Tag Archives: patrick cleburne

Racism Defined: The Confederate Debate About Emancipation and Black Soldiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few days I have been dealing with emancipation and the United States Military during the American Civil War. However, as the Union began to emancipate and recruit African Americans for service, aided and encouraged by men like Frederick Douglass, a few bold souls in the Confederacy began to consider the wisdom of retaining the institution of slavery and proposing emancipation. Their efforts were in vain. The ugly reality of racism kept the leaders of the Confederacy from making the move for months, and only a limited emancipation was approved to recruit slaves as soldiers barely two weeks before Richmond fell to the Union.

I hope that you enjoy this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

slaves-picking-planting-cotton

In the South where before the war about forty percent of the population was composed of African American slaves there was no question regarding abolition or enlistment of African American soldiers. The Confederate States of America was a pro-slavery nation which hoped to “turn back the tide of abolition that had swept the hemisphere in the Age of Revolution…. Confederate founders proposed instead to perfect the slaveholder’s republic and offer it to the world as the political form best suited to the modern age.” [1]

The political and racial ideology of the South, which ranged from benevolent paternal views of Africans as less equal to whites, moderate prejudice and at tolerance of the need for slavery, and extreme slavery proponents who wanted to expand the institution beyond the borders of the Confederacy, as well as extreme prejudice and race race-hatred; was such that almost until the end of the war, Confederate politicians and many senior Confederate officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve; for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. As such, it was not until 1864 when the Confederacy was beginning to face the reality that they could no longer win the war militarily, that any serious discussion of the subject commenced.

But after the fall of Vicksburg and the shattering defeat at Gettysburg, some Southern newspapers in Mississippi and Alabama began to broach the subject of employing slaves as soldiers, understanding the reality that doing so might lead to emancipation, something that they loathed but understood the military and political reality for both if the Confederacy was to gain its independence from the Union. The editor of the Jackson Mississippian wrote that, “such a step would revolutionize our whole industrial system” and perhaps lead to universal emancipation, “a dire calamity to both the negro and the white race.” But if we lose slavery anyway, for Yankee success is death to the institution… so that it is a question of necessity – a question of choice of evils. … We must… save ourselves form the rapacious north, WHATEVER THE COST.” [2]

The editor of the Montgomery Daily Mail “worried about the implications of arming slaves for “our historical position on the slavery question,” as he delicately put it. The argument which goes to the exclusion of negroes as soldiers is founded on the status of the negro.” Negroes, he asserted, are “racially inferior[s],” but “the proposition to make the soldiers… [would be but a] practical equalization of the races.” Nonetheless they had to do it. “The War has made great changes,” he insisted, and, “we must meet those changes for the sake of preserving our existence. They should use any means to defeat the enemy, and “one of those, and the only one which will checkmate him, is the employment of negroes in the military services of the Confederacy.” [3]  Other newspapermen noted “We are forced by the necessity of our condition,” they declared, “to take a step which is revolting to every sentiment of pride, and to every principle that governed our institutions before the war.” The enemy was “stealing our slaves and converting them into soldiers…. It is better for us to use the negroes for our defense than that the Yankees should use them against us.” [4] These were radical words, but neither Jefferson Davis, nor the Confederate Congress was willing to hear them, and the topic remained off the table as a matter of discussion.

Despite this, there were a few Confederate military leaders who understood that the South could either fight for freedom and independence from the Union, but not for slavery at the same time, especially if the Confederacy refused to mobilize its whole arms-bearing population to defeat the Union. The reality that the “necessity of engaging slaves’ politics was starting to be faced where it mattered most: in the military.” [5] One of these men was General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee who demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race, and political objectives far in advance of the vast majority of Confederate leaders and citizens.

Cleburne argued the contradictory nature of the Confederate policy, claiming to fight for liberty while subjugating African Americans as slaves. He understood that the policy has flawed on several counts, including military and diplomatic necessity. He told his staff, “It is said [that] 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…. We have now briefly proposed a plan which we believe will save our country. It may be imperfect, but in all probability it would give us our independence,” [6] and he openly advocated that blacks should be allowed to serve as soldiers of the Confederacy, and that they should be emancipated and “Thirteen brigadier generals and other officers in his division signed the paper. But officers in other units condemned the “monstrous proposition” as “revolting to Southern sentiment, Southern prides, and Southern honor.” [7]

Cleburne, who was known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan to reverse the course of the war by emancipating slaves and enlisting them to serve in the Confederate military. Cleburne was a lawyer and not a slave owner, and he honestly believed that slavery was incidental to the conflict and that “if southerners had to choose between securing their own freedom and maintaining the system of slavery, he had no doubt that his friends and neighbors, indeed the entire South, would willingly let slavery expire in order to ensure their own political independence.” [8] In a short amount of time he would discover just how wrong that he was in his assessment of his fellow southerners.

The Irish Confederate’s proposal was based on sound logic. Cleburne noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have enough soldiers, supplies, or resources to sustain the war effort. He stressed that the South had an inadequate number of soldiers, and that “our soldiers can see no end… 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.” [9]

Most significantly the Irishman argued that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness,” [10] and that “All along the lines… slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information,” an “omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources.” [11] He noted, that “Every soldier in our army already knows and feels our numerical inferiority to the enemy…. If this state continues much longer we shall surely be subjugated.” [12]

Cleburne was the ultimate realist in terms of what was going on in the Confederacy and the drain that slavery and the attempts to control the slave population were having on it. The Conscription Act of 1862 acknowledged that men had to be retained at home in order to guard against slave uprisings, and how exemptions diminished forces at the front without adding any corresponding economic value. Cleburne wrote of how African Americans in the South were becoming increasingly pro-Union, and were undermining Southern morale at home and in the ranks. He noted that they brought up “fear of insurrection in the rear” and filled Confederate soldiers with “anxieties for the fate of loved ones when our armies have moved forward.” And when Union forces entered plantation districts, they found “recruits waiting with open arms.” There was no point in denigrating their military record, either. After donning Union blue, black men had proved able “to face and fight bravely against their former masters.” [13]

Cleburne’s proposal was radical for he recommended 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 to the confederacy in this war.” [14] Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal to the high command:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “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.” [15]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [16] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than most were willing to risk, and even more than Lincoln had asked of the North in his Emancipation Proclamation. Cleburne was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [17] something that most seemed even unwilling to consider. He presented his arguments in stark terms that few Southern leaders, or citizens could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [18] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [19] But Cleburne’s appeal was misguided, far too many Confederate many Southerners believed “the loss of slavery as virtually synonymous with the loss of his own liberty.” [20] It was considered treasonous, and even blasphemous, as slavery was considered by many Southerners to be mandated and blessed by God, and confirmed in the Bible. General William B. Bate who was present at the meeting where Cleburne proposed the idea, proclaimed that what it contained would “contravene principles upon which I have heretofore acted” and that it proposed “to discard our received theory of government [and] destroy our legal institutions and social relations.” [21] Another officer present wrote to a friend that it was a “monstrous proposition… revolting to Southern sentiment, Southern pride, and Southern honor.” [22]

Cleburne’s proposal came to an end in January 1864 when General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Jefferson Davis bypassing the chain of command and General Joseph Johnston’s specific order not to forward it to anyone. Walker opposed Cleburne’s proposal and expressed his outrage over it, and he requested that Davis crack down on “the agitation of such sentiments and propositions,” which “would ruin the efficiency of our Army and involve our cause in ruin and disgrace.” [23] Cleburne’s proposal had crossed over from being a military matter to an explosive political matter, and in Walker’s opinion, the political arguments were out of line for any military officer to state in public.

Jefferson Davis actually realized that slavery was doomed already no matter who won the war. However, the Confederate President realized that it was “was a potential bombshell for his administration.” [24] He was already under pressure from numerous officials for his war policies, including conscription, taxation, economic policies and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, by men like his Vice President Alexander Stephens and, Robert Toombs and Georgia Governor Joseph Brown. Toombs called the President “a false and hypocritical… wretch” who had “neither the ability not the honesty to manage the revolution” [25] while Stephens called Davis’s policies dictatorial, and unconstitutional, and that it was “Davis’s wartime policies that undercut traditional southern values.” [26]

Davis realized that the proposal could not be supported. He ordered Secretary of War Seddon to quash the measure and keep it from public knowledge. Seddon instructed Johnston to ensure “the suppression, not only of the memorial itself, but likewise all discussion and controversy respecting or growing out of it.” [27] Davis and Seddon were “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army,” Seddon sought to remove any semblance of criticism from Cleburne, by adding “no doubt or mistrust is for a moment entertained of the patriotic intents of the gallant author of the memorial, but he also noted that the issue was not one that was appropriate for military officers to consider.” [28]

CleburnePatrick

Major General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A.

While the matter seemed over, “The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [29] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [30] The chief instigator of this appears to have been General Braxton Bragg, who had been appointed as Davis’s military advisor who knew about it while serving in Tennessee. Bragg was a foe of a number of the officers involved in the discussion and wrote that Cleburne and the others, were “agitators, and should be watched.” To ensure that his point was unmistakable, he added ominously, “We must mark these men.” [31]

All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the Joseph Johnston on the order of Davis. He told Johnston, “If it be kept out of the public journals… its ill effects will be much lessened.” [32] Sadly, the “type of radical thinking Cleburne offered would not be seen again.” [33] The cover up initiated by Davis was quite successful, and it would have been lost to history had not a member of Cleburne’s staff discovered a copy in 1890 during the publication of the official war records.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Richard Ewell suggested to Jefferson Davis the idea of arming the slaves and offering them emancipation as early as 1861, and Ewell went as far as “volunteering to “command a brigade of Negroes.” [34] During the war Robert E. Lee became one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [35]

Ten months later with the Confederacy collapsing and Lincoln having won reelection, Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now, quite belatedly, believed that military necessity left him little choice. “In mid-September Davis acknowledged that two-thirds of the army was absent, most without leave,[36] and the Confederate manpower crisis was deepening every day, and Davis now reluctantly admitted that in order to survive that the Confederacy had to tap the vast manpower pool represented by African Americans, even if that meant emancipation.

On November 7th 1864 Davis made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. Davis had finally come to the realization the institution of slavery was now useless to the Confederate cause, as he had become a more ardent Confederate nationalist, and to Davis, “Preserving slavery had become secondary to preserving his new nation,” [37] and his words shocked the assembled Congress. The slave, he boldly declared that “the slave… can no longer be “viewed as mere property” but must be recognized instead in his other “relation to the state – that of a person.” As property, Davis explained, slaves were useless to the state, because without the “loyalty” of the men could be gained from their labor.” [38]

In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [39]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters and in the press, especially that of North Carolina with some individuals as well and publications appearing that they would rather lose the war that win it with the help of African American men. Accepting blacks as soldiers meant equality and equality meant emancipation.

