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.

“Every company passing through this place has more or less negroes”

Posted in African Americans, Media, Memory by Andy Hall on February 25, 2011

On Friday Kevin posted three wartime news items, provided by Vicki Betts, each relating to African Americans serving in different roles in the Confederate Army. Along with the news clips, Kevin issued a simple challenge: “you interpret.”

This reminded me of a similar news item I found recently in the local paper. From the Galveston Weekly News, April 29, 1862:

Arming the Negroes.

A letter from Navasota says:

Almost every company passing through this place has more or less negroes [sic.] in it armed and in the ranks. I find public sentiment unmistakably in favor of drafting 100,000 negroes into the army if the war continues over this summer. Combined with the white men in this climate and under proper regulations, they may be made an efficient body in this war of self-defence. If we do not have peace by the 1st of June, a call will be made to arm a portion of of the blacks to be drafted chiefly from the large plantations. The British armed them on many occasions, and it was the [ad?] that gave the British such superiority over the French in the last war.

So how should the historian handle this document? How much credence should be put to it? Are there any hard data in this short passage? “Almost every company” equates to how many, exactly? “More or less” means, what? What companies are these? Who are the officers? Can these claims be corroborated somewhere?

And that’s just the first sentence.

Looking at the whole passage, what’s its purpose? Why was it written and published? Why is it offered anonymously? What other events were going on just then that might have influenced the writer? Is the writer’s intent to report the composition of Texas military units, or to make a case for something else? Is this reporting, or advocacy? If the latter, does that cause concern about the accuracy of the description of black troops “armed and in the ranks?” Does it play to any particular beliefs or biases in the reader? Can any larger conclusions about BCS be drawn from this single document?

Have at it.