Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Further legislation on that subject at this time is not advisable.”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 17, 2011

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.

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  1. Andy Hall said, on June 17, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    For anyone interested, here’s a longer excerpt from Murrah’s November 4, 1863 address to the joint session of the Texas House and Senate, from which the quote above is drawn:

    The ranks of the brave men in the field have been thinned by disease and the sword; they look to you to call forth the resources of the State to aid them in saving the Country, and save them from being crushed by the superior forces and means of the enemy.

    The states west of the Mississippi River have fighting men enough in arms, and those capable of bearing arms, together with resources amply sufficient to protect, defend and drive from their territory the last Yankee soldier that may invade us; but to effect this we must realize the fact that the country is at war; private affairs must cease to occupy so much of our attention; we must all be stimulated with a patriotic determination to be free, and to rid our soil of the foul presence of our hated enemies.

    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 the old, the very young, and the infirm.

    The Confederate Congress and the legislatures of the several states must do away with all exemptions and substitutions- convert every man in the country into a soldier until this war is over-instead of exempting men, let them when necessary be detailed to perform such duties as may be required of them. The Confederate Congress, in passing an Exemption Law, did so for the public good and not to subserve the private interests of the individuals exempted. Unfortunately, most exempts appear to have come to the conclusion that it was some particular favor granted to them, and they have used their position as exempts, in too many cases, entirely for their personal benefit and advancement.

    The planter, when exempted, was expected to carry on his legitimate business; so with the farmer, stock raiser, mechanic, professional man and all other exempts; it was anticipated they would supply the Government and people with their produce, stock, fabrics, services, etc., at a fair remunerative price; when they fail to do this, they have violated the implied contract, and are acting in bad faith, and their exemptions should have been withdrawn.

    Time has demonstrated that exemptions from military service have proved of doubtful policy, and worked an injury to our cause. I trust this policy will be at once abandoned. The practice of allowing men to furnish substitutes has been a great bane to the Army; every man capable of doing military duty should represent himself in this great struggle. The result of permitting substitutes is that those who wish to avoid service and have means can bid the most exorbitant prices for the service obtained, and to such an extent has it been carried that small fortunes are being paid to secure substitutes rendering it exclusively beneficial to the wealthy individual. It is surprising what large sums are being paid even for a short term of State service. It should not be allowed. We want all of the able-bodied in the field. Let every man answer at roll call to his name.

    Let these things be done, and a few months will exhibit our veteran and thinned regiments recruited to their proper strength. A new spirit will be diffused throughout the various army corps of the Confederacy, and we can bid defiance to all the hired Hessians that may be brought against us.

    • corkingiron said, on June 18, 2011 at 12:33 pm

      “…hired Hessians…”? Is this some reference to “Hessians” who served in the British Army during the American Revolution? Or some reference to the large percentage of German immigrants who were serving with the Union forces?

      • Andy Hall said, on June 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm

        Both. It referred to the large proportion of German immigrants in the Union army, who were widely mocked in the South as “hirelings.” Much of the Confederacy’s political rhetoric presented its cause as the new American Revolution, so equating German immigrants in the Union army to the despised Hessians of that war was probably inevitable. It was an insult.

        Added: From the Houston [Texas] Telegraph, 27 January 1865:

        • Craig said, on June 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm

          My mother’s great x 5 grandfather was basically a Hessian, though he was brought over in 1754 at age 20 on a Quaker owned vessel along with 120 other young men his age, just in time for the French and Indian War. He fought for the army of the Continental Congress in the 1st Pennsylvania during the Revolution. The only battle I’ve seen listed for that unit was the Crooked Billet near Hatboro. It was kind of an odd affair. English officers leading Hessian mercenaries ambushed German settlers led by Scot-Irish officers at a tavern. As near as I can tell, the German settlers were generally allowed to retreat. The Scot-Irish officers for the colonial cause didn’t fare so well, as at least some of the captured rebels were set on fire and burned to death. British officers at the time of the Revolution had a centuries long reputation for showing little sympathy to rebels in Scotland and Ireland. Officers from France, Prussia and Poland were “hired” by the Continental Congress to transform yeoman farmers, many of them German, into an effective fighting force, most notably at Valley Forge. The British had difficulty maintaining the loyalty and discipline of their Hessian mercenaries, many of whom could easily be persuaded (in German) to forego bad food, hazardous duty and poor pay for a few acres of subsistence farmland on the edge of the wilderness.

  2. Vicki Betts said, on June 18, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Here’s another article from a Texas newspaper:

    STANDARD [CLARKSVILLE, TX], January 22, 1863, p. 2, c. 1

    The Legislature.

    The legislature meets in called session on the 2d Feb. Important propositions will doubtless be submitted to it. Above all things the conscription of Negroes should be brought about by some mode. The idea that a white man can be taken away from his wife and children, and put into the field, not only to fight, but to do menial service, while a sleek negro cannot be reached, but stays at home in comfort, is monstrous. The effective force of the Confederacy can be increased, by conscripting enough negroes to drive teams, cook and wash, to just the extent that the negroes may be furnished to take the places of white men now kept out of the line of battle to do these occupations of drudgery. It must be done—This exemption of classes cannot continue.—All white men are recognized as equal under our Constitution, and must be by the spirit of the laws enacted under the Constitution. The legislature should by resolution, take ground against exemptions of privileged classes.
    Let those who can be of especial service at home, in the management of negroes, etc., have the privilege of putting in substitutes; and let no substitution be permitted except by those who are really needed for preserving the social system at home. We need a little energetic legislation upon principles of political equality.

    Vicki Betts

  3. Richard said, on June 18, 2011 at 8:45 am

    “This Monstrous Proposition”: North Carolina and the Confederate Debate on Arming the Slaves

    Link to an article about NC.

  4. Rob said, on July 11, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Great Article

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