Some newspapers in North Carolina attacked Davis and his proposal, as “farcical” – “all this done for the preservation and perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men… are ready to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done as a condition of ending the war?” [40] Likewise, Davis now found himself opposed by some of his closest political allies including Robert Toombs and Howell Cobb.  Toombs roared, “The day that the army of Virginia allows a negro regiment to enter their lines as soldiers they will be degraded, ruined, and disgraced.” [41] Likewise, Cobb warned “The day that 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.” [42] Some in the military echoed his sentiments, Brigadier General Clement H. Stevens of South Carolina declared “I do not want independence if it is to be won by the help of the Negro.” [43] A North Carolina private wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country…. I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [44]

Robert E. Lee, who had emancipated his slaves before the war, began to be a formidable voice in the political debate going on in the Confederacy regarding the issue of blacks serving as soldiers and emancipation. In a letter to Andrew T. Hunter he argued,

“There have been formidable armies composed of men having no interest in the cause for which they fight beyond their pay or hope of plunder. But it is certain that the surest foundation upon the fidelity of an army can rest, especially in a service which imposes peculiar hardships and privations, is the personal interests of the soldier in the issue of the contest. Such an interest we can give our negroes by giving immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully (whether they survive or not,) together with the privilege of residing in the South. To this might be added a bounty for faithful service.” [45]

Lee wrote in the same letter, “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [46] He wrote another sponsor of a Negro soldier bill “The measure was “not only expedient but necessary…. The negroes, under proper circumstances will make effective soldiers. I think we could do as well with them as the enemy…. Those employed should be freed. It would be neither just nor wise… to require them to serve as slaves.” [47]

Lee was not alone, others throughout the South, even slave owners wrote to Davis voicing their support. “A Georgia planter who had lost two sons in the war believed that the time had come to enlist black soldiers. “We should away with pride of opinion – away with false pride…. The enemy fights us with the negro – and they will do well to fight the Yankees…. We are reduced to the last resort.” [48]

But many reacted in horror to Lee’s proposal. When Howell Cobb heard of Lee’s support for black soldiers and emancipation he fired of a letter to Secretary of War Seddon, “I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has ever been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Lee, given as authority for such policy.” [49] The wife of a prominent South Carolina planter “Slaveholders on principle, & those who hope one day to become slaveholders in time, will not tacitly allow their property & their hopes & allow a degraded race to be placed on a level with them.” [50]

The debate which had begun in earnest in the fall of 1864 revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [51] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Senator Louis Wigfall who had been Davis’s ally in the conscription debates, now became his opponent, he declared that he “wanted to live in no country in which the man who blacked his boots and curried his horse was his equal.” [52] Senator David Yulee of Florida told Davis, “This is a White Man’s government. To associate colors in camp is to unsettle castes; and when thereby the distinction of color and caste is so far obliterated that the relation of fellow soldier is accepted, the mixture of races and toleration of equality is commenced.” [53]

Much of the Southern press added its voice to the opposition. Newspapers in North Carolina declared the proposal “farcical” – “all this was done for the preservation and the perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men…are willing to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done, as a condition of ending the war?” [54] The Charleston Mercury considered the proposal apostasy and proclaimed “Assert the right in the Confederate government to emancipate slaves, and it is stone dead…” [55] In Lynchburg an editor noted, “If such a terrible calamity is to befall us… we infinitely prefer that Lincoln shall be the instrument pf our disaster and degradation, that we ourselves strike the cowardly and suicidal blow.” [56]

Some states in the Confederacy began to realize that slaves were needed in the ranks, but did not support emancipation. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, who had commanded a brigade at Gettysburg before being elected governor, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [57]  Smith declared that without slavery the South “would no longer have a motive to fight.” [58] J.H. Stringfellow, an ardent slave supporter who had led the sack of Lawrence during the pro and anti-slavery wars in the Kansas Territory wrote to Davis in support of black soldiers. While Stringfellow supported using the as soldiers he did not mean that such would make them equal. Even so he wrote,

“We allege that slaves will not fight in our armies. Escaped slaves fight and fight bravely for our enemies; therefore a freed slave will fight. If at the beginning of this war all our negroes had been free does anyone believe that the Yankees would have been able to recruit an army amongst them? Does anyone know of a solitary free negro escaping to them and joining their army? If our slaves were now to be freed would the Yankees be able to raise another recruit amongst them? If freedom and amnesty were declared in favor of those already in the Yankee lines would they not almost to a man desert to their old homes? Would not our freed negroes make us as good of soldiers as they do for our enemies?” [59]

Unlike Stringfellow and supporters of freeing slaves and making them soldiers, many Confederate soldiers displayed the attitude that would later propel them into the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League and the White Liners after the war. A North Carolina soldier wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country… I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [60]

But many agreed with Lee, including Silas Chandler of Virginia, who stated, “Gen Lee is in favor of it I shall cast my vote for it I am in favor of giving him any thing he wants in the way of gaining our independence.” [61] Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure of the bill to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [62] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [63] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate:  “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [64] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [65] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [66]

But diehards opposed even the watered down measure. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [67]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.”  [68] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [69] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [70]

But even if the final bill passed was inadequate, “and fell short of General Lee’s preferred plan of general gradual emancipation,” [71] the debate about it had finally forced Southerners “to realign their understanding of what they were protecting and to recognize the contradictions in their carefully honed rationalization. Some would still staunchly defend it; others would adopt the ostrich’s honored posture. But many understood only too well what they had already surrendered.” [72]

On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause. The order read in part: “In order to provide additional forces to repel invasion…the President be, and he is hereby authorized to ask for and to accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service  in whatever capacity he may direct…” While the order authorized that black soldiers “receive the same rations, clothing and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of service,” it did not provide for the emancipation of any of the black soldiers that might volunteer. Instead it ended “That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear to their owners, except by the consent of the owners and of the States which they may reside….”  [73] Despite the fact that the measure failed to confer freedom on those who enlisted. He insisted that the army would “enroll no slaves, only freemen, by their own consent.” [74] Whatever anyone else thought, Jefferson Davis had finally come to realize that consent and emancipation were the only just and reasonable terms to enlist black soldiers. It was a watershed, the man who labored to build the perfect slave-republic had decided on emancipation.  In signing the order “Davis ordered the War Department to issue regulations that “ensured them the rights of a freedman. The president tried to jump-start the recruitment of black regiments. But the effort was too little and too late.” [75]

Twelve days after the approval of the act, on March 25th two companies of blacks were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square. Commanded by Majors J.W. Pegram and Thomas P. Turner, the newly recruited former slaves assembled to the sounds of fifes and drums and “proudly marched down the street for the first time in their Southern uniforms, whites lining the sidewalks threw mud at them.” [76] As they continued they were met with more derision and violence as even “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [77] at them. It was fitting that none of those few volunteers saw action as the war drew to a close, and within a week the Confederate government had ignominiously fled from Richmond, leaving them and the capital at the mercy of the victorious Union army.

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [78] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [79]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. In the wake of his departure the Confederate Provost Marshall set fire to the arsenal and the magazines to keep them from falling into Union hands. However, the fires “roared out of hand and rioters and looters too to the streets until the last Federal soldiers, their bands savagely blaring “Dixie,” marched into the humiliated capital and raised the Stars and Stripes over the old Capitol building.” [80]

Davis had gone from a state of unreality to one of fantasy. He fled south with his cabinet hoping to regather troops and continue resistance even as Robert E. Lee was surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Davis reached Joseph Johnston’s tiny fragment of an army in North Carolina, but was rebuffed in his attempt to order the army to continue to fight by Johnston, General P.T.G. Beauregard, and the majority of his cabinet. Johnston told the hopelessly deluded Davis, “My views are, sir, that our people are tired of the war, feel themselves whipped and will not fight…. My men are daily deserting in large numbers. Since Lee’s defeat they regard the war as at an end.” [81] Johnston went through a litany of what the Confederacy lacked to continue the war, he added, “the effect of keeping our forces in the field would be, not to harm the enemy, but to complete the devastation of our country and the ruin of its people.” Further resistance would constitute “the greatest of human crimes.” [82]  Beauregard, an old foe who Davis had ignored and offended throughout the war concurred with Johnston.

A Confederate soldier noted, “Poor President…. He is unwilling to see what all around him see. He cannot bring himself to believe that after four years of glorious struggle we are to be crushed into submission.” [83] The cabinet was dissolved and Davis with a few embers of it and his wife Varina continued to flee but were caught by a Union cavalry patrol near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10th 1865.

The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [84] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [85]

lincoln-in-richmond

On April 4th 1865 Abraham Lincoln entered Richmond to the cheers of the now former slaves who had remained in the city. For them the President’s appearance was like that of the Messiah. The historian of the 12th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry wrote,

“His reception in a city which, only a day or two before, had been the headquarters and centre of the Rebellion, was most  remarkable; and more resembled a triumphant return from, than an entry into the enemy’s capital. Instead of the streets being silent and vacated, they were filled with men, women, and children shouting and cheering wherever he went.

“I’d rather see him that Jesus,” excitedly exclaims one woman, as she runs ahead of the crowd to get a view of his benign countenance. “De kingdom’s come, and de Lord is wid us,” chants another. “Hallelujah!” shouts a third; and so on through a whole volume of prayers, praises, blessings, and benedictions showed down upon his, the great emancipator of a race, and the savior of his country, thus redeemed, as he walked slowly forward with smiling and uncovered head….” [86]

Likewise a journalist witnessing the event described the scene,

“The gathered around the President, ran ahead, hovered upon the flanks of the little company, and hung like a dark cloud upon the rear. Men, women, and children joined the consistently increasing throng. They came from the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and sang, Glory to God! Glory! Glory! Glory!” [87]

One old man rushed to Lincoln and shouted “Bless the Lord, the great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He’s been in my heart four long years, and he’s come at last to free his children from their bondage. Glory, hallelujah!” He then threw himself at the embarrassed President’s feet and Lincoln said, “Don’t kneel to me. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” [88]

Emancipation had finally arrived in Richmond, and in the van came the men of the U.S. Colored Troops who had rallied to the Union cause and fought bravely, even against the prejudice of some to their own countrymen. They were followed by the man who had made the bold decision to emancipate them and then persevere against all opposition, even risking his presidency until that hope had become reality.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.310

[2] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.832

[3] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.324

[4] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.831

[5] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.325

[6] Symonds, Craig L. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 1997 pp.188-189

[7] McPherson, James M. Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief The Penguin Press, New York 2014 Amazon Kindle Edition location 2376 of 3649

[8] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.182

[9] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[10] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[11] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[12] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.326

[13] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[14] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[15] Winik, Jay April 1865: The Month that Saved America Perennial an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers New York 2002 p.53

[16] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[18] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[19] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[20] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.190

[21] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.168

[22] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.954

[23] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief location 2376 of 3649

[24] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.194

[25] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.692-693

[26] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.194

[27] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.954

[28] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.194

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[30] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[31] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.195

[32] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief location 2389 of 3649

[33] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.329

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[35] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47

[36] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.330

[37] Ibid. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis p.598

[38] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[39] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[40] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[41] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[42] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[43] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[44] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[45] Lee, Robert E. Letter to Hon. Andrew Hunter,  January 11, 1865 in Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. editors, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about “The Lost Cause” University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 p.217

[46] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[47] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[48] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief 2403 of 3649

[49] Cobb, Howell Letter to James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, January 8, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location 4221 of 8647     

[50] Edmondson, Catherine. Catherine Edmonston Reflects on the Situation in the Confederacy  in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp W.W. Norton and Company, New York 2001 p.295

[51] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[52] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[53] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief  location 2419 of 3649

[54] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[55] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.337

[56] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[57] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three pp.754-755

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[59] Stringfellow, J.H. Letter to President Jefferson Davis, February 8, 1865 in Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. editors, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about “The Lost Cause” University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 p.224

[60] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[61] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.396

[62] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p. 755

[63] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[64] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[65] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.755

[66] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[67] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[68] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[69] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[70] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[71] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.345

[72] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.397

[73] Confederate Congress General Orders, No. 14, An Act to Increase the Military Force of the Confederate States, Approved March 13, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location4348 of 8647

[74] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.351

[75] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief  location 2441 of 3649

[76] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.35

[77] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[78] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[79] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[80] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 476

[81] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.968

[82] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 481

[83] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief  location2510 of 3649

[84] Ibid. Catton Grant Takes Command p.411

[85] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

[86] Bartlett, A.W. Richmond’s Black Residents Welcome Abraham Lincoln in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 p.302

[87] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.275

[88] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.897

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Realism & Racism: The Confederate Emancipation Debate


Union U.S.C.T. Troops march into Richmond 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I have been doing the past few days I am posting another heavily revised section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. This one deals with the less than successful efforts of some in the Confederacy to deal with reality and recommend that the Confederacy emancipate African American slaves. It really is a fascinating study that I expect to do more work on, but I think that youn will find it quite informative. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

In the South where before the war about forty percent of the population was composed of African American slaves there was no question regarding abolition or enlistment of African American soldiers. The Confederate States of America was a pro-slavery nation which hoped to “turn back the tide of abolition that had swept the hemisphere in the Age of Revolution…. Confederate founders proposed instead to perfect the slaveholder’s republic and offer it to the world as the political form best suited to the modern age.” [1]

The political and racial ideology of the South, which ranged from benevolent paternal views of Africans as less equal to whites, moderate prejudice and at tolerance of the need for slavery, and extreme slavery proponents who wanted to expand the institution beyond the borders of the Confederacy, as well as extreme prejudice and race race-hatred; was such that almost until the end of the war, Confederate politicians and many senior Confederate officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve; for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. As such, it was not until 1864 when the Confederacy was beginning to face the reality that they could no longer win the war militarily, that any serious discussion of the subject commenced.

