Black Confederate Soldiers

Southern Confederate apologists make it seem like there were a ton of black soldiers in the southern army while liberal PC hippies make it seem like it never happened. I think that the truth is somewhere in between. So what happened exactly? We’re there black soldiers in the Confedate army, and if so, how many and what did they do?

I, of course, meant the CIVIL WAR. Sorry for forgetting to put that in :smack:

Robert E. Lee and some other generals were all for the use of blacks as soldiers and even offering them freedom if they would enlist. Jefferson Davis, however, was majorly opposed to the very principal of arming slaves. (He so hated the notion of blacks in uniforms that he gave orders to kill any black Union soldier taken prisoner in battle. which led to the refusal of the north to exchange prisoners until he revoked this, which led to prison overcrowding on both sides, which led to the horrors of Andersonville and Libby Prison in the south and Elmyra and other camps in the north (which were much smaller than Andersonville and not quite as bad [nothing was like Andersonville], but still pretty disgraceful.)

How many blacks would have taken the offer would be anybody’s guess, but probably not that many since slaves seeing blacks in Union uniforms is well recorded on both sides as an incredible propaganda victory by the north and one of the most powerful stakes in the heart to the “happy darkies singing in the field/like members of the family” myth- they tried to enlist in the Union Army en-masse (way beyond the power of the Union to equip.)

In the very last days of the war, when not even Davis and the other majorly opposed to black soldiers officials (Robert Toombs, etc.) could deny that the end was near, he finally approved Lee’s request to accept black soldiers. A very few accepted, not enough to make a dent in the fighting, and many of them (like the white troops) deserted at first opportunity.

Sorry this doesn’t have more figures, but I’m recalling an article I recently read on the subject I’ll provide a cite for later. The answer is “there were a few black soldiers in the Confederacy, but VERY VERY few, and only in the final days”. The main use of black labor by the Confederates were conscripted slaves who dug trenches, built barracks, and other manual labor that freed the troops to drill and maneuver.

There were a smattering of Black soliders fighting for the Confederate side. There’s at least one book on the subject, and one site seems to estimate about 65,000 (considering the size of the Confederate army, that’s a smattering), though that figure is contested.

Many joined unofficially, since they were banned from carrying arms until the very end of the war. They were allowed to be company musicians, however. Others accompanied their owners into battle. Others were freed slaves who were fighting the northern invasion.

Some articles (none online, unfortunately):

Charles H. Wesley, “The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate
Army,” Journal of Negro History 4 (1919): 239-253.

Mary F. Berry, “Negro Troops in Blue and Gray: The Louisiana Native Guards,
1861-1863,” Louisiana History 8 (Spring 1967): 165-90.

and two books with reference:

Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds., The Black
Military Experience
(Cambridge, 1982)
Robert F. Durden, The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on
(Baton Rouge, 1972)
The general thoughts are:

*Most black military participation on the part of the south came from blacks who took up arms at particular battles they were already present at as manual labor

*There is no reliable estimate of the number of blacks who actually served as soldiers for the CSA, but best guesstimates range from at most a few thousand to a more probable few hundred, almost none of them were really drilled or trained and almost all of them in the last days of the war, and probably all of whom did so for their freedom.

*More than 180,000 blacks served in the Union Army (and about 10,000 in the Navy)

Like Sampiro said, there were numerous slaves in the army doing manual labor, but who weren’t armed and didn’t fight. There were also free blacks who passed as white who enlisted, and at least one free black millitia regiment that served guard duty and may have fought at Port Jefferson, the First Louisiana Native Guards.

This brings up another question: why would blacks (especially freed slaves) have wanted to fight for an army that, if victorious, would have continued to employ slave labour?

“Army” there should probably be “nation,” or “group.”

For the same reason that there were free blacks in the South that owned slaves themselves. And, in Louisiana especially, there was a large free Creole population, some of whom were even middle and upper class.

They could have been under the impression that if they didn’t stop the Union Army, their homes (such as they were) might be destroyed, or the crops burned, or all other manner of nasty stuff that wouldn’t bode well for the slave who still had to live there afterwards. I can also imagine a slave owner joining the Army and bringing some of his slaves with him to serve as servants.

And of course, some of them were doing it in hopes of earning their freedom.

For what it’s worth, I seem to recall that most of the blacks who were organized into fighting units for the South towards the end of the war also never had much of a chance to get involved, as this was VERY close to the end of the war.

Random thought: Wasn’t Robert E. Lee an abolitionist too?

Not entirely related, but perhaps if any of the slaves knew that, they might have more reason to believe they’d get their freedom after fighting for the Army.

Continuing on my meandering train of thought, wartime seems to do much for improving race relations in fighting forces. IIRC, the US Marine Corps got rid of segregated fighting units in the Korean War in order to simplify the process of reorganizing their fighting units to stop the North Korean invasion early in the war. (It’s easier, and generally a better idea, to have three mixed regiments that are at full strength than three all-white regiments and one all-black regiment, all of which are under-strength, in the middle of a bid not to be pushed into the Pacific ocean)

And also remember that people don’t always fight because they believe in the cause they’re fighting for, many fight just because they’re in an army and everyone else around them is fighting. The Ottoman empire used to use slave soldiers too. Kind of an odd concept, giving a gun to a slave and telling him to fight, but it worked for the Turks.

Abolitionist may be strong, but he definitely had ethical issues with slavery. His wife and sons inherited a large number of slaves from his father-in-law (Martha Washington’s grandson), but they were to receive their freedom after a certain duration by Custis’s will. Lee wrote several times that he thought slavery was an institution that had to be ended for the land to progress, and though he was the beneficiary of his wife’s slavery-based wealth to an extent he personally never participated in the buying or selling of slaves. (George Washington, Lee’s grandfather by marriage and adoption, was an abolitionist who gets far too little credit in the history books for freeing his own slaves upon his death and asking his wife to free hers [which she didn’t do, hence her grandson owning them and their descendants]).

Well, not entirely. Neither the Mamluks nor the janissaries were the most loyal of fighting forces. The Mamluks wrested away control of Egypt, often paying only nominal homage, and the Mamluks of Baghdad were independent from the 1700’s to 1828. The janissaries forced each new sultan to pay what amounts to a bribe for their continued loyalty on his accension to the throne. Both groups occasionally dominated the sultanate from behind the scenes.