“. . . and make our slaves fight for Southern slavery”
In late March 1865 — a little over a week before Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox — the Galveston Daily News ran a long column by an editorialist calling himself “Scipio Africanus,” who argued that the Confederacy’s situation was so dire, so bleak, that there was only one sure way to save it — by invading the North. Again.
Scipio Africanus argues that “the states to be made to suffer first and most severely are Illinois, Indiana and Ohio,” and from there the massed Confederate armies should march east, sweeping across the Upper Midwest, the Great Lakes and into Pennsylvania. There is no doubt in the writer’s mind that, if executed properly, it cannot but be successful: “The Northern people will witness and feel the display of our strength and dread the renewal of such invasions. They will experience the horrors of war; become disgusted with the strife and yield us what we ask, our independence and peace.” Given the actual state of the Confederate military in the spring of 1865, the detachment from reality present in Scipio’s writing seems not so much disturbing as it is laughable. On that level, Scipio Africanus comes across as a butternut version of “Comical Ali.”
On a more serious note, though, Scipio suggests newly-enlisted slaves should form the backbone of this invading army, which itself would be several times the size of that which Lee took north into Pennsylvania in June 1863. Picking up on the Confederate government’s eleventh-hour efforts to enlist African American slaves, and the discussion about whether such service should bring with it it emancipation — either immediately or upon completion of military service — Scipio argues that such a move “would be rewarding them with poverty, vice and starvation.” Rather, he argues, slaves should be made to fight to preserve their permanent status as slaves, because God wills it:
To make this invasion efficient, 200,000 able-bodied negroes [sic.] ought immediately to be conscripted and drilled as soldiers, and put under the command of veteran officers.
But it is painful to me to hear the doctrine urged that, for such service as they may render they ought hereafter to be emancipated. If it is right to emancipate them for performing military duty, then they ought to be emancipated for making corn. In raising bread by working the soil for us, they fight for our freedom as efficiently as they will do in throwing up earthworks or firing muskets at our foe. The work they now do with the axe and hoe, is as deserving of emancipation as any they can perform with the spade or sword. I am sick of the philanthropy taught in Wayland’s Moral Science, and learned by our people from other Yankee schoolbooks. The Bible should be our moral guide. If it is right for us to hold slaves, we have the same right to make them fight the Yankees for us, as to kill the grass, snakes and wolves on our farms. Abraham, the father of the faithful, the father of the faithful, made 318 of his slaves fight for him; but he did not set them free after the campaign was over. Freedom would be but a poor compensation to our negroes for any service. It would be rewarding them with poverty, vice and starvation. I am willing that the Government should pension and place in asylums all of them who may be maimed and crippled in this war.
The argument of those who contend that, those we enlist should be emancipated after the war, have reference to the opinions of foreign Governments, and the sentiments of the abolitionists everywhere. But we should base our action upon the word of God, and make Him the arbiter of our cause. England and France are not hostile to us because. we are a negro slave people; for they are, and have been, not only friendly, but often in Alliance with Turkey, Spain, Portugal and Brazil — governments owning millions of African slaves. I base my hopes of success upon this foundation; God recognizes in His word our right to our slaves. He has commanded the Yankees and all others: “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s man servant nor his maid servant.” They are permitted to buy “bondmen and bondmaids” of the heathen round about; but if they steal ours, and we find them in their hands, He commands us to put them to death. If we admit that, emancipation is right, we confess that our cause is wrong. We should fight, and make our slaves fight for Southern slavery, knowing that in this contest God is on our side. It is only one of our rights. The Yankees covet all that we possess, and we are not fighting for all. Let us invade them with our slaves, not to conquer or enslave them; not to rob them of an acre; but to get back our own property, to force them to make with us an honorable and permanent peace.
As sure as the sun shines, unless we do, they will continue the war while we have anything in our possession to excite their avarice. They will capture all our cities and desolate all our homes.
If we invade them as I propose, we will secure our independence in one year from the date of the entrance of our grand armies into their land.
Galveston Daily News, March 30, 1865
“Freedom would be but a poor compensation to our negroes [sic.] for any service.” Wow. There’s much underlying context in that assertion, but it does show a prevalent line of thinking in the Confederacy at the time. Just as there were some, like Lee, who argued for emancipation in return for military service, there just as many, and perhaps many more, unwilling to allow African Americans into military service at all under any circumstances, and those like Scipio who advocating forcing slaves into direct combat to preserve their own status as slaves, in perpetuity. When modern-day Confederate apologists argue speculative nonsense that the institution of slavery would have gone away on its own in a short time, they ignore the existence of people like Scipio Africanus, who argued that “God recognizes in His word our right to our slaves,” and continued to rationalize their vehement, Bible-driven opposition to emancipation even as the walls crumbled around them.