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Doc. 68. arming slaves at the South.

In the Confederate House of Representatives, November tenth, 1864, on motion of Mr. Chambers, of Mississippi, the special order was called up, which was the consideration of his resolution and those offered by Messrs. Swann and Foote, all relating to the employment of negroes in the army. Mr. Chambers' resolution was as follows:

Resolved. That the valor, constancy and endurance of our citizen-soldiers, assisted by the steady cooperation of all classes of our population not in the field, will continue a sufficient guarantee of the rights of the States and the independence of the Confederate States.

The following is Mr. Swann's resolution:

Resolved, That in the judgment of this House no exigency now exists, nor is likely to occur, in the military affairs of the Confederate States, to justify the placing of negro slaves in the army as soldiers in the field.

The resolution offered by Mr. Foote embraces a series of propositions. The propositions assert that a general levy of the slaves for soldiers is unwise; that their withdrawal from labor would be inexpedient, so long as we can otherwise obtain as large an army as we can maintain; that if the alternative be presented of subjugation or their employment in the ranks, the latter should be preferred; that for the uses to which they are now applied, their ownership by the government, with prospective emancipation by the consent of the States, as the reward of faithful service, would be expedient; that the number so employed should be increased to forty thousand; concluding with a resolution affirming that it was necessary to have the antecedent consent and sanction of the States to any attempt at conferring emancipation by the Confederate authorities.

The Speaker explained that the House had decided to take up and consider all these resolutions at the same time, as they referred to the one subject. Yet the House could only vote upon one at a time. The first one in order was that offered by Mr. Chambers; when that was considered and disposed of, that of Mr. Swann would come up, and so on, each taking their turn.

So the resolution of Mr. Chambers coming up for consideration, that gentleman proceeded to express his views in its support. He said that the resolution offered by him only declared an abiding confidence in our citizen-soldiery to maintain our cause, and they needed no other assistance than they were receiving from all other classes of our population. In other words, his resolution declared that they did not need the assistance of negro troops. When the President proposed to put forty thousand negroes in the field — when the member from Tennessee favored it — when the member from South Carolina said he had not made up his mind about it — the question could no longer be evaded. It must be met.

The question had been raised at the end of a campaign the most successful that had ever been vouchsafed the Confederate arms. If our army was prostrated and our people threatened with subjugation — but not till then — he could understand how such a proposition could be made. But why is the country agitated by it now, when the military horizon is bright and encouraging to us?

[Mr. Chambers here read that portion of the President's Message reviewing the operations of the armies east and west of the Mississippi, to show that the President himself had presented a most hopeful view of the military prospects of the South.]

Continuing, Mr. Chambers said that the whole matter hinged upon the simple question: “Are we approximating exhaustion?” He would lay it down as an undeniable fact, that our army was as large to-day, compared to that of the enemy, as at any time during the war. Taking both sides of the Mississippi, he believed that the two armies held the same ratio as they did at the beginning of the campaign. It was said by some that our army was diminished by death, by disease, and by desertion, but it had not suffered as much from these causes as the Yankee army. He confessed that the desertions in our army had been great, but not half so great as in the Yankee army.

There were thousands of men at home, from the non-execution of the laws, who should be in the army. The President had said, in his Macon speech, that two thirds of the army were absent. This was the subject that should demand the attention of Congress, rather than to be made the plea for employing negroes as soldiers in our armies. The authorities must be made to know that when laws are passed by Congress, they must be enforced and obeyed. Unless Congress correct the system of furloughs and enforce the laws, we will not be able to drive back the enemy. There are two hundred and fifty thousand men at home, subject to military duty under the present law, and he could prove it by the papers on his desk, if it did not consume too much time. Yet gentlemen say we are sinking, and appeal to African troops to save us! They appeal to them to come and help us secure our independence.

The President appeals to the sympathy of the negro. He held out to him the promise of a home. But the Yankee said he would give him a home and the right of property. The President can offer him no motive which the enemy can not easily counteract, by offering him a [476] higher one. To our offer of freedom, they would offer freedom and a home in the South, after our subjugation, as well as exemption from military service meanwhile.

How did gentlemen propose to fight negro troops? He hoped they did not propose to commingle them with our brave white soldiers. How would they fight them? Not by regiments; not by brigades; not by army corps; but by companies! Place the negroes in the front — put a company here and a company there — and all mutual rivalry is lost by the interposition of this timid material; our line wavers, and is swept away.

Mr. Chambers said he was ashamed to debate the question. All nature cries out against it. The negro race was ordained to slavery by the Almighty. Emancipation would be the destruction of our social and political system. God forbid that this Trojan horse should be introduced among us.

