negroes of Lynchburg.”

Two weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter, several companies of volunteers of color passed through Augusta, Georgia, on their way to Virginia to engage in actual war. . . . In November of the same year, a military review was held in New Orleans, where twenty-eight thousand troops passed before Governor Moore, General Lowell, and General Ruggles. The line of march extended beyond seven miles and included one regiment comprised of 1,400 free colored men. (In J. H. Segars and Charles Kelly Barrow, editors, Black Southerners in Confederate Armies: A Collection of Historical Accounts, Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Lion Books, 2001, pp. 2-4)

Civil War author Francis Springer noted two other accounts of free blacks showing support for the Confederacy:

The Petersburg Daily Express of April 26, 1861, had it that 300 free Negroes about to leave the city to work on fortifications, assembled at the courthouse to hear a speech by ex-mayor John Dodson. Charles Tinsley, one of the free Negroes, said, “We are willing to aid Virginia’s cause to the utmost extent of our ability.” He stepped forward to receive the Confederate flag, stating, “I could feel no greater pride, no more genuine gratification than to plant this flag on Fortress Monroe.” Other work crews marched through the city, singing, headed for the fortifications, according to reports of the times. The Charleston Evening News said that about 125 free Negroes arrived in Petersburg, uniformed in red shirts and dark pants, all in fine spirits and carrying the flag of the Confederacy on their way to work in fortifications around Norfolk. (War for What?, p. 86)

Springer also discussed an incident in which a group of slaves who had been forced to serve in the Union army volunteered to fight for the Confederacy after they were captured by Confederate forces:

Some Union Negro troops, captured by General Forrest on his last Tennessee raid, had been put to work on some fortifications in Mobile Bay. On an inspection tour, General Richard Taylor complimented them on their work, whereupon one of their leading members said, “Give us some guns, Marse General, and we’ll fight for you too. We’d rather fight for our own white folks than for strangers.” Evidently they were Southern Negroes who had been impressed [forced] into service on the Union side. (War for What?, p. 106)

As mentioned above, there are many accounts of slaves coming to the aid of Confederate soldiers during and after combat. Perhaps this is an indication that Confederate officers usually tried to properly care for the slaves who were working in their units. General Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, issued a written order that “All employees of this army, black as well as white, shall receive the same rations, quarters, and medical treatment.”

In late April 1862, General John B. Magruder of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia learned that Secretary of War George Randolph had received complaints about how slaves were being treated in his unit. Magruder wrote to Randolph to assure him that his unit was doing all it could to properly care for its slaves. We should pause to note two things here: One, that apparently some Confederate citizens took the time to raise concerns about the treatment of the slaves in Magruder’s army. And, two, that Magruder felt he needed to respond to the complaints by writing a letter to the Secretary of War himself. In his letter, Magruder said the following:

Sir, I have learned that complaints have been made to you of the treatment of the slaves employed in this army.

It is quite true that much hardship has been endured by the negroes in the recent prosecution of the defensive works on our lines; but this has been unavoidable, owing to the constant and long-continued wet weather. Every precaution has been adopted to secure their health and safety as far as circumstances would allow. The soldiers, however, have been more exposed and have suffered far more than the slaves. The latter [the slaves] have always slept under cover and have had fires to make them comfortable, while the men have been working in the rain, have stood in the trenches and rifle pits in mud and water almost knee-deep, without shelter, fire, or sufficient food. There has been sickness among the soldiers and the slaves, but far more among the former than the latter. (Letter from General John B. Magruder to Secretary of War George Randolph, April 29, 1862, in Segars and Barrow, Black Southerners in Confederate Armies, p. 44)

Another untold story of the Civil War is the brutal way that many Union forces treated Southern slaves. One Union unit, commanded by Colonel John Turchin, moved into Athens, Georgia, and, with Turchin’s approval, spent weeks in the slave huts “debauching the females.” Turchin’s superior officers court-martialed and convicted him for his crimes. (Amazingly, Lincoln later promoted Turchin to brigadier general.) In another case, Colonel Ignatz Kappner reported to his superiors that Union troops “broke en masse in the camps of the colored women and are committing all sorts of outrage.” In some cases, Union soldiers would torture and even kill slaves who would not reveal the location of their masters’ valuables. Union soldiers usually viewed captured or runaway slaves as “contrabands” and often mistreated them. Says McPherson,

