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Doc. 127.-arming the negroes.


A rebel protest.

Richmond, Virginia, July 16, 1863.
To the Editor of the New-York Tribune:
Sir: In the almost vain hope of helping to avert new horrors of war from which the soul of every Christian citizen must shrink — with the prayerful wish, rather than with the expectation, of saving your people and mine, your Government and mine, your cause and mine, from crimes political and military too terrible to contemplate without a shudder, I ask you to lay before your countrymen certain most grave facts, affecting at once their character and their existence as a nation, and coming home with a most kindly warning to “the business and the bosom” of every man among you who has interest to appeal to, a conscience to rouse, or a heart to touch. And I ask the New-York Tribune thus to speak for the humane among us to the humane among you, for two reasons; first, because that journal is the exponent of the doctrines of the Federal Administration, of the dominant party in the United States; and then, because abominable as those doctrines must ever be to us — cruel as are your counsels, impracticable as is your language — the Tribune has at least been from the beginning a consistent and courageous partisan, a fair and open foe — neither asking nor giving favors, playing no fantastic political tricks, nor bidding for all applause at once.

How I came by the knowledge of the facts which, in the very eagerness of a patriotic fear, I take this extraordinary means of imparting to your party, your rulers, and your people is “neither here nor there.” Let it suffice to assure you, and I know you will believe me, that my opportunities have been as sure as the use I make of them is pure.

Let me comfort you with the assurance that I shall serve these facts to you in a form as compact as possible; for, indeed, I have but little to hope from the chances of this letter's ever reaching you. As to the peril to myself — that is nothing.

On the third day of July, 1863, the Honorable Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the confederate States of America, ran down from [434] Richmond in a confederate steamer, under a flag of truce, to the mouth of the James River, where he had conference with Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, commanding your blockading squadron, as to certain matters of state.

I need not occupy your space (or at least your time, sir) with formal dilations. You know there was brief correspondence between our Vice-President and your Government. Mr. Stephens desired audience for the purpose of presenting to the consideration of Mr. Lincoln certain propositions bearing upon the spirit and conduct of the war. Mr. Lincoln declined to confer with Mr. Stephens, and Mr. Stephens returned to Richmond. Not to waste words in controversy, that, Mr. Tribune, was, I believe, the end of the expedition.

But not the end of speculations as to its real object. The guesses of your journals have been far more numerous than the possibilities. I propose to disenchant you. Therefore this letter.

The Vice-President of the confederate States was sent to ask the President of the United States to cooperate with the former government in measures conducive to the cause of humanity, to the cultivation of the most Christian shapes of warfare-such measures, in the first place, as might be agreed upon between them to lighten the troubles of prisoners, and alleviate the pains of the wounded. And had Mr. Stephens been so fortunate as to procure the audience he so frankly and simply sought, I, for one, believe that the mercy of his errand would have met with proper recognition. This, however, secondarily.

The primary object of the Vice-President's mission was to protest, in the name of his government and people, against the mustering and arming of the blacks, which now constitutes almost the only clear feature of your policy. He came to implore you, in the name of a people whose resources must have surprised you, of a government whose ability you have frankly acknowledged, of soldiers whose courage and devotion and endurance you have felt, to this consummation not to come at last. He came to assure you, on the good faith of his government, on the simple truth of his fellow-countrymen, that not one single regiment or corps of negroes has ever been brought into the confederate service, to be turned armed against you.

He came to remind you that such negroes as have, from time to time, been found on breastworks and in trenches, have been caught with spades only or picks in their hands; that, such as have been found in regiments, an insignificant number, have been, in all cases, body-servants, sometimes of officers, sometimes of privates, who of their own will, out of the love which you know they bear us, have chosen to follow their masters to the death. And these you have found among your prisoners. He could have told you, if diplomacy permitted sentiment, (God save the mark!) of many such “chattels,” some of them white-haired, begging, stealing, fighting their way home again, to the “ole missus” and the old place, with all that was left of the “young massa” --a lock of hair or a trinket.

But no matter for that. He came to talk to you of self-preservation, of retaliation, and all that's shocking in the meaning of that word. He came to tell you of the native devil that has slept so long, to be awoke at last, in the bosoms of a simple, dependent, affectionate race. He came to implore you in the name of God not to do this abominable thing.

Else he would have to fall back upon statistics and the grim phraseologies of war, and remind you that the four millions of negroes that appear in the tablets of your census for 1860 are the working hands of both sexes only. That number does not include the superannuated or the infants. Out of these four millions, at least seven hundred and fifty thousand ablebodied fellows, loving, and trusting their masters, and ready to follow them up to the mouths of your cannon, (ah! do not continue to befool yourself on that question of ties,) can be enrolled, armed, drilled in three months.

They can be officered in every grade by their own masters, those who have seen most service and won most honor. They can be segregated, regiment by regiment, with the white troops. In all the departments, the quartermasters, the commissariat, and the medical, white officers can administer for them. Superior commands in the black regiments can be made the meed of gallant service in the white. In fine, the entire system, as it operates in the Sepoy service in India, and as it has been modified by distinguished British officers at the request of our government to meet the peculiarities of our people — peculiarities which constitute incalculable advantages, presenting as they do, love and confidence in place of hate and jealousy and suspicion — can be put in working order at once.

This is what I tell you can be done. This is what the Vice-President of the confederate States came to tell you will certainly be done forthwith. Will you tell your people this?

It is not for me to speculate upon the consequences of these new and dreadful elements, whirled into new forms of conflict and complication, to prolong and intensify the war. My mind, in striving to grasp the subject, lets go its hold, and shrinks as from something at once terrible and loathsome. I cannot speak of things which seem to cry aloud out of the future with the tongues of women and of babes, with the contention of angels of friends, mixed of pity and fury.

But I do see in all this a hidden mine of power in the South which your policy may in one fatal moment spring upon the country, to bury all we once loved and were proud of in an undistinguishable monstrosity of disgust and death.

[435]

1 See the Mission of Alexander H. Stephens, <*> pages. 135 and 199 Documents, ante.

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