Black Confederate Soldiers

I recently read somewhere (sorry, I don’t remember where) that at the very end of the Civil War, the Confederates formed a regiment or two of black troops. Actual combat soldiers, not just a collection of slaves,servants or laborers. Does anyone out there know anything about this? How the hell did they get anyone to enlist? What happened to them?

I’m pulling this one out of the slag heap that remains after that seven day LSD binge, but here goes:

I think that a guy by the name of Cleburne, an officer with the Confederates, initally came up with the idea, but it was deemed “inexpedient” or “impracticable” by Jefferson Davis. However, by 1865, confederate manpower was at a low ebb, and Grant was using his superior numbers to extend the trenchlines around Petersburg, just southeast of Richmond.

Robert E. Lee used his considerable clout to get the Confederate Congress to pass the bill allowing slaves to wear the gray uniform, sometime in late January or early February 1865. I believe the bait for black recruits was the promise of freedom at the cessation of hostilities.

It should be noted that there are many anecdotes of free black soldiers serving in Southern militias well before the passage of the 1865 act, and still more of the service corpsmen, i.e. black servants with the Confederate armies, picking up weapons from dead and wounded soldiers and stepping into line to fight alongside Rebel soldiers.

Why? Well, the North wasn’t as compassionate about the black man as revisionists would have you believe. Remember that the Underground Railroad terminated in Canada, not the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation, while incredibly important to future civil rights, rather cynically freed only those slaves who were in states “in rebellion,” while border states such as Maryland and Kentucky were excluded. Rumors flew in front of invading Northern armies about mass conscription of liberated slaves, and it actually happened, too–in Georgia, I think. Finally, most Southern white folks were pretty well convinced (and many still are–where’s my flame retardant suit?) that the Civil War was about states rights, and not about slavery at all. That attitude may have worn off somewhat on southern slaves, particularly if they hadn’t heard anything about the slavery part (and who’s gonna tell them?).

But probably the biggest reason why black people fought for the South is the reason why so many people take up arms in civil wars and revolutions: they’re fighting to protect that which is closest to them, friends, family, and maybe even the way of life, which can seem so much more appealing than the unpredictability of upheaval. I would place the latter a very distant last.

Here’s some link action:

Want to stick it to the man? Bust in on those Tri-Kapps at their next reenactment by joining the 37th Texas Cav!

As an aside, a friend of mine and I are trying to find what little information there is on the black Ranger units of World War II. If anyone out there knows of some good resources, please let me know.

Dear Sofa King:
I believe you are correct in your statements. I remember reading one historian who claimed that Lee’s policy would have eventually destroyed slavery and the Old South’s social system had the Civil War dragged on for another year or so.
Incidentally, one of the main reasons for passage of the Emancipation Proclamation was to keep England and France from coming in on the side of the Confederacy. However, I don’t know that Lincoln was cynical in urging its passage. In his history “Ordeal by Fire,” Fletcher Pratt relates that events happening in the first two years of the war had convinced Lincoln that slavery must end.

There were also some black slaveowners in Louisiana, who at least joined a militia. (Anyone remember the “paper bag test” episode of Frank’s Place?)

The “States’ rights” business was a crock then and is a crock now. Read the actual speeches of the Confederate leaders – they’ll tell you what they were fighting for. I especially like the one by Alexander Stevens, explaining how the Confederacy was going to fix Jefferson’s big mistake about “all men” being created equal, when he should have said “all white men”.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Sofa King,

I’m afraid I have some difficulty with characterising the Proclamation as “cynical” because it only applied to the States that were in rebellion.

Mr. Lincoln issued the Proclamation under his executive war-making powers. Those powers are constitutionally limited - he could only exercise them in those areas of the United States that were in active rebellion. It would have been unconstitutional for him to have applied the Proclamation to states that were not in rebellion.

Similarly, Dred Scott established that Congress could not emancipate slaves in a state by ordinary statute. A constitutional amendment was required: the 13th Amendment.