But after the fall of Vicksburg and the shattering defeat at Gettysburg, some Southern newspapers in Mississippi and Alabama began to broach the subject of employing slaves as soldiers, understanding the reality that doing so might lead to emancipation, something that they loathed but understood the military and political reality for both if the Confederacy was to gain its independence from the Union. The editor of the Jackson Mississippian wrote that, “such a step would revolutionize our whole industrial system” and perhaps lead to universal emancipation, “a dire calamity to both the negro and the white race.” But if we lose slavery anyway, for Yankee success is death to the institution… so that it is a question of necessity – a question of choice of evils. … We must… save ourselves from the rapacious north, WHATEVER THE COST.” [2]

The editor of the Montgomery Daily Mail “worried about the implications of arming slaves for “our historical position on the slavery question,” as he delicately put it. The argument which goes to the exclusion of negroes as soldiers is founded on the status of the negro.” Negroes, he asserted, are “racially inferior[s],” but “the proposition to make the soldiers… [would be but a] practical equalization of the races.” Nonetheless they had to do it. “The War has made great changes,” he insisted, and, “we must meet those changes for the sake of preserving our existence. They should use any means to defeat the enemy, and “one of those, and the only one which will checkmate him, is the employment of negroes in the military services of the Confederacy.” [3]  Other newspapermen noted “We are forced by the necessity of our condition,” they declared, “to take a step which is revolting to every sentiment of pride, and to every principle that governed our institutions before the war.” The enemy was “stealing our slaves and converting them into soldiers…. It is better for us to use the negroes for our defense than that the Yankees should use them against us.” [4] These were radical words, but neither Jefferson Davis, nor the Confederate Congress was willing to hear them, and the topic remained off the table as a matter of discussion.


Major General Patrick Cleburne CSA

Despite this, there were a few Confederate military leaders who understood that the South could either fight for freedom and independence from the Union, but not for slavery at the same time, especially if the Confederacy refused to mobilize its whole arms-bearing population to defeat the Union. The reality that the “necessity of engaging slaves’ politics was starting to be faced where it mattered most: in the military.” [5] One of these men was General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee who demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race, and political objectives far in advance of the vast majority of Confederate leaders and citizens. Cleburne openly advocated that blacks should be allowed to serve as soldiers of the Confederacy, and that they should be emancipated.

Cleburne, who was known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan to reverse the course of the war by emancipating slaves and enlisting them to serve in the Confederate military. Cleburne was a lawyer, and his proposal was based on sound logic. Cleburne noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have enough soldiers, supplies, or resources to sustain the war effort. He stressed that the South had an inadequate number of soldiers, and that “our soldiers can see no end… 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.” [6]

Most significantly the Irishman argued that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness,” [7] and that “All along the lines… slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information,” an “omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources.” [8] He noted, that “Every soldier in our army already knows and feels our numerical inferiority to the enemy…. If this state continues much longer we shall surely be subjugated.” [9]

Cleburne was the ultimate realist in terms of what was going on in the Confederacy and the drain that slavery and the attempts to control the slave population were having on it. The Conscription Act of 1862 acknowledged that men had to be retained at home in order to guard against slave uprisings, and how exemptions diminished forces at the front without adding any corresponding economic value. Cleburne wrote of how African Americans in the South were becoming increasingly pro-Union, and were undermining Southern morale at home and in the ranks. He noted that they brought up “fear of insurrection in the rear” and filled Confederate soldiers with “anxieties for the fate of loved ones when our armies have moved forward.” And when Union forces entered plantation districts, they found “recruits waiting with open arms.” There was no point in denigrating their military record, either. After donning Union blue, black men had proved able “to face and fight bravely against their former masters.” [10]

Cleburne’s proposal was radical for he recommended 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 to the confederacy in this war.” [11] Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal to the high command:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “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.” [12]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [13] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than most were willing to risk, and even more than Lincoln had asked of the North in his Emancipation Proclamation. Cleburne was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [14] something that most seemed even unwilling to consider. He presented his arguments in stark terms that few Southern leaders, or citizens could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [15] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [16] But Cleburne’s appeal would be quashed in Richmond.

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Jefferson Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it. Cleburne’s proposal went from being a military matter to a political matter, and in Walker’s opinion, the political arguments were out of line for any military officer to state in public. Jefferson Davis intervened to quash the proposal, as he could only see negative results coming from it. Davis was “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army,” and he “ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [17] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [18] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the War Department on the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Richard Ewell suggested to Jefferson Davis the idea of arming the slaves and offering them emancipation as early as 1861, and Ewell went as far as “volunteering to “command a brigade of Negroes.” [19] During the war Robert E. Lee became one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [20]


Jefferson Davis 

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now, quite belatedly, believed that military necessity left him little choice. On November 7th 1864 he made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. Davis had finally come to the realization the institution of slavery was now useless to the Confederate cause, as he had become a more ardent Confederate nationalist, and to Davis, “Preserving slavery had become secondary to preserving his new nation,” [21] and his words shocked the assembled Congress. The slave, he boldly declared that “the slave… can no longer be “viewed as mere property” but must be recognized instead in his other “relation to the state – that of a person.” As property, Davis explained, slaves were useless to the state, because without the “loyalty” of the men could be gained from their labor.” [22]

In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [23]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters and in the press, especially that of North Carolina. Some newspapers in that state attacked Davis and his proposal, as “farcical” – “all this done for the preservation and perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men… are ready to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done as a condition of ending the war?” [24] Likewise, Davis now found himself opposed by some of his closest political allies including Robert Toombs and Howell Cobb.  Toombs roared, “The day that the army of Virginia allows a negro regiment to enter their lines as soldiers they will be degraded, ruined, and disgraced.” [25] Likewise, Cobb warned “The day that 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.” [26] Some in the military echoed his sentiments, Brigadier General Clement H. Stevens of South Carolina declared “I do not want independence if it is to be won by the help of the Negro.” [27] A North Carolina private wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country…. I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [28]

Robert E. Lee, who had emancipated his slaves before the war, began to be a formidable voice in the political debate going on in the Confederacy regarding the issue of blacks serving as soldiers and emancipation. He wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature: “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [29] He wrote another sponsor of a Negro soldier bill “The measure was “not only expedient but necessary…. The negroes, under proper circumstances will make effective soldiers. I think we could do as well with them as the enemy…. Those employed should be freed. It would be neither just nor wise… to require them to serve as slaves.” [30]


Howell Cobb

When Howell Cobb heard of Lee’s support for black soldiers and emancipation he fired of a letter to Secretary of War Seddon, “I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has ever been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Le, given as authority for such policy.” [31]

The debate which had begun in earnest in the fall of 1864 revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [32] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Senator Louis Wigfall who had been Davis’s ally in the conscription debates, now became his opponent, he declared that he “wanted to live in no country in which the man who blacked his boots and curried his horse was his equal.” [33]

Much of the Southern press added its voice to the opposition. Newspapers in North Carolina declared the proposal “farcical” – “all this was done for the preservation and the perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men…are willing to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done, as a condition of ending the war?” [34] The Charleston Mercury considered the proposal apostasy and proclaimed “Assert the right in the Confederate government to emancipate slaves, and it is stone dead…” [35] In Lynchburg an editor noted, “If such a terrible calamity is to befall us… we infinitely prefer that Lincoln shall be the instrument pf our disaster and degradation, that we ourselves strike the cowardly and suicidal blow.” [36]

Some states in the Confederacy began to realize that slaves were needed in the ranks, but did not support emancipation. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [37]  Smith declared that without slavery the South “would no longer have a motive to fight.” [38]

Many Confederate soldiers displayed the attitude that would later propel them into the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League and the White Liners after the war. A North Carolina soldier wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country… I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [39]

But many agreed with Lee, including Silas Chandler of Virginia, who stated, “Gen Lee is in favor of it I shall cast my vote for it I am in favor of giving him any thing he wants in the way of gaining our independence.” [40] Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure of the bill to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [41] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [42] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate:  “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [43] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [44] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [45]

But diehards opposed even the watered down measure. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [46]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.”  [47] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [48] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [49]

But even if the final bill passed was inadequate, the debate had finally forced Southerners “to realign their understanding of what they were protecting and to recognize the contradictions in their carefully honed rationalization. Some would still staunchly defend it; others would adopt the ostrich’s honored posture. But many understood only too well what they had already surrendered.” [50]

On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause. The order read in part: “In order to provide additional forces to repel invasion…the President be, and he is hereby authorized to ask for and to accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service  in whatever capacity he may direct…” While the order authorized that black soldiers “receive the same rations, clothing and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of service,” it did not provide for the emancipation of any of the black soldiers that might volunteer. Instead it ended “That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear to their owners, except by the consent of the owners and of the States which they may reside….”  [51]

Twelve days after the approval of the act, on March 25th two companies of blacks were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square. As the mobilized slaves assembled to the sounds of fifes and drums they were met with derision and violence as even “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [52] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond, leaving them and the capital at the mercy of the victorious Union army. .

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [53] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [54]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. In the wake of his departure the Confederate Provost Marshall set fire to the arsenal and the magazines to keep them from falling into Union hands. However, the fires “roared out of hand and rioters and looters too to the streets until the last Federal soldiers, their bands savagely blaring “Dixie,” marched into the humiliated capital and raised the Stars and Stripes over the old Capitol building.” [55]

The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [56] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [57]


Lincoln in Richmond 

On April 4th 1865 Abraham Lincoln entered Richmond to the cheers of the now former slaves still in the city. A journalist described the scene,

“The gathered around the President, ran ahead, hovered upon the flanks of the little company, and hung like a dark cloud upon the rear. Men, women, and children joined the consistently increasing throng. They came from the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and sang, Glory to God! Glory! Glory! Glory!” [58]

One old man rushed to Lincoln and shouted “Bless the Lord, the great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He’s been in my heart four long years, and he’s come at last to free his children from their bondage. Glory, hallelujah!” He then threw himself at the embarrassed President’s feet and Lincoln said, “Don’t kneel to me. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” [59]

Emancipation had finally arrived in Richmond, and in the van came the men of the U.S. Colored Troops who had rallied to the Union cause, followed by the man who had made the bold decision to emancipate them and then persevere until that was reality.