While northern soldiers had no love for slavery, most of them had no love for slaves either. . . . While some Yanks treated contrabands with a degree of equity and benevolence, the more typical response was indifference, contempt, and cruelty. Soon after Union forces captured Port Royal, South Carolina, in November 1861, a private described an incident there that made him “ashamed of America”: “About 8-10 soldiers from the New York 47th chased some Negro women but they escaped, so they took a Negro girl about 7-9 years old, and raped her.” From Virginia a Connecticut soldier wrote that some men of his regiment had taken “two [censored] wenches [women] . . . turned them upon their heads, and put tobacco, chips, sticks, lighted cigars and sand into their behinds.” Even when Billy Yank welcomed the contrabands, he often did so from utilitarian rather than humanitarian motives. “Officers and men are having an easy time,” wrote a Maine soldier from occupied Louisiana in 1862. “We have Negroes to do all fatigue work, cooking and washing clothes." (The Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 497, emphasis added)

The case of the Union army’s treatment of the slaves in Bisland, Louisiana, is another example of federal mistreatment of Southern slaves. When Union forces occupied the area around Bisland, they caused the deaths of numerous slaves and left hundreds of others in terrible condition. When Confederate forces recaptured the area, they found shallow graves where slaves had been hastily buried. They found a local sugar house filled with dead and dying slaves. In one location the roads were lined with slaves who were half-starved, sick, and unable to care for themselves. Upon seeing the plight of the Bisland slaves, the Confederate troops provided them with food, medicine, and transportation, saving hundreds of them from certain death (James and Walter Kennedy, The South Was Right!, Second Edition, Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 1994, pp. 143-144; David Edmonds, editor, The Conduct of Federal Troops in Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana: The Acadiana Press, 1988, pp. 116-119).

Textbooks note that approximately 150,000 slaves served in the Union army, but they rarely inform the reader that thousands of those men were forced to serve. Union army records and other sources document that thousands of slaves were abducted and then forced into federal military service; some were taken from their plantations during Union raids, while others were seized in areas that were occupied by federal forces. General John Logan told General Grant, “A major of colored troops is here capturing negroes, with or without their consent.” General Lovell Rousseau informed General G. H. Thomas that “officers in command of colored troops are in constant habit of pressing [i] all able-bodied slaves into the military service of the U.S.” Even in the Union slave state of Kentucky, federal gunboats raided plantations, “carrying off slaves to help build military railroads, fortifications, and wagon roads” (Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, p. 161). In May 1862, federal troops in South Carolina forcefully rounded up hundreds of slaves in compliance with General David Hunter’s order to raise two regiments of black troops from slaves (or “contrabands”) in his region. Edward Pierce, a special agent with the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Port Royal, South Carolina, described one conscription scene in a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase dated May 12, 1862:

The scenes of today . . . have been distressing. . . . Some 500 men were hurried . . . from Ladies and Saint Helena to Beaufort . . . and then carried to Hilton Head. . . . The negroes were sad. . . . The superintendents . . . aided the military in the disagreeable affair, disavowing the act. Sometimes whole plantations, learning what was going on, ran off into the woods for refuge. Others, with no means of escape, submitted passively to the inevitable decree. . . . (Keys, The Uncivil War, p. 21)

The next day Pierce wrote to General Hunter to tell him about the consequences of his order. He said slaves were taken suddenly and weren’t allowed to go home before leaving. He added that some of the slaves wailed and screamed and that others fled into the woods but were pursued by soldiers:

The colored people became suspicious of the presence of the companies of soldiers detailed for the service. . . . They were taken from the fields without being allowed to go to their homes even to get a jacket. . . . There was sadness in all. As those on this plantation were called in from the fields, the soldiers, under orders, and while on the steps of my headquarters, loaded their guns, so that the negroes might see what would take place in case they attempted to get away. . . .

On some plantations the wailing and screaming were loud and the women threw themselves in despair on the ground. On some plantations the people took to the woods and were hunted up by the soldiers. (Keys, The Uncivil War, pp. 21-22)

The conscription of slaves by federal forces continued even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. For example, several months after the proclamation was issued, General Innis Palmer wanted to provide “laborers” for federal troops at Fort Monroe. He informed his superior on September 1, 1864, that even though he was having trouble “collecting the colored men” for this purpose, he had already sent 221 of them and was expecting to get “a large lot” the next day:

. . . the negroes will not go voluntarily, so I am obliged to force them. I have sent seventy-one and will send this afternoon about 150. I expect to get a large lot tomorrow. . . The matter of collecting the colored men for laborers has been one of some difficulty, but I hope to send up a respectable force. . . . They will not go willingly. . . . They must be forced to go. . . . I am aware that this may be considered a harsh measure, but . . . we must not stop at trifles. (Keys, The Uncivil War, p. 106)

Southern family journals and letters contain numerous accounts of Union soldiers forcefully removing slaves from their homes, even when the slaves made it clear they didn’t want to leave (see, for example, Henry Steele Commager, editor, The Civil War Archive: The History of the Civil War in Documents, New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2000, pp. 333-336, 675-677).

