“Further legislation on that subject at this time is not advisable.”
Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin highlights a resolution passed by the North Carolina Legislature on February 3, 1865, “against the arming of slaves by the Confederate government, in any emergency that can possibly arise.” The timing of this is significant; not only was the Confederate Congress in Richmond actively debating the subject, but Sherman had just begun his march northward through the Carolinas, crossing the Georgia border into South Carolina two days before. Even with increasingly gloomy reports from Virginia on one side, and Sherman’s army — now rested and resupplied after taking Savannah just before Christmas — starting a new campaign from their south, the North Carolina Legislature could not envision “any emergency that can possibly arise” that would justify the arming of slaves.
Although the question of enlisting slaves had popped up from time to time in the local press, it appears that the Texas Legislature never considered the issue in a meaningful way, or adopted a formal and definitive resolution as did North Carolina. Part of the problem was timing; the Texas Legislature was not in session during the last months of the war, when the question of arming slaves came to a head. The last Texas Confederate Lege, the 10th, met in regular session in November and December 1863, with special called sessions in May 1864 and again in October/November 1864. The closest they got to the question was a motion referred to committee for consideration, for a resolution to urge Texas’ representatives and senators in Richmond to expand Confederate national laws for increased impressment of slaves as labor. The committee declined, reporting back to the Speaker of the House that “in their opinion the impressment law of the Confederate States now in force makes sufficient provisions for the impressment of Negroes, and that further legislation on that subject at this time is not advisable.”
Governor Pendelton Murrah (right) did, however, make a passing reference to slave labor in connection with eliminating the various exemptions from service that white men were claiming to remain in civilian jobs at home. In an address to both houses of the Lege at the beginning of the 10th Legislature, he argued (p. 21, 10.4MB PDF) that
The swarms of men engaged in profitable business on their own accounts, who are exempted from, or avoid military service upon one pretext or another — the thousands occupied in driving teams and cattle for the government and government contractors must be placed in their respective companies, and replaced with Negroes. The able-bodied soldiers and employees about the posts and towns must take the field and their places be supplied by the old, the very young, and the infirm.
It doesn’t appear that the prospect of enlisting slaves in Texas was ever a serious enough question to generate substantive discussion or debate in Austin. It was a proposition, it seems, not even worthy of formal consideration.
Image: Texas State Capitol, Austin, in the 1870s. Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photographs, Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.