Notes

[1] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.310

[2] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.832

[3] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.324

[4] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.831

[5] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.325

[6] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[7] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[8] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[9] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.326

[10] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[11] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[12] Winik, Jay April 1865: The Month that Saved America Perennial an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers New York 2002 p.53

[13] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[15] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[16] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[17] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[18] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[20] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47

[21] Ibid. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis p.598

[22] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[23] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[25] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[27] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[29] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[30] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[31] Cobb, Howell Letter to James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, January 8, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location 4221 of 8647     

[32] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[33] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[35] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.337

[36] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[37] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three pp.754-755

[38] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[39] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[40] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.396

[41] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p. 755

[42] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[43] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[44] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.755

[45] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[46] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[47] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[48] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[49] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[50] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.397

[51] Confederate Congress General Orders, No. 14, An Act to Increase the Military Force of the Confederate States, Approved March 13, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location4348 of 8647

[52] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[53] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[54] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[55] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 476

[56] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

[57] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

[58] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.275

[59] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.897

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Birth Pangs of Freedom: Blacks in the U.S. Military

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is a section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text, and I think it is important in light of our remembrance of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As Dr. King noted in his I Have a Dream speech, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.” That Emancipation Proclamation began a slow and often tedious path towards freedom for African Americans, a path that was often paved with the toil, service, and blood of African Americans who served as Soldiers and Sailors, and later Airmen and Marines, who served even as their relatives and friends suffered under Jim Crow, and violence at home. Their sacrifices and service helped pave the way for Dr. King and the pursuit of civil rights in this country. This is part of their story.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Emancipation and the U.S. Military

The war brought about another change to warfare in America. This was a societal and political change that has shaped American military history, culture and life ever since. The Emancipation Proclamation gave African Americans, both Freedmen and recently freed slaves the opportunity to serve in the Union Army. The change of policy instituted by Lincoln was revolutionary as well as controversial and it had strategic implications for the war effort. There were many doubters in the north whose attitudes towards African Americans were not much different than Southerners, especially among the Copperheads.

Prior to the Emancipation some Union commanders in occupied Confederate territory “had unofficially recruited black soldiers in Kansas and in occupied portions of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1862. But the administration had not sanctioned these activities.” [1] The issue for Lincoln in 1861 and 1862 was the necessity of keeping the Border-Slave Sates of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, which had not seceded from the Union. Lincoln repudiated the orders of General John Fremont, in Missouri, and his friend General David Hunter, who commanded the Department of the South regarding emancipation, not because he was in complete disagreement, but because he felt that the officers had overstepped their authority.

Lincoln understood that this might hurt him with the abolitionist wing of the Republican Party. While Lincoln was certainly sympathetic to their cause, he insisted that such decisions were not within the prevue of local commanders, but that any such proclamations had to come from him, as Commander-in-Chief. He told Treasure Secretary Salmon Chase, who supported the measures of Hunter and Fremont, “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” [2] Lincoln’s decision to reverse and repudiate the decisions of local commanders infuriated some in his cabinet and in the Congress. But Lincoln remained firm in that conviction due to the need to ensure the cooperation of the Border States the continued loyalty of which were absolutely vital to winning the war, without which no meaningful emancipation would be possible.

However, Lincoln did support the efforts of General Benjamin Butler. Butler commanded the Federal forces at Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads. Butler had been a former pro-slavery Democrat who learned that the Confederates were using slaves to construct fortifications and to support their army on the Peninsula. In May 1862 twenty-three slaves escaped to his lines and their owner, a Confederate Colonel, “demanded the return of his property under the Fugitive Slave Law! With as deadpan expression as possible (given his cocked eye), Butler informed him that since Virginia claimed to have left the Union, the Fugitive Slave Law no longer applied.” [3] Butler then declared that since the escaped slaves had worked for the Confederate Army that they were “contraband of war – enemy property subject to seizure.” [4] It was a solid argument, since Southerners themselves referred to African American slaves as property was subject to seizure. Lincoln and Secretary of War Cameron approved of Butler’s action and “eventually, the Congress passed a confiscation law ending the rights of masters over fugitive slaves used to support Confederate troops.” [5]

Salmon Chase and other strong abolitionists opposed Lincoln vehemently for this, but it would not be long until Lincoln made the decision for emancipation. This was first accomplished by the Emancipation Proclamation, a military order that only applied to the states that had seceded. However, Lincoln would follow this by pushing for a constitutional amendment to end slavery. The latter occurred when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in January 1865. This amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Lincoln had already decided upon emancipation in the spring of 1862, however, following the defeat of McClellan on the Peninsula he decided to postpone announcing it, Secretary of State Seward recommended against it until “until you can give it to the country supported by military success.” Otherwise the world might view it as an incitement for slave insurrections, “as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek, on the retreat.” [6] The wisdom of Seward’s advice was profound, and Lincoln put off the announcement until after the Battle of Antietam.

McClellan, true to form opposed any such policy. When Lincoln visited him after his withdraw from the Peninsula, the defeated but still arrogant General handed Lincoln a memorandum on what McClellan viewed as the “proper conduct of the war.” McClellan advised Lincoln that the war “should not be a war looking to the subjugation of any State in any event…but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, the territorial organization of States, or the forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [7]

Lincoln was not seeking advice from his recalcitrant commander and put the letter in his pocket and simply told McClellan, “All right.” Interestingly enough just a few months earlier Lincoln would have agreed with McClellan’s views on the conduct of the war. However, with the passage of time and the realization that the Confederacy was fully committed to its independence as well as the continuance and even the expansion of slavery had come to the view that fighting a limited war with limited aims was foolish. He told another Unionist Democrat a few days after McClellan offered his advice that the war could not be fought:

“with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water….This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy this government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.” [8]

But as the war continued on, consuming vast numbers of lives the attitude of Lincoln and his administration began to change. After a year and a half of war, Lincoln and the closest members of his cabinet were beginning to understand that the “North could not win the war without mobilizing all of its resources and striking against Southern resources used to sustain the Confederate war effort.” [9] Slave labor was essential to the Confederate war effort, not only did slaves still work the plantations, they were impressed into service in war industries as well as in the Confederate Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle, a British observer who was with Lee’s army at Gettysburg noted, “in the rear of each regiment were from twenty to thirty negro slaves.” [10] The fact is that the slaves who accompanied the army remained slaves, they were not the mythical thousands of black soldiers who rallied to the Confederate cause, nor were they employees. “Tens of thousands of slaves accompanied their owners to army camps as servants or were impressed into service to construct fortifications and do other work for the Confederate army.” [11] This fact attested to by Colonel William Allan, one of Stonewall Jackson’s staff members who wrote “there were no employees in the Confederate army.” [12] slaves served in a number of capacities to free up white soldiers for combat duties, “from driving wagons to unloading trains and other conveyances. In hospitals they could perform work as nurses and laborers to ease the burdens of patients.” [13] An English-born artilleryman in Lee’s army wrote in 1863 that “in our whole army there must be at least thirty thousand colored servants….” [14] When Lee marched to Gettysburg he did so with somewhere between ten and thirty-thousand slaves in support roles and during the advance into Virginia Confederate troops rounded up and re-enslaved as many blacks as they could, including Freedmen.

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Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton; who was a passionate believer in the justice of emancipation was on of the first to grasp the importance of slave labor to the Confederate armies and how emancipation was of decided military necessity. Stanton, “Instantly grasped the military value of the proclamation. Having spent more time than any of his colleagues contemplating the logistical problems facing the army, he understood the tremendous advantage to be gained if the massive workforce of slaves could be transferred from the Confederacy to the Union.” [15]

Lincoln emphasized the “military necessity” of emancipation and “justified the step as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing the rebellion.” [16] The process of emancipation now became not only a moral crusade, but now became a key part of national strategy, not just in a military means, but politically, economically and diplomatically as Lincoln “also calculated that making slavery a target of the war would counteract the rising clamor in Britain for recognition of the Confederacy.” [17]

Lincoln wrote to his future Vice President, Andrew Johnson, then the military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoration of the Union.” [18] The idea of simply mollifying the border states was dropped and policy changed that of “depriving the Confederacy of slave labor. Mobilizing that manpower for the Union- as soldiers as well as laborers- was a natural corollary.” [19] Reflecting President Lincoln’s and Stanton’s argument for the military necessity of emancipation, General Henry Halleck wrote to Ulysses Grant that:

“the character of the war has very much changed within the past year. There is now no possibility of reconciliation with the rebels… We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.” [20]

Grant concurred with the decision. Grant wrote to in a letter to Lincoln after the assault on Battery Wagner “by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion as it strengthens us.” [21] Lincoln wrote after the Emancipation Proclamation that “the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.” [22] The change was a watershed in both American history as well as the future of the U.S. Military services.

“Once the Lincoln administration broke the color barrier of the army, blacks stepped forward in large numbers. Service in the army offered to blacks the opportunity to strike a decisive blow for freedom….” [23] Emancipation allowed for the formation of regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT), mustered directly into Federal service, which in numbers soon dwarfed the few state raised Black Regiments. However, it was the inspiration provided by those first state raised regiments, the heroic accounts of those units reported in Northern newspapers, as well as the unprovoked violence directed against Blacks in the 1863 draft riots that helped to provoke “many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of violent racism.” [24]

Despite the hurdles that blacks faced even in the North, Henry Gooding, an black sergeant from Massachusetts wrote the editor of the New Bedford Mercury urging fellow blacks to enlist despite the dangers, “As one of the race, I beseech you not to trust a fancied security, laying in your minds, that our condition will be bettered because slavery must die…[If we] allow that slavery will die without the aid of our race to kill it – language cannot depict the indignity, the scorn, and perhaps the violence that will be heaped upon us.” [25]

The valor of the state regiments, as well as the USCT units that managed to get into action was remarkable, especially in regard to the amount of discrimination levied at them by some northerners, and the very real threat of death that they faced of captured by Confederates.