I’m not suggesting that all slaves remained loyal to their masters or to the South during the war. Many thousands of Southern slaves did in fact flock to Union lines, just as thousands of colonial slaves flocked to British lines during the Revolutionary War. But many Southern slaves remained loyal, and quite of few of them viewed Union troops as invaders.

What If the South Had Been Allowed to Go in Peace?

Did the world end when America became a separate country from England? No, and not only have America and England long been staunch allies and close trading partners, but their peoples continue to share many friendships and family relationships. Norway seceded from Sweden, without a war, and the two countries still enjoy friendly relations. Although I don’t advocate modern secession, and although I’m proud of the many good things that America has done, I don’t think it would have been the end of the world if the South had been allowed to go in peace.

I think both the U.S.A. and the C.S.A. would have flourished. Interchange between the states of the two nations would have continued almost exactly as before. If anything, the presence of a prosperous low-tax, limited-government Southern confederacy would have been a powerful incentive for the federal government to limit taxes and to adhere more closely to the Constitution.

Some critics have suggested that if the Confederacy had survived, World War II may have had a different outcome. But the fact that England and America separated didn’t prevent them from later joining forces to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II. The U.S. and the Confederacy certainly would have teamed up to do the same thing.

If the South had been permitted to go in peace, slavery would have died a natural death in a matter of a few decades, if not sooner. Before the war, even some Northern politicians, such as William Seward, said slavery was a dying institution. The percentage of Southern whites who belonged to slaveholding families dropped by 5 percent from 1850-1860 (Divine et al, editor, America Past and Present, p. 389). Historian Allan Nevins noted that by the 1850s "slavery was dying all around the edges of its domain" (The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume 2, p. 469). Although slavery was still economically profitable, its days were numbered. Interestingly, some of the most vocal Northern abolitionists, including Wendell Phillips, welcomed the South’s secession because they believed Southern slavery would die out more quickly if the South were no longer part of the Union. Historians Randall and Donald, after noting the Confederacy’s move toward officially using slaves as soldiers and the support of key Confederate leaders for granting freedom to slaves and their families for faithful military service, acknowledged that the Confederacy may very well have abolished slavery even if it had survived the war:

On November 7, 1864, President Davis went so far as to approve the employment of slave-soldiers as preferable to subjugation, and on February 11, 1865, the Confederate House of Representatives voted that if the President should not be able to raise sufficient troops otherwise, he was authorized to call for additional levies “from such classes . . . irrespective of color . . . as the . . . authorities . . . may determine”. . . . There was no mistaking the meaning of this action. The fundamental social concept of slavery was slipping; an opening wedge for emancipation had been inserted. Lee’s opinion agreed with that of the President and Congress. On January 11, 1865, he wrote advising the enlistment of slaves as soldiers and the granting of “immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully. . . .” This fact, together with other indications, suggests that, even if the Confederacy had survived the war, there was a strong possibility that slavery would be voluntarily abandoned in the South. (The Civil War and Reconstruction, p. 522)

If the South had been allowed to leave in peace, over 600,000 soldiers (over half of them from the North) would have been spared death. Over 50,000 Southern civilians likewise would have been spared death. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers would not have been wounded for life. Millions of families would have been spared sorrow and anguish over their dead and wounded loved ones. Billions of dollars in property damage would have been avoided. And, race relations would not have suffered the poisoning that they experienced during and after the war.

“But,” some will ask, “wouldn’t the Union have been destroyed if the Confederacy had survived?” This was one of Lincoln’s erroneous arguments. The Union would not have been “destroyed” if the South had been allowed to leave in peace. The Union still would have had 23 states, compared to the Confederacy’s 11 states, and it would have retained control over the vast western territories. The Union’s population was more than twice the size of the Confederacy’s. In addition, the Union had nine times more factories than the Confederacy, twenty times more pig iron, seventeen times more textiles, two and a half times more miles of railroad tracks, thirty-two times more firearms, and nine times more production value. The Union still would have been one of the largest and most powerful countries on the earth even without the eleven states of the Confederacy. So the Union would have been just fine if the Republicans had allowed the South to go in peace. (In fact, if the Republicans had welcomed the Confederacy’s initial peace initiatives, the Upper South states probably would have remained in the Union and the Confederacy would have been limited to the seven states of the Deep South. As mentioned earlier, the four Upper South states only joined the Confederacy after Lincoln made it clear he was going to invade the Deep South states. Of course, if the two nations had lived in peace, the Union would have needed to lower its tariff in order to compete with the low Confederate tariff, but that could have been done in a matter of days by the U.S. Congress.)

