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Negroes in our army. [from the Richmond, Va., dispatch, August 5, 1901.]

General Pat. Cleburne the First to advocate their use.

His plan was turned down

But a similar one was afterwards Adopted—Some interesting reminiscences on the subject, which show the circumstances Prompting the suggestion.

In the spring of 1897 I had a letter from the War Department at Washington, asking me to authenticate a document in the files of the Confederate Record Office. Considering that paper of the first interest and value, I send, herewith, a copy, and will give your readers the circumstances surrounding it, viz: After the disgraceful defeat of the Confederate army, at Missionary Ridge, in front of Chattanooga, on the 25th of November, 1864, the bulk of it retreated to Dalton, Ga. Cleburne's Division, which was the rear guard, on the 27th made a stand at Ringgold Gap, and without assistance, and single handed, checked and defeated the attempt of the pursuing army under General Hooker to capture the wagon, artillery, and ordnance train of Bragg's army. Holding the position until the safety of these were assured, the division retired, under orders to to Tunnel Hill, some ten miles north of Dalton, where it remained on outpost.

Cleburne absorbed.

In December following, I noticed that General Cleburne was for several days deeply preoccupied and engaged in writing. Finally he handed me his Ms., which upon reading, I found to be an advocacy of freeing the negroes and their enlistment in our military service. In reply to his question as to what I thought of it, I said while I fully concurred in his opinion as to the absolute necessity of some such step to recruit the army, and recognized the force of his arguments, still I doubted the expediency, at that time, of his formulating these views. First, because the slave holders were very sensitive as to such property, and were totally unprepared to consider [216] such a radical measure, and many, not being in our service, could not properly appreciate that it had become a matter of self-preservation that our ranks should be filled to meet, in some degree, the numerical superiority of the enemy—consequently, it would raise a storm of indignation against him. And next that one of the corps of our army was without a lieutenant-general, that he, General Cleburne, had already achieved, unaided, a signal success at Ringgold, for which he had received the thanks of Congress, and stood in reputation first among the major-generals, and might justly expect to be advanced to this vacancy, and I felt assured the publicity of this paper would be used detrimentally to him, and his chances of promotion destroyed.

To that he answered that a crisis was upon the South, the danger of which he was convinced could most quickly be averted in the way outlined, and feeling it to be his duty to bring this before the authorities, he would try to do so, irrespective of any personal result. To my question as to whether or not the negroes would make efficient soldiers, he said that with reasonable and careful drilling, he had no doubt they would, and as deep as was his attachment to his present command he would cheerfully undertake that of a negro division in this emergency.

Copies of the plan.

Under his instructions I made, from his notes, a plain copy of the document, which was read to, and free criticisms invited from members of his staff, one of whom, Major Calhoun Benham, strongly dissented, and asked for a copy with the purpose of writing a reply in opposition.

The division brigadiers were then called together, and my recollection is, that their endorsement was unanimous—namely: Polk, Lowery, Govan, and Granberry. Later, a meeting of the general officers of the army, including its commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, was held at General Hardee's headquarters, and the paper submitted. It was received with disapproval by several, and before this assemblage Major Benham read his letter of protest. Not having been present, I am unable to state the individual sentiment of the higher officers, but my impression is, that Generals Hardee and Johnston were favorably disposed, though the latter declined to forward it to the War Department, on the ground that it was more political than military in tenor.

That was a sore disappointment to Cleburne, who supposed his [217] opportunity of bringing the matter before the President was lost, as he was too good a soldier and strict a disciplinarian to think of sending it over the head of his superior.

Queer outcome.

The day following, Major-General W. H. T. Walker addressed him a note, stating that this paper was of such a dangerous (I think he said incendiary) character, that he felt it his duty to report it to the President, and asking if General Cleburne would furnish him a copy and avow himself its author.

Both requests were promptly complied with, Cleburne remarking that General Walker had done him an unintentional service, in accomplishing his desire, that this matter be brought to the attention of the Confederate authorities. Communication with Richmond was then very slow and uncertain. General Cleburne, naturally, felt somewhat anxious as to the outcome of the affair, though manifesting no regrets, and in discussing the matter and possibilities, said the worst that could happen to him would be court-martial and cashiering, if which occurred, he would immediately enlist in his old regiment, the 15th Arkansas, then in his division; that if not permitted to command, he could at least do his duty in the ranks.