In May of 1863 Major General Nathaniel Banks dared to send the First and Third Regiments of “Louisiana Native Home Guard regiments on a series of attacks on Confederate positions at Port Hudson, Louisiana” [26] where they received their baptism of fire. They suffered heavy losses and “of the 1080 men in the ranks, 271 were hit, or one out of every four.” [27] Banks said of them in his after action report: “They answered every expectation…In many respects their conduct was heroic…The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leave upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success.” [28]

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Sergeant William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts, Medal of Honor

But the most famous African American volunteer regiment was the 54th Massachusetts, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the “North’s showcase black regiment.” [29] Raised in Boston and officered by many men who were the sons of Boston’s blue blood abolitionist elite, the regiment was authorized in March 1863. Since there was still opposition to the formation of units made up of African Americans, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the formation of the 54th under the command of white officers, a practice that with few exceptions, became standard in the U.S. military until President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Governor Andrew was determined to ensure that the officers of the 54th were men of “firm antislavery principles…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.” [30]

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The 54th Massachusetts first saw action in early June 1863 and at Shaw’s urging were sent into battle against the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863. Leading the attack the 54th lost nearly half its men, “including Colonel Shaw with a bullet through his heart. Black soldiers gained Wagner’s parapet and held it for an hour before falling back.” [31] Though they tried to hold on they were pushed back after a stubborn fight to secure a breach in the fort’s defenses. “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” [32] Shaw was buried with his men by the Confederates and when Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” [33] As with so many frontal attacks on prepared positions throughout the war, valor alone could not overcome a well dug in enemy. “Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments as good as white men, but that was about all.” [34]

Despite the setback, the regiment went on to further actions where it continued to distinguish itself. The Northern press, particularly abolitionist newspapers brought about a change in the way that many Americans in the North, civilians as well as soldiers, saw blacks. The Atlantic Monthly noted, “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.” [35]

Frederick Douglass, who had two sons serving in the 54th Massachusetts, understood the importance of African Americans taking up arms against those that had enslaved them in order to win their freedom:

“Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S… let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny he has won the right to citizenship in the United States.” [36]

Other African American units less famous than the illustrious 54th Massachusetts distinguished themselves in action against Confederate forces. Two regiments of newly recruited blacks were encamped at Milliken’s Bend Louisiana when a Confederate brigade attempting to relieve the Vicksburg Garrison attacked them. The troops were untrained and ill-armed but held on against a determined enemy:

“Untrained and armed with old muskets, most of the black troops nevertheless fought desperately. With the aid of two gunboats they finally drove off the enemy. For raw troops, wrote Grant, the freedmen “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Dana, still with Grant’s army, spoke with more enthusiasm. “The bravery of the blacks,” he declared, “completely revolutionized the sentiment in the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who had formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express after that as heartily in favor of it.” [37]

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By the end of the war over 179,000 African American Soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers served in the Union armies. For a number of reasons most of these units were confined to rear area duties or working with logistics and transportation operations. The policies to regulate USCT regiments to supporting tasks in non-combat roles “frustrated many African American soldiers who wanted a chance to prove themselves in battle.” [38] Many of the soldiers and their white officers argued to be let into the fight as they felt that “only by proving themselves in combat could blacks overcome stereotypes of inferiority and prove their “manhood.” [39] Even so in many places in the army the USCT and state regiments made up of blacks were scorned:

“A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we don’t want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I’m sorry to have you leave my command, and am still more sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think that it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.” [40]

The general of course, was wrong. In the engagements where USCT units were allowed to fight, they did so with varying success most often attributable to the direction of their senior officers. When given the chance they almost always fought well, even when badly commanded. This was true as well when they were thrown into hopeless situations. One such instance was when Ferrero’s Division, comprised of colored troops were thrown into the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg when “that battle lost beyond all recall.” [41] The troops advanced in good order singing as they went, while their commander, General Ferrero took cover in a dugout and started drinking; but the Confederate defenders had been reinforced and “Unsupported, subjected to a galling fire from batteries on the flanks, and from infantry fire in front and partly on the flank,” a witness write, “they broke up in disorder and fell back into the crater.” [42] Pressed into the carnage of the crater where white troops from the three divisions already savaged by the fighting had taken cover, the “black troops fought with desperation, uncertain of their fate if captured.” [43] In the battle Ferrero’s division lost 1327 of the approximately 4000 men who made the attack. [44]

Major General Benjamin Butler railed to his wife in a letter against those who questioned the courage of African American soldiers seeing the gallantry of black troops assaulting the defenses of Petersburg in September 1864: The man who says that the negro will not fight is a coward….His soul is blacker than then dead faces of these dead negroes, upturned to heaven in solemn protest against him and his prejudices.” [45]

When captured by Confederates, black soldiers and their white officers received no quarter from many Confederate opponents. General Edmund Kirby Smith who held overall command of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi instructed General Richard Taylor to simply execute black soldiers and their white officers: “I hope…that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.” [46] This was not only a local policy, but echoed at the highest levels of the Confederate government. In 1862 the Confederate government issued an order that threatened white officers commanding blacks: “any commissioned officer employed in the drilling, organizing or instructing slaves with their view to armed service in this war…as outlaws” would be “held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” [47] After the assault of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner a Georgia soldier “reported with satisfaction that the prisoners were “literally shot down while on their knees begging for quarter and mercy.” [48]

On April 12th 1864 at Fort Pillow, troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred the bulk of over 231 Union most of them black as they tried to surrender. While it is fairly clear that Forrest did not order the massacre and even attempted to stop it, it was clear that he had lost control of his troops. Forrest’s soldiers fought with the fury of men possessed by hatred of an enemy that they considered ‘a lesser race’ and slaughtered the Union troops as they either tried to surrender or flee; but while Forrest did not order the massacre, he certainly was not displeased with the result. Ulysses Grant wrote that:

“These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the slaughtered for up to 200 years. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed; but few of the officers escaped. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part that shocks humanity to read.” [49]

The bulk of the killing was directed at the black soldiers of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, which composed over a third of the garrison. “Of the 262 Negro members of the garrison, only 58- just over 20 percent- were marched away as prisoners; while of the 295 whites, 168- just under sixty percent were taken.” [50] A white survivor of the 13th West Tennessee Cavalry, a Union unit at the fort wrote:

We all threw down our arms and gave tokens of surrender, asking for quarter…but no quarter was given….I saw 4 white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy….These were all soldiers. There were also 2 negro women and 3 little children standing within 25 steps of me, when a rebel stepped up to them and said, “Yes, God damn you, you thought you were free, did you?” and shot them all. They all fell but one child, when he knocked it in the head with the breech of his gun.” [51]

A Confederate Sergeant who was at Fort Pillow wrote home a week after the massacre: “the poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and shot down.” [52]

African American soldiers proved themselves during the war and their efforts paved the way for Lincoln and others to begin considering the full equality of blacks as citizens. If they could fight and die for the country, how could they be denied the right to votes, be elected to office, serve on juries or go to public schools? Under political pressure to end the war during the stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta in the summer of 1864, Lincoln reacted angrily to Copperheads as well as wavering Republicans on the issue of emancipation:

“But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.” More than 100,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union and their efforts were crucial to northern victory. They would not continue fighting if they thought the North intended to betray them….If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive…the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.” [53]

The importance of African Americans cannot be minimized, without them the war could have dragged on much longer or even ended in stalemate, which would have been a Confederate victory. Lincoln wrote about their importance in 1864:

“Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or hundred and fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it.” [54]

Despite this, even in the North during and after the war, blacks, including former soldiers faced discrimination, sometimes that of the white men that they served alongside, but more often from those who did not support the war effort. Lincoln noted after the war:

“there will there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, the clenched teeth, the steady eye, the well poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.” [55]

Those rights would be fought for another century and what began in 1863 with the brave service and sacrifice of these African American soldiers began a process of increased civil rights that is still going on today. It would not be until after the war that some blacks were commissioned as officers in the Army. When Governor John Andrew, the man who had raised the 54th Massachusetts attempted to:

“issue a state commission to Sergeant Stephen Swails of the 54th…the Bureau of Colored Troops obstinately refused to issue Swails a discharge from his sergeant’s rank, and Swails promotion was held up until after the end of the war. “How can we hope for success to our arms or God’s blessing,” raged the white colonel of the 54th, Edward Hallowell, “while we as a people are so blind to justice?” [56]

The families of the free blacks who volunteered also suffered, especially those who still had families enslaved in Confederate occupied areas or Union States which still allowed slavery. One women in Missouri wrote her husband begging him to come home “I have had nothing but trouble since you left….They abuse me because you went & say they will not take care of our children & do nothing but quarrel with me all the time and beat me scandalously the day before yesterday.” [57]

However, the Emancipation Proclamation transformed the war, and even jaded White Union soldiers who had been against emancipation and who were deeply prejudiced against blacks began to change their outlook as the armies marched into the South and saw the horrors of slavery. Russell Weigley wrote that Union soldiers:

“confronting the scarred bodies and crippled souls of African Americans as they marched into the South experienced a strong motivation to become anti-slavery men…Men do not need to play a role long, furthermore, until the role grows to seem natural and customary to them. That of liberators was sufficiently fulfilling to their pride that soldiers found themselves growing more accustomed to it all the more readily.” [58]

At peak one in eight Union troops were African American, and Black troops made an immense contribution to the Union victory. “Black troops fought on 41 major battlefields and in 449 minor engagements. Sixteen soldiers and seven sailors received Medals of Honor for valor. 37,000 blacks in army uniform gave their lives and untold sailors did, too.” [59]

After the war many of the African American soldiers became leaders in the African American community and no less than 130 held elected office including the U.S. Congress and various state legislatures. Sadly the nation has forgotten the efforts of the Free Black Soldiers and Sailors who fought for freedom, but even so the “contribution of black soldiers to Union victory remained a point of pride in black communities. “They say,” an Alabama planter reported in 1867, “the Yankees never could have whipped the South without the aid of the Negroes.” Well into the twentieth century, black families throughout the United States would recall with pride that their fathers and grandfathers had fought for freedom.” [60]

The Southern Debate about Emancipation and Black Soldiers

In the South, politicians and many senior Confederate Officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve, for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. Despite this, a few such as General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race: Cleburne advocated that blacks serve as soldiers should be emancipated.

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General Patrick Cleburne CSA

Cleburne, known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan. He noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have soldiers, the supplies or resources; and most significantly that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.” [61] Cleburne recommended 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 to the confederacy in this war.” [62]

Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “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.” [63]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [64] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than they could risk. He was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [65] and he presented it in stark terms that few could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [66] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [67]

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it. Cleburne’s proposal went from being a military matter to a political matter and Davis intervened to quash the proposal. “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army, Jefferson Davis ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [68] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [69] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Richard Ewell suggested to Jefferson Davis the idea of arming the slaves and offering them emancipation as early as 1861, and Ewell went as far as “volunteering to “command a brigade of Negroes.” [70] During the war Robert E. Lee became one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [71]

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now believed that military necessity left him little choice. On November 7th 1864 he made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [72]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters. Davis was now opposed by some of his closest political allies including Howell Cobb who warned “The day that 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.” [73] Brigadier General Clement H. Stevens of South Carolina declared “I do not want independence if it is to be won by the help of the Negro.” [74]

Robert E. Lee began to be a formidable voice in the political debate going on in the Confederacy regarding the issue of blacks serving as soldiers and emancipation. He wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature:

“we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [75]

When Howell Cobb heard of Lee’s support for black soldiers and emancipation he fired of a letter to Secretary of War Seddon, “I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has ever been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Le, given as authority for such policy.” [76]

The debate began in earnest in the fall of 1864 and revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [77] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Robert Toombs of Georgia declared “the day that the army of Virginia allows a negro regiment to enter their lines as soldiers the will be degraded, ruined, and disgraced…” [78]

Much of the Southern press added its voice to the opposition. Newspapers in North Carolina declared the proposal “farcical” – “all this was done for the preservation and the perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men…are willing to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done, as a condition of ending the war?” [79] The Charleston Mercury considered the proposal apostasy and proclaimed “Assert the right in the Confederate government to emancipate slaves, and it is stone dead…” [80]

Some states in the Confederacy began to realize that slaves were needed in the ranks, but did not support emancipation. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [81] Smith declared that without slavery the South “would no longer have a motive to fight.” [82]

Many Confederate soldiers displayed the attitude that would later propel them into the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League and the White Liners after the war. A North Carolina soldier wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country… I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [83]

Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [84] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [85] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate: “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [86] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [87] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [88]

But diehards opposed even the watered down measure. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [89]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.” [90] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [91] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [92]

On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause. The order read in part: “In order to provide additional forces to repel invasion…the President be, and he is hereby authorized to ask for and to accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service in whatever capacity he may direct…” While the order authorized that black soldiers “receive the same rations, clothing and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of service,” it did not provide for the emancipation of any of the black soldiers that might volunteer. Instead it ended “That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear to their owners, except by the consent of the owners and of the States which they may reside….” [93]

Twelve days after the approval of the act, on March 25th two companies of blacks were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square. As the mobilized slaves assembled to the sounds of fifes and drums they were met with derision and violence as even “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [94] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond.