The negro, said Mr. Chambers, will not fight. All history shows this.

Mr. Simpson, of South Carolina (sotto voce)--The Yankees make them fight.

Mr. Lester, of Georgia--Not much.

Mr. Marshall, of Kentucky--Fill them with whiskey, and they will fight.

It is not denied that the negro will fight, but will he fight well enough to resist the Yankee armies? The negro can not be made a good soldier. The law of his race is against it. Of great simplicity of disposition, tractable, prone to obedience, and highly imitative, he may be easily drilled; but, timid, averse to effort, without ambition, he has no soldierly quality. Being adapted by nature to slavery, as he makes the best of slaves, he must needs make the worst of soldiers. He could recollect no instance in the war of ‘76 where negro troops were used in regular organization and regular battle, except the battalion of slaves which Lord Dunmore brought into the fight near Norfolk, against the Virginia militia, and, in that affair, as we are told by the historian Botta, they “acted shabbily, and saved themselves by flight.” When, in 1793, the English landed on the Island of St. Domingo, they found it defended by over twenty thousand troops, chiefly mulattoes and negroes, but, with less than one thousand men, captured several important strongholds, and with less than two thousand, finally seized upon Port-au-Prince, the capital of the island. The French authorities, in their extremity, offered freedom to their slaves — over four hundred thousand in number — on condition of military service for the occasion, in defence of their homes, as we would say, yet only six thousand availed themselves of the offer, although these slaves were still bloody from the insurrection of 1790. They preferred slavery to military service.

So, in the beginning of this war, the negro escaped at every opportunity to our enemies, to avoid work, but since the system of negro conscription has been adopted by the United States government, he now remains with us, true to the instinct of his race. It is not slavery he desires to avoid, it is work in any form, but especially work in the form of dangerous service.

This government possesses all the war-power originally possessed by all the people of the several States. With wise design they have delegated the whole, with little or no reservation. It is not too much to say that not the Czar of Russia, not even Peter the Great, whose despotism was restrained by no traditions and alarmed by no fears, could have brought into the field so promptly and thoroughly the entire war power of that despotism as this government has elicited the war power of the several States in defence of the rights of the States. For this purpose the first gun at Fort Sumter summoned them to arms; they will again fly to arms in the same sacred cause, whenever and by whomever menaced. When the last man shall have sunk in his tracks, when the last steed shall have fallen beneath his rider, and the last morsel of food shall have vanished from the land, then, and not till then, will the war-power of this government be exhausted.

Mr. Goode, of Virginia, said he was opposed to the employment of negroes as soldiers under any circumstances. He was opposed to it because it was a confession of weakness to the enemy. He was opposed to it, because he thought it would end in abolition. He was opposed to it, because it was degrading to our men. He believed that the right place for Cuffee was in the corn-field.

At quarter past two o'clock, on motion of Mr. Russell, of Virginia, the House went into secret session, to consider a bill reported from the Judiciary Committee.


Opinions of the press and people.

Richmond, November 4, 1854.
gentlemen: Allow me a brief space to bring again to public notice the subject of negro conscription, and the probable action of the next Congress on this subject.

That the owners of fifteen negroes, and upward, would prefer that Congress should conscript ten or even a greater per centum of their negroes for the army, rather than the present law exempting them should be revoked, there can be not the least question; that the negroes then remaining at home on large plantations would produce, with the attention of their masters, more than the whole number would if the masters were conscripted, and they left intact, cannot be denied. Then what are the objections to bringing this power, which has so long been overlooked, to bear upon our enemy, who are using men of every faith, clime and color to subdue us? Some pretend that the army has great averson to seeing the negro conscripted; that they will not allow themselves thus to be on an equality with the negro ; others that there is a great principle of morality involved in thus [477] forcing the negro to risk his life for the freedom of his master. If the first class would cultivate the society of our intelligent soldiers more, they would discover the real sentiments of the army to be greatly in favor of negro conscription for recruiting the army for the ensuing spring. As to those who entertain the latter view of “moral objection,” &c., their opinions, conscientious and moral suasions smack too much of the fanatical and Puritanical love for the negro which the Northman professes, when he sees them unwilling to allow him to srike a blow against those who would enslave to a worse than Hindostan servitude both master aud servant.

That the negro will fight more faithfully for his master than for the Yankee no one can doubt who has seen the attachment of slaves to their masters in camp, and the reliance and the faithfulness with which they discharge sometimes the most dangerous and difficult duties. Then, too, the wonderful change which would be brought upon them by giving such as were enlisted their immediate freedom, with a promise of a grant of land after the war, would cause them to acknowledge and look upon the Yankees as their inferior, whom they now consider as their equal. Let this freedom be given them in due form by their masters, and solemnly confirmed by the seal of the County Court upon their being conscripted, and we would hear no more of negroes running to the enemy to be free. Contented and happy around their camp-fires, they, with proper discipline and drill, would make us soldiers superior to any the enemy have yet brought to bear against us.