After the lapse of some weeks the paper was returned endorsed by President Davis, substantially, if not verbatim, as follows:

‘While recognizing the patriotic motives of its distinguished author, I deem it inexpedient, at this time, to give publicity to this paper, and request that it be suppressed. J. D.’ Upon receipt of this, General Cleburne directed me to destroy all copies, except the one returned from Richmond. This was filed in my office desk, which was subsequently captured and burned with its contents by the Federal cavary during the Atlanta campaign.

Comes to Light.

After the war, I was several times solicited, from both Confederate and Federal sources, to furnish copies, which was impossible, as I felt sure the only one retained had been destroyed, as above stated, and that no other existed. A few years ago Major Benham died in California, and to my extreme surprise and delight, a copy—the one supplied him at Tunnel Hill—was found among his papers. This was forwarded to Lieutenant L. H. Mangum, Cleburne's former law [218] partner and afterwards aide-de-camp, who sent it to me to identify, which I readily did. Mangum afterwards placed it in the hands of General Marcus J. Wright, agent of the War Department, for collection of Confederate records, and it was this paper I was called upon to authenticate, the reason for which being that as it is a copy and not an original, some such official certification was desirable.

His policy adopted.

A short while before his death, on the fatal field of Franklin, Cleburne had the gratification of knowing that a bill, embodying exactly his proposition, was advocated upon the floor of the Confederate Congress. This was subsequently passed and became a law, by executive approval.

It is scarcely a matter of speculation to tell what the result of this measure would have been, had it gone promptly into effect early in the spring of 1864. General Hood, whose opinion is entitled to weight, probably states it correctly in his book, Advance and Retreat (page 296), when referring to Cleburne, says: ‘He was a man of equally quick perception and strong character, and was, especially in one respect, in advance of many of our people. He possessed the boldness and wisdom to earnestly advocate at an early period of the war the freedom of the negro and enrollment of the young and able-bodied men of that race. This stroke of policy and additional source of strength to our armies would, in my opinion, have given us our independence.’

Irving A. Buck, Former Assistant Adjutant-General Cleburne's Division, Hardee's Corps, Army of Tennessee.

The paper in question.

Here is the document referred to:

To the Commanding General, the Corps, Division, Brigade, and Regimental Commanders of the Army of Tennessee:
General,—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, therefore, respectfully [219] ask you to give us an expression of your views in the premises. We have now been fighting for nearly three years, have spilled much of our best blood, and lost, consumed, or thrown to the flames an amount of property equal in value to the specie currency of the world.

Long lists of dead and mangled.

Through some lack in our system, the fruits of our struggle and sacrifices have invariably slipped away from us and left us nothing but long lists of dead and mangled. Instead of standing defiantly on the borders of our territory, or harrassing those of the enemy, we are hemmed in to-day into less than two-thirds of it, and still the enemy menacingly confronts us at every point with superior forces. Our soldiers can see no end to this state of affairs except in our own exhaustion; hence, instead of rising to the occasion, they are sinking into a fatal apathy, growing weary of hardships and slaughters, which promise no results.

In this state of things it is easy to understand why there is a growing belief that some black catastrophe is not far ahead of us, and that unless some extraordinary change is soon made in our condition we must overtake it. The consequences of this condition are showing themselves more plainly every day—restlessness of morals spreading everywhere, manifesting itself in the army in a growing disregard for private rights; desertion spreading to a class of soldiers it never dared to tamper with before; military commissions sinking in the estimation of the soldier; our supplies failing, our finances in ruins. If this state continues much longer we must be subjugated. Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late. We can give but a faint idea when we say it means the loss of all we now hold most sacred—slaves and all other personal property, lands, homesteads, liberty, justice, safety, pride, manhood. It means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern school teachers; will learn from Northern school-books their version of the war; will be impressed by all the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision. It means the crushing of Southern manhood, the hatred of our former slaves, who will, on a spy system, be our secret police. The conqueror's policy is to divide the conquered into factions and stir up animosity among them, and in training [220] an army of negroes the North, no doubt, holds this thought in perspective.