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [95] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [96]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [97] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [98]

The Post War Experience of Blacks in the U.S. Army

Some of those early African American soldiers went on to distinguish themselves on the prairie as the immortal Buffalo Soldiers. Other African Americans would fight in Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish American War, however after the war the “contributions of black soldiers to the war were generally ignored, white Southern soldiers were hailed for their valor” [99] as part of a campaign to reintegrate the South into the life of the nation.

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Buffalo Soldiers

In the First World War, despite there being some instances of racial harmony, blacks, including officers faced discrimination and met with violent acts. “Refusals to arrest white soldiers who physically assaulted black soldiers accompanied by the tendency to rescind unpopular racial orders and to discourage black officers from demanding salutes from white soldiers” [100] was common.

Most of the Regular Army “Buffalo Soldier” units were not allowed to fight in the First World War. Instead they were left on the frontier and a new generation of draftees and volunteers became the nucleus of two infantry divisions, the 92nd and 93rd. However, at the beginning they were regulated to labor service units. The protests of organizations such as the NAACP and men like W.E.B. DuBois, and Phillip Randolph forced the War Department to reconsider the second-class status of these men and to form them into combat units.

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Despite this, the leadership of the AEF, or the American Expeditionary Force, refused to allow these divisions to serve under American command. Instead they were broken up and the regiments of the 93rd Division were attached to French divisions. The 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” were assigned to the French 16th Division and then to the 161st Division. The 370th “Black Devils” were attached to the French 26th Division, while the 371st and 372nd were assigned to the French 157th (Colonial) Division, which was also known as the Red Hand Division. The 157th Division had suffered badly during the war and been decimated in the unrelenting assaults in the trench warfare of the Western Front. It was reconstituted in 1918 with one French Regiment and the two African American regiments. Both fought exceptionally well and were cited by the French government for their efforts. The 371st was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honeur. Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 1st Battalion 371st was the only African American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the First World War. The 372nd was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honeur for its service with the 157th Division.

While many white American soldiers depreciated their French hosts and attempted to sow the seeds of their own racial prejudice against the black soldiers among the French, Southerners in particular warned the French of “black rapist beasts.” However the French experience of American blacks was far different than the often-scornful treatment that they received from white American soldiers.

“Soldiers from the four regiments that served directly with the French Army attested to the willingness of the French to let men fight and to honor them for their achievements. Social interactions with French civilians- and white southern soldiers’ reactions to them- also highlighted crucial differences between the two societies. Unlike white soldiers, African Americans did not complain about high prices in French stores. Instead they focused on the fact that “they were welcomed” by every shopkeeper that they encountered.” [101]

Official and unofficial efforts by those in the Army command and individual soldiers to stigmatize them and to try to force the French into applying Jim Crow to laws and attitudes backfired. Villages now expressed a preference for black over white American troops. “Take back these soldiers and send us some real Americans, black Americans,” wrote one village mayor after a group of rowdy white Americans disrupted the town.” [102]

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Even after President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, African Americans, as well as other racial minorities, women and gays have faced very real discrimination. The military continues to make great strides, and while overt racist acts and other types of discrimination are outlawed, racism still remains a part of American life.

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General Colin Powell at the Buffalo Soldier Monument

Today things have changed, and that in large part is due to the unselfish sacrifice in the face of hatred and discrimination of the men of the USCT and the State Black Regiments like the 54th Massachusetts and the Louisiana Home Guards who blazed a way to freedom for so many. Those who followed them as Buffalo Soldiers and volunteers during the World Wars continued to be trailblazers in the struggle for equal rights. A white soldier who served with the 49th Massachusetts wrote, “all honor to our negro soldiers. They deserve citizenship. They will secure it! There would be much suffering in what he termed “the transition state” but a “nation is not born without pangs.” [103]

Those birth pangs helped to bring about a new birth of freedom for the United States, and not just for African Americans, but Women and  Gays as well.

Notes

[1] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.435

[3] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[4] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[5] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.369

[6] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.109

[7] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.531

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.503

[9] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.101

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[11] Foner, Eric Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.45

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[13] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.313

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[15] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.465

[16] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.318

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.48

[18] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.159

[19] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.159

[20] McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1991 p.35

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.381

[22] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[23] Glatthaar, Joseph T. Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992

[24] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[25] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[27] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.398

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[30] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.101

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp. 380-381

[33] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.686-687

[34] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.697

[35] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[36] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 381

[37] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.634

[38] Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011

[39] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.89

[40] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 p.227

[41] Ibid. Catton A Stillness at Appomattox p.249

[42] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.537

[43] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 pp.384-385

[44] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.537

[45] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[46] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[47] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[48] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.281

[49] Grant, Ulysses S. Preparing for the Campaigns of ’64 in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume IV, Retreat With Honor Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ pp.107-108

[50] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.111

[51] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 378

[52] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.112

[53] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.89

[54] Ibid. Glatthaar Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory p.138

[55] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 113

[56] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 376

[57] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[58] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.192

[59] Gallagher, Gary, Engle, Stephen, Krick, Robert K. and Glatthaar editors The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK 2003 p.296

[60] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[61] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[62] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[63] Winik, Jay April 1865: The Month that Saved America Perennial an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers New York 2002 p.53

[64] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[65] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[66] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[67] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[68] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[69] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[70] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[71] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47

[72] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[73] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[74] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[75] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[76] Cobb, Howell Letter to James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, January 8, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location 4221 of 8647  

[77] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[78] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[79] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[80] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.337

[81] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three pp.754-755

[82] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[83] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[84] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p. 755

[85] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[86] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[87] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.755

[88] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[89] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[90] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[91] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[92] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[93] Confederate Congress General Orders, No. 14, An Act to Increase the Military Force of the Confederate States, Approved March 13, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location4348 of 8647

[94] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[95] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[96] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[97] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

[98] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

[99] Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? America’s Great Debate The Free Press, Simon and Schuster Europe, London 2004 p.124

[100] Keene, Jennifer D. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London 2001 p.88

[101] Ibid. Keane Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America p.128

[102] Ibid. Keane Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America p.129

[103] Ibid Gallagher The Union War p.113

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Loose thoughts and musings

Shades of Confederate Gray

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Major General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A. 

“When the prophet, a complacent fat man,
Arrived at the mountain-top
He cried: “Woe to my knowledge!
I intended to see good white lands
And bad black lands—
But the scene is gray.”

Stephen Crane

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

If you read my work you know how much I condemn the cause of the Confederacy and the institution of slavery. I also make no bones about the continued use of the symbols of the Confederacy by some who do not use them simply to honor the memory of dead soldiers but rather to further inflame political and racial divides. As a descendant of slave owners and Confederate officers I do understand the tension. THe family patriarch on my paternal side was an unreconstructed Rebel. He was a slave owner who served as a Lieutenant in the Confederate cavalry during the war and refused to sign the loyalty oath to the United States. For this he lost his lands and plantation. There are some who sincerely desire to honor their ancestors, and I think that is honorable, but to stand by an indefensible cause as my ancestors did is another matter to me.

I agree with historian George Santayana who wrote “Loyalty to our ancestors does not include loyalty to their mistakes.” I think we have to be able to deal with that, and I do not only mean for the descendants of slave owners and Confederates. Certainly the descendants of those in the North who cooperated with, enabled and profited from slavery, and then the entire movement to reenslaved freed blacks by other means after the war have nothing to be proud of in this regard. I readily admit that many political, industrial and religious leaders in the North were little better than many Southern leaders (see my articles Accomplices to Tyranny: The North & Reconstruction and Corporate Slavery & the Black Codes ). Both of these articles highlight how Northerners, especially politicians from both political parties and industrialists who took in those injustices committed against blacks. The same people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line dis similar things to poor whites who they referred to as “White Trash” as well as Native Americans, women later other immigrants like the Chinese. As we get closer to Labor Day I am going to spend some time on how American workers of all races were treated during that time, but not today.

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Instead I want to talk about shades of gray. As my regular readers know I believe that people are the most important part of history, and that people are seldom fully good or fully evil. In fact most people, saints and sinners alike live lives of some shade of gray. Thus I believe that good people can sometimes support evil causes and otherwise evil people can end up on the right side of history by supporting a good cause. We have other people that we treat as icons who had dark places in their lives, and did things that were not honorable; history is full of them. The problem is that we like to look at people as totally good or totally evil, it’s easier that way.

That is the case when we look at men who fought for the Confederacy and the Union during the Civil War, and since I have spent a lot of time hammering the cause that Confederate soldiers fought to defend, even those who opposed secession and slavery; it is only right that I spend some time talking about the shades of Confederate Gray. To do this we have to be able to put aside the notion that every Confederate was a racist or White Supremacist.

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Lieutenant General A.P. Hill

Those who fought for the Confederacy spanned the spectrum of belief and often fought for reasons other than slavery and some of their stories are tragic. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill opposed slavery before the war and opposed secession but because his state and his family seceded he went south. In 1850 he was on leave from the army and learned of a lynching in his home town of Lynchburg, he wrote “Shame, shame upon you all, good citizens…Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with this outrage.” Hill was incredibly brave and led his troops honorably throughout the war. Sadly he died in action just days before the end of the war at Petersburg and his widow took no part in any commemorations of the Lost Cause after the war.

Brigadier General Lewis Armistead who led Pickett’s troops to the High Water mark at the Battle of Gettysburg is another tragic figure. He was a widower who lived a life of much sorrow and loneliness and the army was his life; his best friends were in the army. His very best friend, Winfield Scott Hancock and his wife Almira remained with the Union, their parting in California at the beginning of the war is heartrending, and it was Hancock’s troops who inflicted the mortal wound on him.

Major General Patrick Cleburne, called the “Stonewall Jackson of the West” is another. He was an Irish immigrant to Arkansas. He had no slaves, opposed the institution and fought because the people he lived among were his friends. He was the first Confederate to broach the subject of emancipating the slaves, and for this he was ostracized, and not promoted to Lieutenant General and command of a Corps. He died in action at the Battle of Franklin in 1864.

There are others, Lieutenant General James Longstreet who was probably the best corps commander on either side during the war, quickly reconciled, became a Republican and served in various capacities in government after the war. For this, as well as needing a scapegoat for the loss at Gettysburg Longstreet was treated as a modern Judas Iscariot by many in the South, especially among the proponents of the Lost Cause. Major General William “Little Billy” Mahone was another like Longstreet who joined the Republican Party and suffered a fair amount of criticism for his stance.

Another more interesting personality was Colonel John S. Mosby, the legendary “Gray Ghost” of Virginia whose “Raiders” caused Union forces much difficulty throughout the war. Mosby is interesting, he did not support slavery, was not a proponent of secession but felt that it was his duty to fight for his state. This was not unusual because in that era most people in all parts of the country, felt much more loyalty to their own state, or even city or county than they did to the national government. He and his troops served honorably and after the war too he supported reconciliation, he became a Republican and a friend and supporter of Ulysses Grant. He was not ashamed of his service and stated after the war, “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in” and that “The South was my country. But he also condemned those in the South who denied that slavery was the cause of the war. All this made him anathema and he had to live the rest of his life outside the south or serving in various overseas diplomatic postings.