Then Congress will have another vexed question that this negro conscription will dispose of, viz.: Consolidation of regiments whose numbers have been reduced to mere skeletons; and we take it for granted Congress must consolidate many regiments, battalions and companies. Let the officers thus thrown out, and others already out, and now doing nothing but troubling the authorities half their time to find something for them to do, be assigned to the command of these negro regiments and companies. Let them be placed in our sea-coast garrisons, and on lines of communication and supply, and in camps of instruction, to be there drilled and prepared for the field, if we should need them, and who doubts but what we will, by the coming spring. It might be said these officers would object to commanding negro regiments and negro companies. But no, they will not, if they have the proper qualities and qualifications for officers. It will take just such gallant men as those who have already lost their commands by leading them to the forefront of the battle, to command that respect from the negro which the Southern gentleman knows so well how to command, at the same time that he shows, without constraint, the uttermost kindness, and no officer should consider it any disparagement to him to command these troops, but rather look upon it in the light of a difficult task which the government has assigned to him for his signal success in the past, and his ability to reduce to proper discipline, and make good soldiers of, the raw and rough material. Rather let him regard such an assignment or appointment as a compliment to his fitness for command. In other words, only the best officers should be selected to command these troops, and, our word for it, we will have in the fourth year of the war a new and powerful reinforcement, a force capable of any thing less than the greatest emergency, and an offset to the hirelings and blacks that the enemy are bringing against us, which they never dreamed of. Do this now, and we will only do what is evidently becoming more apparent we will have to do sooner or later, namely: meet with the same material that class of the enemy's army which, unless counterbalanced thus, will form an important element in our defeat and subjugation. These remarks are dictated by a clear conviction of what is daily becoming more and more urgent by the great desire of the majority of our people and army for this enactment, and by the circumstances around me — for be it noted that I write from a section of Virginia the most prosperous, and that there are ten farmers living adjacent, owning more than twenty thousand acres of land between them, and from this broad area not a single soldier is furnished to the army. Think, Virginians, of twenty thousand acres of land in Virginia, owned by ten different families, not furnishing a single representative in the army. If such be the case in Virginia, what must it be in the less populous South, where the extensive cotton lands of the rich planter extend for miles away. Yet these men are willing, yea, many of them anxious, to contribute their portion of negroes to the service, and one hundred could be raised in this immediate neighborhood without material detriment to the farming interests of the country. Then can there be any reasonable wish, on the part of Congress, to delay legislation on this subject when the forces are wanted in the army, the officers are at hand to command them, and the masters are willing to contribute them?

Let Congress take this into consideration at an early day. Let us have prompt and vigorous action on this subject, and not have to lament, in the fall of 1865, the many reverses which would have been prevented by the organization of such a force.



A voice from the country against it.

Gentlemen: In the Enquirer of the eighteenth ultimo, you advance and recommend the proposition to conscript the slaves of the South for the purpose of making soldiers of them, and claim for the Enquirer the honor or merit (which, I suspect, none will dispute with you) of being the first to advance it.