The three great causes.

We can see three great causes operating to destroy us:

1. The inferiority of our armies to those of the enemy in point of numbers.

2. The poverty of our single source of supply, in comparison with his several sources.

3. The fact that slavery, from being one of the 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 it 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 that every fresh raid he makes and new slice of territory he wrests from us will add to this force. Every soldier in our army already knows and feels our numerical inferiority to the enemy. Want of men in the field has prevented him from reaping the fruits of his victories, and has prevented him from having the furlough he expected after the last reorganization, and when he turns from the wasting armies in the field to look at the source of supply, he finds nothing in the prospect to encourage him.

Our single source of supply is that portion of our white men fit for duty and not now in the ranks. The enemy has three sources of supply; first, his own motley population; secondly, our slaves; and, thirdly, Europeans, whose hearts are fired into a crusade against us by fictitious pictures of the atrocities of slavery, and who meet no hindrance from their governments in such enterprise, because these governments are equally antagonistic to the institution.

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.


A source of strength.

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 continual 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.

In view of the state of affairs, what does our country propose to do? In the words of President Davis:

‘No effort must be spared to add largely to our effective force as promptly as possible. The sources of supply are to be found in restoring to the army all who are improperly absent, putting an end to substitution, modifying the exemption law, restricting details, and placing in the ranks such of the able-bodied men now employed as wagoners, nurses, cooks, and other employees as are doing service for which the negroes may be found competent.’

Men improperly absent.

Most of the men improperly absent, together with many of the exempts and men having substitutes, are now without the Confederate lines and cannot be calculated on. If all the exempts capable [222] of bearing arms were enrolled, it will give us the boys below 18, the men above 45, and those persons who are left at home to meet the wants of the country and the army; but this modification of the exemption law will remove from the fields and manufactories most of the skill that directed agricultural and mechanical labor, and, as stated by the President, ‘details will have to be made to meet the wants of the country,’ thus sending many of the men to be derived from this source back to their homes again. Independently of this, experience proves that striplings and men above conscript age break down and swell the sick lists more than they do the ranks. The portion now in our lines of the class who have substitutes is not, on the whole, a hopeful element, for the motives that created it must have been stronger than patriotism, and these motives, added to what many of them will call breach of faith, will cause some to be not forthcoming and others to be unwilling and discontented soldiers.

The remaining sources mentioned by the President have been so closely pruned in the army of Tennessee that they will be found not to yield largely. The supply from all these sources, together with what we now have in the field, will exhaust the white race, and though it should greatly exceed expectations and put us on an equality with the enemy, or even give us temporary advantages, still we have no reserve to meet unexpected disaster or to supply a protracted struggle. Like past years, 1864 will diminish our ranks by the casualties of war, and what source of repair is there left us? We, therefore, see in the recommendations of the President only a temporary expedient, which at the best will leave us twelve months hence in the same predicament we are in now. The President attempts to meet only one of the depressing causes mentioned; for the other two he has proposed no remedy. They remain to generate lack of confidence in our final success, and to keep us moving down hill as heretofore.

Adequately to meet the causes which are now threatening ruin to our country, we propose, in addition to a modification of the President's plans, that we retain in service for the war all troops now in service, and 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.

Slavery or loss of slaves.

As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we [223] assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter—give up the negro slave rather than be a slave himself. If we are correct in this assumption it only remains to show how this great national sacrifice is, in all human probabilities, to change the current of success and sweep the invader from our country,

Our country has already some friends in England and France, and there are strong motives to induce these nations to recognize and assist us; but they cannot assist us without helping slavery, and to do this would be in conflict with their policy for the last quarter of a century. England has paid hundreds of millions to emancipate her West India slaves and break up the slave trade. Could she now consistently spend her treasure to reinstate slavery in this country? But this barrier once removed, the sympathy and the interests of these and other nations will accord with our own, and we may expect from them both moral support and material aid. One thing is certain, as soon as the great sacrifice to independence is made and known in foreign countries, there will be a complete change of front in our favor of the sympathies of the world.