There were other shades of gray among Confederates, some like Lieutenant General Jubal Early who was not a slave owner and vehemently opposed secession in the Virginia legislature until the state seceded. When it did he joined the Confederate forces and became one of the fiercest supporters of Confederate independence who ever lived. In fact Early, though pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, never reconciled with the United States and became the leading proponent of the history of the Lost Cause. Early’s Corps Commander Lieutenant General Richard Ewell was more circumspect, he owned and admitted the mistakes he made during the war as a commander, and he fully reconciled to the United States. Before he died Ewell “insisted that nothing disrespectful to the United States Government be inscribed upon his tomb.”

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Lieutenant General Wade Hampton

Lieutenant General Wade Hampton of South Carolina was one of the richest men in the South if not the country when war came. He supported secession, owned hundreds of slaves, but for a slave owner he was relatively decent in the way he treated his slaves. He fought through the war and returned home to nothing. He became involved in politics, remained very much a White Supremacist, but that being said built bridges to African American political and religious leaders when he ran for governor, even as the terrorist bands of the Red Shirts did all they could to ensure that blacks were harassed, disenfranchised and even killed to keep them from voting. To the surprise of the militants Hampton adopted a moderate course, kept blacks in his cabinet and in state offices, kept a regiment of African American militia in Charleston and opposed the black codes and Jim Crow. For this he was run out office. When he died his last words were “God bless my people, black and white.”

One the other hand there were men like Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest who helped found the Ku Klux Klan, and even led some of the early violence against blacks, and purchased black prisoners for use on his plantation after the war. However, he evolved on the issue, and left the Klan in 1869 and in 1875 two years before his death began to promote racial harmony. He spoke about that to a group of African Americans, where he received a bouquet of flowers from a black women he was condemned throughout the South. An article in the Charlotte Observer noted “We have infinitely more respect for Longstreet, who fraternizes with negro men on public occasions, with the pay for the treason to his race in his pocket, than with Forrest and Pillow, who equalize with the negro women, with only ‘futures’ in payment.”

There were many Confederate Soldiers who fought and died because they did believe in White Supremacy and hated the North, that too is a fact, and many of those who lived carried on that hate until they died.

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There were others who never reconciled and who rewrote history to minimize the importance of slavery and White Supremacy to the Confederate cause, these included Jefferson Davis, his Vice President Alexander Stephens, and Brigadier General Henry Benning of Georgia. All had spearheaded the drive for secession, spoken and wrote forcefully for not only preserving but expanding slavery Stephens said quite clearly in 1861 what the Confederacy was founded upon in his Cornerstone Speech “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” However, after the war all of them sought to distance themselves from this and change the narrative to Constitutional, economic and political reasons.

KKK-Nast

There were also many Confederate soldiers for whom the war never ended and they did continue it by other means, either as members of any of the various terrorist groups such as the Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League, the White Liners, or any of the related groups who terrorized and killed blacks and their white supporters, be they Northern “Carpetbaggers” or Southern “Scalawags.”

I could go on longer or in more detail on any of these men and probably could write a book about any of them, but I wanted to show that even when a cause is wrong, that we cannot condemn people as groups, and we also have to take into account people’s evolution on issues. The evolution of Wade Hampton and Nathan Bedford Forrest was far different than that of Jubal Early and others who supported the Lost Cause. I wish my family patriarch had been more like Mosby, Hampton, Hill, Ewell, Cleburne, or even Forrest rather than Jubal Early and others who never reconciled and in some cases continued to use violence to oppress others. 

Shades of gray. In history you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Patrick Cleburne & Failed Confederate Emancipation

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In light of some of the historical revisionism of parts of the Confederate heritage movement which claim that many blacks fought for the Confederacy. The fact is that this is not true. Though there are account of a few slaves who fought with their masters, the fact is that the Confederacy impressed the labor of slaves to do unarmed non-combat jobs such as cooks, teamsters and laborers while remaining slaves with no promise of freedom.  

This article deals with the reality that until the very end most leaders of the Confederacy fought against emancipation and did not want African Americans, slave or free to fight their battle. One non-slave owning Irish immigrant who rose to become a Confederate General disagreed and urged emancipation and equality for blacks who would fight for the Confederacy. His arguments were rejected and he was killed in action well before any other Confederate even considered emancipation.

The story of Cleburne demonstrates the lie that the leaders of the Confederacy desired nothing else than continued slavery for African Americans. It also demonstrates that there were individual Confederate leaders who saw the future and were pushed aside when they spoke up. Their political power in comparison to the aristocracy of the slave owners, traders and white supremacists was insignificant, and their heretical ideas doomed to failure.

This is another section of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride Text. I hope that you enjoy. 

Have a nice and thoughtful night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

CleburnePatrick

General Patrick Cleburne 

In the South, politicians and many senior Confederate Officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve, for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. Despite this, a few such as General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race: Cleburne advocated that blacks serve as soldiers should be emancipated.

Cleburne, known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan. He noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have soldiers, the supplies or resources; and most significantly that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.” [1] Cleburne recommended 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 to the confederacy in this war.” [2]

Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “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.” [3]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [4] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than they could risk. He was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [5] and he presented it in stark terms that few could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [6] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [7]

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it. Cleburne’s proposal went from being a military matter to a political matter and Davis intervened to quash the proposal. “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army, Jefferson Davis ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [8] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [9] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Robert E. Lee was one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [10]

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now believed that military necessity left him little choice. On November 7th 1864 he made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [11]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters. Davis was now opposed by some of his closest political allies including Howell Cobb who warned “The day that 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.” [12] Lee wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [13]

The debate began in earnest in the fall of 1864 and revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [14] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [15]

Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [16] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [17] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate: “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [18] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [19] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [20]

But diehards opposed even the watered down measure. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [21]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.” [22] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [23] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [24] On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause and on March 25th two companies were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square and as they did so to the sounds of fifes and drums, “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [25] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond.

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [26] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [27]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [28] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [29]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[2] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[3] Winik, Jay April 1865: The Month that Saved America Perennial an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers New York 2002 p.53

[4] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[6] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[7] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[9] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[10] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47

[11] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[13] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[14] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[15] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three pp.754-755

[16] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p. 755

[17] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[18] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[19] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.755

[20] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[21] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[23] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[24] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[25] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[27] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[28] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

[29] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

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Emancipation and the U.S. Military: the Civil War and After

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Tomorrow is the holiday where we remember the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So I felt it appropriate to put out a revised section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text dealing with Emancipation and beginnings of African Americans being allowed to take their place in serving their country.  Sadly, a country that so often, both before, and after emancipation, treated them as either something less than human, or as second class citizens. But the sacrifice of these pioneers helped pave the way for the civil rights of others: women, other ethnic minorities, and most recently the LGBT community. Without blacks, who certainly endured the most odious treatment under slavery than any other group in this country, the long and slow progress others have made would not have been possible. This is certainly not to say that our system, nor our treatment of minorities, immigrants, women and gays is completely fair and equitable. It is not, there are many flaws, and still much discrimination, prejudice and fear mongering which demonizes certain groups as well as seeks to roll back the gains that individuals belonging to these groups have made to be accepted into American society. Thus we continue to strive for “a more perfect Union.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

The war brought about another change to warfare in America. This was a societal and political change that has shaped American military history, culture and life ever since. The Emancipation Proclamation gave African Americans, both Freedmen and recently freed slaves the opportunity to serve in the Union Army. The change of policy instituted by Lincoln was revolutionary as well as controversial and it had strategic implications for the war effort. There were many doubters in the north whose attitudes towards African Americans were not much different than Southerners, especially among the Copperheads.

Prior to the Emancipation some Union commanders in occupied Confederate territory “had unofficially recruited black soldiers in Kansas and in occupied portions of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1862. But the administration had not sanctioned these activities.” [1] But as the war continued on, consuming vast numbers of lives the attitude of Lincoln and the administration began to change.

Lincoln and the closest members of his cabinet were beginning to understand that the “North could not win the war without mobilizing all of its resources and striking against Southern resources used to sustain the Confederate war effort.” [2]

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton; who was a passionate believer in the justice of emancipation “Instantly grasped the military value of the proclamation. Having spent more time than any of his colleagues contemplating the logistical problems facing the army, he understood the tremendous advantage to be gained if the massive workforce of slaves could be transferred from the Confederacy to the Union.” [3]

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Lincoln emphasized the “military necessity” of emancipation and “justified the step as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing the rebellion.” [4] The process of emancipation now became not only a moral crusade, but now became a key part of national strategy. Lincoln wrote to his future Vice President, Andrew Johnson, then the military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoration of the Union.” [5] The idea of simply mollifying the border states was dropped and policy changed that of “depriving the Confederacy of slave labor. Mobilizing that manpower for the Union- as soldiers as well as laborers- was a natural corollary.” [6] Reflecting President Lincoln’s and Stanton’s argument for the military necessity of emancipation, General Henry Halleck wrote to Ulysses Grant that:

“the character of the war has very much changed within the past year. There is now no possibility of reconciliation with the rebels… We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.” [7]

Grant concurred with the decision. Grant wrote to in a letter to Lincoln after the assault on Battery Wagner “by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion as it strengthens us.” [8] Lincoln wrote after the Emancipation Proclamation that “the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.” [9] The change was a watershed in both American history as well as the future of the U.S. Military services.

Emancipation allowed for the formation of regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT), mustered directly into Federal service, which in numbers soon dwarfed the few state raised Black Regiments. However, it was the inspiration provided by those first state raised regiments as well as the violence directed against Blacks in the draft riots helped to provoke “many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of violent racism.” [10] The valor of the state regiments, as well as the USCT units that managed to get into action was remarkable, especially in regard to the amount of discrimination levied at them by some northerners, and the very real threat of death that they faced of captured by Confederates.

In May of 1863 Major General Nathaniel Banks dared to send the First and Third Regiments of “Louisiana Native Home Guard regiments on a series of attacks on Confederate positions at Port Hudson, Louisiana” [11] where they received their baptism of fire. They suffered heavy losses and “of the 1080 men in the ranks, 271 were hit, or one out of every four.” [12] Banks said of them in his after action report: “They answered every expectation…In many respects their conduct was heroic…The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leave upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success.” [13]

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Sergeant William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts, Medal of Honor

But the most famous African American volunteer regiment was the 54th Massachusetts, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the “North’s showcase black regiment.” [14] Raised in Boston and officered by many men who were the sons of Boston’s blue blood abolitionist elite, the regiment was authorized in March 1863. Since there was still opposition to the formation of units made up of African Americans, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the formation of the 54th under the command of white officers, a practice that with few exceptions, became standard in the U.S. military until President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Governor Andrew was determined to ensure that the officers of the 54th were men of “firm antislavery principles…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.” [15]

The 54th saw action first in early June and at Gould’s urging sent into battle against the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863. Leading the attack the 54th lost nearly half its men, “including Colonel Shaw with a bullet through his heart. Black soldiers gained Wagner’s parapet and held it for an hour before falling back.” [16] Though they tried to hold on they were pushed back after a stubborn fight to secure a breach in the fort’s defenses. “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” [17] Shaw was buried with his men by the Confederates and when Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” [18] As with so many frontal attacks on prepared positions throughout the war, valor alone could not overcome a well dug in enemy. “Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments as good as white men, but that was about all.” [19]

Despite the setback, the regiment went on to further actions where it continued to distinguish itself. The Northern press, particularly abolitionists papers brought about a change in the way that many Americans in the North, civilians as well as soldiers, saw blacks. The Atlantic Monthly noted “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.” [20]

Frederick Douglass, who had two sons serving in the 54th Massachusetts, understood the importance of African Americans taking up arms against those that had enslaved them in order to win their freedom:

“Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S… let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny he has won the right to citizenship in the United States.” [21]