Can it be possible that you are serious and earnest in proposing such a step to be taken by our Government? Or were you merely discusssing the matter as a something which might [478] be done; an element of power which might be used; meaning thereby to intimidate or threaten our enemy with it, as a weapon of offence which they may drive us to use? Can it be possible that a Southern man — editor of a Southern journal--recognizing the right of property in slaves, admitting their inferiority in the scale of being, and also their social inferiority, would recommend the passage of a law which at one blow levels all distinctions, deprives a master of a right of property, and elevates the negro to an equality with the white man? For, disguise it as you may, those who fight together in a common sense, and by success win the same freedom, enjoy equal rights and equal position, and, in this case, are distinguished only by color. Are we prepared for this? Is it for this we are contending? Is it for this we would seek the aid of our slaves? To win their freedom with our own independence, to establish in our midst a half or quarter of a million of black freemen, familiar with the arts and discipline of war, and with large military experience? Has the bitter experience of Virginia, with regard to free negroes, already been forgotten? Has that fixed subject of legislation found its solution and remedy in the wise expedient of arming and training to arms, not only her worthless free negro population, but is this class to be multiplied ten-fold by this slave-conscription? Will ignorant, brutal free negroes be rendered less ignorant, less thievish, more humane, by this training of the camp? by the campaigns of three or four years? When President Davis said: “We are not fighting for slavery, but independence.” he meant that the question and subject of slavery was a matter to settle among ourselves, and one that admitted of no dispute; that he intended to be independent of all foreign influences on this as on all other matters; free to own slaves if we pleased; free to lay on our taxes; free to govern ourselves. He never intended to ignore the question of slavery, or to do aught else but express the determination to be independent in this as well as in other matters. What has embittered the feelings of the two sections of the old Union? What has gradually driven them to the final separation? What is it that has made two nationalities of them, if it is not slavery? It was slavery that caused them to denounce us inferiors; it was slavery that made the difference in our Congressional representatives; it was slavery that made the difference in our pursuits, in our interests, in our feelings, in our social and political life; it is slavery which now makes of us two people, as widely antagonistic and diverse as any two people can be, and it only needs a difference of language to make the Northerner and Southerner as opposite as the Frenchman and Englishman. You say, “the liberty and freedom of ourselves and children, the nationality of our country, &c., are involved in this struggle.” Yes, and of this nationality you would deprive us, for, instead of being, as we now are, a nation of freemen, holding slaves as our property,you would make us a nation of white men, with free negroes for our equals. Messrs. Editors, if you had sought in the political body of the Confederacy for some spot at which to aim and strike one blow which should at once deprive it of life, you could not have found one more vital, or have struck with more deadly certainty, than you have done by the advocacy of such a scheme; and if there is any member of Congress so lost to his sense of the duty which he owes to his country and the constitution which he has sworn to defend; if there is one who is not tired of the scenes of blood and ruin, and devastation which have stained and desolated many portions of our beloved land, but yet desires to see more, and yet a thousand fold more, of the strife and woe and misery begotten by civil revolution, let him persuade Congress to pass such a law and attempt to carry out such a system, and the things which have been will be nothing to the things which shall be — the revolution and war, born and nurtured and raging in our midst, shall be nothing when compared to that struggle in which we are now engaged, as the wild and desolating tornado, compared to the mild summer wind — as the angry fury of the ocean waves, when lashed by fierce blasts, to the smooth surface of the mountain lake.

The Yankee steals my slave, and makes a soldier and freeman of him to destroy me. You take my slave, and make a soldier and freeman of him to defend me. The difference in your intention is very great; but is not the practice of both equally pernicious to the slave and destructive to the country? and at the expiration of ten years after peace what would be the relative difference between my negro stolen and freed by the Yankee and my negro taken and freed by you? Would they not be equally worthless and vicious? How would you distinguish between them? How prevent the return of him whose hand is red with his master's blood, and his enjoyment of those privileges which you so lavishly bestow upon the faithful freedman?

Have you thought of the influence to be exerted by these half or quarter million free negroes in the midst of slaves, as you propose to leave them at the end of the war? These men constitute the bone and sinew of our slaves — the able-bodied between eighteen and forty-five. They will be men who know the value and power of combination; they will be disciplined, trained to the use of arms, with the power and ability of command; at the same time they will be grossly and miserably ignorant, without any fixed principle of life or the ability of acquiring one. The camp and the battle are not consided the best school of virtue. With habits of idleness learned in camp, with no fixed calling or business in which to engage, a class by color and circumstances proscribed and unable to rise. Then, again, these men must have their wives and children slaves, subject to all the restrictions of slavery, while they are to enjoy all [479] the privileges of freedom. Will not this necessarily make them discontented? or, if not, you ought, in gratitude, and perhaps in policy, to free their wives and children. This will give you, instead of half a million, a million and a half or two millions of free negroes in your midst. That is more than one half of the present slave population of the Confederate States.

How long would slavery last under this strain? Is not your proposition Abolitionism in disguise? No, Messrs. Editors, we could not live in a country inhabited by such a class. Either they or we must be forced to leave. Which would it be, and where and how would they go? Abraham Lincoln emancipates all he can steal. You would take and emancipate one half at a word, or, at all events, you would take and emancipate that portion without whom the other portion would be valueless and a charge upon the country. No ; our cause is not so desperate, nor its condition so low, as to need the aid of an army of free negroes. There are stout arms and brave hearts enough among the white men of the Confederacy to win and secure its freedom, and he who would call upon the poor, ignorant slave to fight his battles, for the boon of a worthless freedom, must not only be deeply despondent, but regardless of the duties he owes to his country, to his negro, and himself. It is not for the slave either to win freedom for the white men, as you would have him, or take the yoke of subjugation upon him, as would the Yankee. But it is for the Southern white man to achieve his own indepence, to secure himself in the possession of his slave, and. to secure to the slave the possession of a good master.--Richmond Enquirer, November 4.

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