This measure will deprive the North of the moral and material aid which it now derives from the bitter prejudices with which foreigners view the institution, and its war, if continued, will henceforth be so despicable in their eyes that this source of recruiting will be dried up. It will leave the enemy's negro army no motive to fight for, and will exhaust the source from which it has been recruited.

The idea that it is their special mission to war against slavery has held growing sway over the Northern people for many years, and has at length ripened into a bloody crusade against it. This baleful superstition has so far supplied them with a courage and constancy not their own. It is the most powerful and honestly entertained plank in their war platform. Knock this away, and what is left? A bloody ambition for more territory; a pretended veneration for the Union, which one of their own most distinguished orators (Dr. Beecher in his Liverpool speech), openly avowed was only used as a stimulous to stir up the anti-slavery crusade, and, lastly, the poisonous and selfish interests which are the fungus growth of the war itself. Mankind may fancy it a great duty to destroy slavery, but what interest can mankind have in upholding this remainder of the Northern war platform? Their interests and feelings will be diametrically opposed to it.


A strong measure.

The measure we propose will strike dead all John Brown fanaticism, and will compel the enemy to draw off altogether, or, in the eyes of the world, to swallow the Declaration of Independence without the sauce and disguise of philanthropy. This delusion of fanaticism at an end, thousands of Northern people will have leisure to look at home and see the gulf of despotism into which they themselves are rushing The measure will at one blow strip the enemy of foreign sympathy and assistance, and transfer them to the South; it will dry up two of his three sources of recruiting; it will take from his negro army the only motive it could have to fight against the South, and will probably cause much of it to desert over to us; it will deprive his cause of the powerful stimulous of fanaticism, and will enable him to see the rock on which his so-called friends are now piloting him. The immediate effect of the emancipation and enrollment of negroes on the military strength of the South would be to enable us to have armies numerically superior to those of the North, and a reserve of any size we might think necessary; to enable us to take the offensive, move forward, and forage on the enemy. It would open to us in prospective another and almost untouched source of supply, and furnish us with the means of preventing temporary disaster and carrying on a protracted struggle. It would instantly remove all the vulnerability, embarrassment, and inherent weakness which result from slavery. The approach of the enemy would no longer find every household surrounded by spies, the fear that sealed the master's lips, and the avarice that has in so many cases tempted him practically to desert us would alike be removed. There would be no recruits awaiting the enemy with open arms; no complete history of every neighborhood with ready guides; no fear of insurrection in the rear or anxieties for the fate of loved ones when our armies moved forward. Tile chronic irritation of hope deferred would be joyfully ended with the negro, and the sympathies of his whole race would be due to his native South. It would restore confidence in an early termination of the war with all its inspiring consequences; and even if, contrary to all expectations, the enemy should succeed in overrunning the South, instead of finding a cheap, ready-made means of holding it down, he would find a common hatred and thirst for vengeance which would break into [225] acts at every favorable opportunity; would prevent him from settling on our lands, and render the South a very unprofitable conquest. It would remove forever all selfish taint from our cause and place independence above every question of property.

The very magnitude of the sacrifice itself, such as no nation has ever voluntarily made before, would appall our enemies, destroy his spirit and his finances, and fill our hearts with a pride and singleness of purpose which would clothe us with new strength in battle.

Need for fighting men.