The_Storming_of_Ft_Wagner-lithograph_by_Kurz_and_Allison_1890a

Other African American units less famous than the illustrious 54th Massachusetts distinguished themselves in action against Confederate forces. Two regiments of newly recruited blacks were encamped at Milliken’s Bend Louisiana when they were attacked by a Confederate brigade attempting to relieve the Vicksburg Garrison. The troops were untrained and ill-armed but held on against a determined enemy:

“Untrained and armed with old muskets, most of the black troops nevertheless fought desperately. With the aid of two gunboats they finally drove off the enemy. For raw troops, wrote Grant, the freedmen “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Dana, still with Grant’s army, spoke with more enthusiasm. “The bravery of the blacks,” he declared, “completely revolutionized the sentiment in the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who had formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express after that as heartily in favor of it.” [22]

By the end of the war 179,000 African American Soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers served in the Union armies. For a number of reasons most of these units were confined to rear area duties or working with logistics and transportation operations. The policies to regulate USCT regiments to supporting tasks in non-combat roles “frustrated many African American soldiers who wanted a chance to prove themselves in battle.” [23] Many of the soldiers and their white officers argued to be let into the fight as they felt that “only by proving themselves in combat could blacks overcome stereotypes of inferiority and prove their “manhood.” [24] Even so in many places in the army the USCT and state regiments made up of blacks were scorned:

“A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we don’t want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I’m sorry to have you leave my command, and am still more sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think that it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.” [25]

The general of course, was wrong. In the engagements where USCT units were allowed to fight, they did so with varying success most often attributable to the direction of their senior officers. When given the chance they almost always fought well, even when badly commanded. This was true as well when they were thrown into hopeless situations. One such instance was when Ferrero’s Division, comprised of colored troops were thrown into the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg when “that battle lost beyond all recall.” [26] The troops advanced in good order singing as they went, while their commander, General Ferrero took cover in a dugout and started drinking; but the Confederate defenders had been reinforced and “Unsupported, subjected to a galling fire from batteries on the flanks, and from infantry fire in front and partly on the flank,” a witness write, “they broke up in disorder and fell back into the crater.” [27] Pressed into the carnage of the crater where white troops from the three divisions already savaged by the fighting had taken cover, the “black troops fought with desperation, uncertain of their fate if captured.” [28] In the battle the division lost 1327 of just under 4000 men. [29]

When captured by Confederates, black soldiers and their white officers received no quarter from many Confederate opponents. General Edmund Kirby Smith who held overall command of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi instructed General Richard Taylor to simply execute black soldiers and their white officers: “I hope…that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.” [30] This was not only a local policy, but echoed at the highest levels of the Confederate government. In 1862 the Confederate government issued an order that threatened white officers commanding blacks: “any commissioned officer employed in the drilling, organizing or instructing slaves with their view to armed service in this war…as outlaws” would be “held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” [31]

On April 12th 1864 at Fort Pillow, troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred the bulk of over 231 Union most of them black as they tried to surrender. While it is fairly clear that Forrest did not order the massacre and even attempted to stop it, it was clear that he had lost control of his troops. His soldiers fought with the fury of men possessed by hatred of an enemy that they considered ‘a lesser race’ slaughtered the Union troops as they either tried to surrender or flee; but he was not displeased with the result. Ulysses Grant wrote that:

“These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the slaughtered for up to 200 years. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed; but few of the officers escaped. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part that shocks humanity to read.” [32]

”The bulk of the killing was directed at the black soldiers of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, which composed over a third of the garrison. “Of the 262 Negro members of the garrison, only 58- just over 20 percent- were marched away as prisoners; while of the 295 whites, 168- just under sixty percent were taken.” [33] A white survivor of the 13th West Tennessee Cavalry, a Union unit at the fort wrote: “We all threw down our arms and gave tokens of surrender, asking for quarter…but no quarter was given….I saw 4 white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy….These were all soldiers. There were also 2 negro women and 3 little children standing within 25 steps of me, when a rebel stepped up to them and said, “Yes, God damn you, you thought you were free, did you?” and shot them all. They all fell but one child, when he knocked it in the head with the breech of his gun.” [34]A Confederate Sergeant wrote home a week after the massacre: “the poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and shot down.” [35]

pride_over_prejudice-reeves-b-of-nashville

African American soldiers proved themselves during the war and their efforts paved the way for Lincoln and others to begin considering the full equality of blacks as citizens. If they could fight and die for the country, how could they be denied the right to votes, be elected to office, serve on juries or go to public schools? Under political pressure to end the war during the stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta in the summer of 1864, Lincoln reacted angrily to Copperheads as well as wavering Republicans on the issue of emancipation:

“But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.” More than 100,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union and their efforts were crucial to northern victory. They would not continue fighting if they thought the North intended to betray them….If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive…the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.” [36]

Despite this, even in the North during and after the war, blacks, including former soldiers would be discriminated against, sometimes by the white men that they served alongside. Those rights would be fought for another century and what began in 1863 with the brave service and sacrifice of these African American soldiers began a process of increased civil rights that is still going on today. It would not be until after the war that some blacks were commissioned as officers in the Army. When Governor John Andrew, the man who had raised the 54th Massachusetts attempted to:

“issue a state commission to Sergeant Stephen Swails of the 54th…the Bureau of Colored Troops obstinately refused to issue Swails a discharge from his sergeant’s rank, and Swails promotion was held up until after the end of the war. “How can we hope for success to our arms or God’s blessing,” raged the white colonel of the 54th, Edward Hallowell, “while we as a people are so blind to justice?” [37]

The Southern Debate about Emancipation and Black Soldiers

In the South, politicians and many senior Confederate Officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve, for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. Despite this, a few such as General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race: Cleburne advocated that blacks serve as soldiers should be emancipated.

Cleburne, known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan. He noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have soldiers, the supplies or resources; and most significantly that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.” [38] Cleburne recommended 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 to the confederacy in this war.” [39]

His proposal was radical. He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than they could risk. He was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [40] and he presented it in stark terms that few could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [41]

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it. Cleburne’s proposal went from being a military matter to a political matter and Davis intervened to quash the proposal. “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army, Jefferson Davis ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [42] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [43] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Robert E. Lee was one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [44]

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves as he now believed that military necessity left him little choice. He was opposed by some of his closest political allies including Howell Cobb who warned “The day that 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.” [45] Lee wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [46]

The debate began in earnest in the fall of 1864 and revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [47] They were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance as well as President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, Virginia’s General Assembly voted “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [48]

Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [49] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [50] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate: “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [51] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [52] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [53]

But even the watered down measure was opposed by diehards. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [54]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.” [55] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [56] and a Mississippi congressman stated that “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [57] On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause and on March 25th two companies were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square and as they did so to the sounds of fifes and drums, “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [58] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond.

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [59] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [60]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division which had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [61] were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [62]

The Post War Experience of Blacks in the U.S. Army

Some of those early African American soldiers went on to distinguish themselves on the prairie as the immortal Buffalo Soldiers. Other Blacks would fight in Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish American War. In the First World War, despite there being some instances of racial harmony, blacks, including officers faced discrimination and met with violent acts. “Refusals to arrest white soldiers who physically assaulted black soldiers accompanied by the tendency to rescind unpopular racial orders and to discourage black officers from demanding salutes from white soldiers” [63] was common.

Most of the Regular Army “Buffalo Soldier” units were not allowed to fight in the First World War. Instead they were left on the frontier and a new generation of draftees and volunteers became the nucleus of two infantry divisions, the 92nd and 93rd. However, at the beginning they were regulated to labor service units. The protests of organizations such as the NAACP and men like W.E.B. DuBois, and Phillip Randolph forced the War Department to reconsider the second class status of these men and to form them into combat units.

Despite this, the leadership of the AEF, or the American Expeditionary Force, refused to allow these divisions to serve under American command. Instead they were broken up and the regiments of the 93rd Division were attached to French divisions. The 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” were assigned to the French 16th Division and then to the 161st Division. The 370th “Black Devils” were attached to the French 26th Division, while the 371st and 372nd were assigned to the French 157th (Colonial) Division, which was also known as the Red Hand Division. The 157th Division had suffered badly during the war and been decimated in the unrelenting assaults in the trench warfare of the Western Front. It was reconstituted in 1918 with one French Regiment and the two African American regiments. Both fought exceptionally well and were cited by the French government for their efforts. The 371st was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honeur. Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 1st Battalion 371st was the only African American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the First World War. The 372nd was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honeur for its service with the 157th Division.

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While many white American soldiers depreciated their French hosts and attempted to sow the seeds of their own racial prejudice against the black soldiers among the French, Southerners in particular warned the French of “black rapist beasts.” However the French experience of American blacks was far different than the often scornful treatment that they received from white American soldiers.

“Soldiers from the four regiments that served directly with the French Army attested to the willingness of the French to let men fight and to honor them for their achievements. Social interactions with French civilians- and white southern soldiers’ reactions to them- also highlighted crucial differences between the two societies. Unlike white soldiers, African Americans did not complain about high prices in French stores. Instead they focused on the fact that “they were welcomed” by every shopkeeper that they encountered.” [64]

Official and unofficial efforts by those in the Army command and individual soldiers to stigmatize them and to try to force the French into applying Jim Crow to laws and attitudes backfired. Villages now expressed a preference for black over white American troops. “Take back these soldiers and send us some real Americans, black Americans,” wrote one village mayor after a group of rowdy white Americans disrupted the town.” [65]

Even after President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, African Americans, as well as other racial minorities, women and gays have faced very real discrimination. The military continues to make great strides, and while overt racist acts and other types of discrimination are outlawed, racism still remains a part of American life.

Today things have changed, and that in large part is due to the unselfish sacrifice in the face of hatred and discrimination of the men of the USCT and the State Black Regiments like the 54th Massachusetts and the Louisiana Home Guards who blazed a way to freedom for so many. Those who followed them as Buffalo Soldiers and volunteers during the World Wars continued to be trail blazers in the struggle for equal rights. A white soldier who served with the 49th Massachusetts wrote “all honor to our negro soldiers. They deserve citizenship. They will secure it! There would be much suffering in what he termed “the transition state” but a “nation is not born without pangs.” [66]

Those birth pangs helped to bring about a new birth of freedom for the United States.

Notes

[1] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008

[2] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.101

[3] Godwin, Doris Kearns Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Simon and Shuster, New York and London 2005

[4] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.318

[5] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.159

[6] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.159

[7] McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1991 p.35

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.381

[9] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[10] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[11] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[12] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.398

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[14] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[15] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.101

[16] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp. 380-381

[18] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.686-687

[19] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.697

[20] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 381

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.634

[23] Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011

[24] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.89

[25] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 p.227

[26] Ibid. Catton A Stillness at Appomattox p.249

[27] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.537

[28] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 pp.384-385

[29] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.537

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[31] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[32] Grant, Ulysses S. Preparing for the Campaigns of ’64 in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume IV, Retreat With Honor Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ pp.107-108

[33] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.111

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 378

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.112

[36] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.89

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 376

[38] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[39] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[40] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[41] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[42] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[43] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[44] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47.

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[46] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[47] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[48] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three pp.754-755

[49] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p. 755

[50] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[51] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[52] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.755

[53] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[54] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.860

[55] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[56] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.860

[57] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[58] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.860

[59] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[60] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[61] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

[62] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

[63] Keene, Jennifer D. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London 2001 p.88

[64] Ibid. Keane Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America p.128

[65] Ibid. Keane Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America p.129

[66] Ibid Gallagher The Union War p.113

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