What would the South be like today if the Confederacy had survived? No one can say with certainty, but it’s likely that taxes of all kinds would be much lower. Citizens would have much less government interference in their lives. Parents would have more control over their children’s education and over their local schools. Southern schools would most likely allow voluntary prayer, moral instruction, nativity plays at Christmas time, and formal Bible reading (as our schools used to do until the 1960s when the Supreme Court suddenly decided these things were somehow “unconstitutional”). There would be tough anti-pornography laws, and those laws would be enforced. The lives of unborn children would be protected by law. There would be no question that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. And a state government could place a Ten Commandments monument in front of a state judicial building without having to worry about a federal judge ordering its removal on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the Constitution.

However, all this being said, I think that if the South had been allowed to go in peace, it may very well have eventually rejoined the Union. But, if not, I don’t think it would have been the end of the world if the South had remained independent. England and America have managed to do very well as separate nations. So have Norway and Sweden. So have Canada and England. So have Australia and England. I think the Confederacy and the United States could have done the same thing.

Final Thoughts

Some people think it is unpatriotic or divisive to defend the Southern side of the Civil War. As a retired U.S. Army veteran and a flag-waving patriot, I reject that view. Confederate citizens were Americans too. They were citizens of the “Confederate States of America.” Their heroes included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Davy Crockett, and Andrew Jackson. The official Confederate seal featured the image of George Washington on his horse. The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was a former U.S. Army officer, a genuine hero in the Mexican War, an outstanding U.S. Secretary of War, and a highly respected member of the U.S. Senate. Dozens of other Confederate officials had likewise served faithfully in the U.S. government. One of the members of the Confederate Congress was former U.S. president John Tyler.

It is time for the demonization and smearing of the Confederacy to stop. Compared with other nations of its day, the Confederacy was one of the most democratic countries in the world. Even during the war, the Confederacy held elections and had a vibrant free press. In fact, on balance, the Confederacy was more democratic than some nations in our day. Confederate citizens enjoyed every right that we now enjoy, if not more. The Confederacy sought peace with the federal government and only fought because it was invaded. The Confederate Constitution was patterned after the U.S. Constitution and contained improvements that even some Northern commentators acknowledged were praiseworthy. (An excellent study of the Confederate Constitution is Marshall DeRosa’s book The Confederate Constitution of 1861: An Inquiry into American Constitutionalism, University of Missouri Press, 1991.)

Yes, the Confederacy permitted slavery, but it left the door open for the admission of free states and for the abolition of slavery at the state level. Let’s keep in mind, too, that the American colonies permitted slavery for decades, that the United States permitted slavery for over half a century, that several Northern states made huge fortunes from the slave trade, and that many of our founding fathers were slaveholders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison, John Rutledge, George Mason, and Benjamin Franklin. Let’s also keep in mind that most Confederate citizens did not own slaves, and that by late 1864 key Confederate leaders were prepared to abolish slavery.

I agree with the sentiments that former Confederate army officer Robert Catlett Cave expressed in 1911:

Does the propriety of discussing the causes of the War Between the States belong exclusively to Northern writers and speakers? Did the South, when she laid down her arms, surrender the right to state in self-justification her reasons for taking them up? If not, I fail to see how it can be improper, when perpetuating the memory of the Confederate dead, at least to attempt to correct false and injurious representations of their aims and deeds and to hand down their achievements to posterity as worthy of honorable remembrance. (The Men in Gray, pp. 11-12)

I also agree with James Webb, who served as Secretary of the Navy and Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan:

. . . to tar the sacrifices of the Confederate soldier as simple acts of racism, and reduce the battle flag under which he fought to nothing more than the symbol of a racist heritage, is one of the great blasphemies of our modern age. (Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, New York: Broadway Books, 2004, p. 225)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force, and an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College. He is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in Arabic and Hebrew, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas, and has completed advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England. He is also the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts and one book on the John F. Kennedy assassination.

(This entire/series and parts article used with permission)

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