Apart from all other aspects of the question, the necessity for more fighting men is upon us. We can only get a sufficiency by making the negro share the dangers and hardships of the war. If we arm and train him and make him fight for the country in her hour of dire distress, every consideration of principle and policy demand that we should set him and his whole race who side with us, free. It is a first principle with mankind that he who offers his life in defense of the State should receive from her in return his freedom and his happiness, and we believe in acknowledgment of this principle the constitutions of the Southern States have reserved to their respective governments the power to free slaves for meritorious services to the State. It is politic besides. For many years—ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced—the negro has been dreaming of freedom, and his vivid imagination has surrounded that condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes. To attain it he will tempt dangers and difficulties not exceeded by the bravest in the field. The hope of freedom is, perhaps, the only moral incentive that can be applied to him in his present condition. It would be preposterous, then, to expect him to fight against it with any degree of enthusiasm; therefore, we must bind him to our cause by no doubtful bonds; we must leave no possible loophole for treachery to creep in. The slaves are dangerous now, but armed, trained, and collected in an army they would be a thousandfold more dangerous. Therefore, when we make soldiers of them we must make freemen of them beyond all question, and thus enlist their sympathies also. We can do this more effectually than the North can now do, for we can give the negro not only his own freedom, but that of his wife and child, and can secure it to him in his old home. To do this we must immediately make his marriage and parental relations sacred in the eyes of the law and forbid their sale. The past legislation of the South concedes that a large [226] free middle class of negro blood, between the master and slave, must sooner or later destroy the institution. If, then, we touch the institution at all, we would do best to make the most of it, and by emancipating the whole race upon reasonable terms, and within such reasonable time as will prepare both races for the change, secure to ourselves all the advantages, and to our enemies all the disadvantages that can arise, both at home and abroad, from such a sacrifice. Satisfy the negro that if he faithfully adheres to our standard during the war he shall receive his freedom and that of his race; give him as an earnest of our intentions such immediate immunities as will impress him with our sincerity and be in keeping with his new condition; enroll a portion of his class as soldiers of the Confederacy, and we change the race from a dread weakness to a position of strength.

The slaves as Fighters.

Will the slaves fight? The helots of Sparta stood their masters good stead in battle. In the great sea fight of Lepanto, where the Christians checked forever the spread of Mohammedanism over Europe, the galley slaves of portions of the fleet were promised freedom, and called on to fight at a critical moment of the battle.

They fought well, and civilization owes much to those brave galley slaves. The negro slaves of St. Domingo, fighting for freedom, defeated their white masters and the French troops sent against them. The negro slaves of Jamaica revolted, and under the name of maroons held the mountains against their masters for 150 years; and the experience of this war has been so far that half-trained negroes have fought as bravely as many other half-trained Yankees. If, contrary to the training of a lifetime, they can be made to face and fight bravely against their former masters, how much more probable is it that with the allurement of a higher reward, and led by those masters, they would submit to discipline and face dangers?

Arguments against it.

We will briefly notice a few arguments against this course:

It is said republicanism cannot exist without the institution. Even were this true, we prefer any form of government of which the Southern people may have the moulding to one forced upon us by a conqueror.

It is said the white man cannot perform agricultural labor in the [227] South. The experience of this army during the heat of summer from Bowling Green, Ky., to Tupelo, Miss., is that the white man is healthier when doing reasonable work in the open field than at any other time.

It is said an army of negroes cannot be spared from the fields. A sufficient number of slaves is now ministering to luxury alone to supply the place of all we need, and we believe it would be better to take half the able-bodied men off a plantation than to take the one master mind that economically regulated its operations. Leave some of the skill at home and take some of the muscle to fight with.

It is said slaves will not work after they are freed. We think necessity and a wise legislation will compel them to labor for a living.

It is said it will cause terrible excitement and some disaffection from our cause. Excitement is far preferable to the apathy which now exists, and disaffection will not be among the fighting men. It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up, we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretence to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.

We have now briefly proposed a plan which, we believe, will save our country. It may be imperfect, but, in all human probability, it would give us our independence. No objection ought to outweigh it which is not weightier than independence. If it is worthy of being put in practice, it ought to be mooted quickly before the people, and urged earnestly by every man who believes in its efficacy. Negroes will require much training, training will require time, and there is danger that this concession to common sense may come too late.

P. R. Cleburne, Major-General Commanding Division; D. C. Govan, Brigadier-General; John E. Murray, Colonel 5th Arkansas; G. F. Baucum, Colonel 8th Arkansas; Peter Snyder, Lieut.Col. Commanding 6th and 7th Arkansas; E. Warfield, Lieutenant-Colonel 2d Arkansas; M. P. Lowry, Brigadier-General; A. B. Hardcastle, Colonel 32d and 45th Mississippi; F. A. Ashford, Major 16th Alabama; John W. Colquitt, Colonel 1st Arkansas; [228] Richard J. Person, Major 3d and 5th Confederate; G. L. Deakins, Major 35th and 8th Tennessee; J. H. Collett, Captain, Commanding 7th Texas; J. H. Kelly, Brig.Gen., Commanding Cavalry Division.

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