Confederate Officers Beg For Food From Former Slaves


Following the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, 1863 a New York Times correspondent reported on the confiscation of Confederate camp servants and their enlistment into the Union army in full view of their former masters.  

I have already mentioned that in discussing the “terms of surrender,” as the Confederates call it, but the “concessions” following the unconditional surrender, as Gen. GRANT calls it, the Confederate officers were told that they might carry away their private property, side arms. &c., and also have one horse apiece. Thirty teams were also allowed them for transporting their provisions and baggage.

These modest Confederate gentlemen now affect to believe it was understood that, in the stipulation concerning the taking away of their private property, were included their negroes, or as they classically term them, “body servants,” because they consider them private property. As a matter of course this absurd claim on the part of the Confederates has caused more disturbance and been fruitful of more trouble to the Provost-Marshal and his assistants than all other things together. Of course the servants, like their masters, have had to be paroled, but, unlike them, they are not anxious to leave in a hurry; and those who do wish to leave do not wish to travel in the same direction with their masters. All this causes trouble. At first they tried persuasion, then made brilliant promises, then threatened, and, finally, in their desperation, fell back on the “terms of surrender.” They found their private property moving around town, and, to all appearances, as much gentlemen as themselves. (Some of them, during the first day or two after the capture of the place, in the desperation of their hunger, actually stood behind their private property, and modestly begged for something to eat, and were glad to “accept” what was left from the niggers’ meal. National officers who saw this, made the statement to me as a solemn fact.) They had difficulty in finding their private property, and when they did find it, it would not stay where they put it. But, worse than this, and the unkindest cut of all, they actually found some of their private property in a camp below the town enlisted as Union soldiers, and learning the manual of the piece! This was a new revelation decidedly. Was it possible that this property of theirs was to be taken for public uses — and such uses? It was a “violation of the agreement;” it was not “using them as gentlemen; for how could a gentleman subsist without a nigger.” A horse was well enough in its way, but who was to take care of the horse?

Gen. LOGAN was accordingly besieged with the most pitiful complaints of bad faith, and the Provost-Marshal heard nothing or little else from morning to night but “My nigger,” “My servant,” “Can’t I have my servant?”

To make a long story short, Gen. LOGAN, to whom the officers in command of the Corps d’Afrique complained of constant interference from these rebel claimants of negroes, gave orders not to enlist any more colored men until these Confederate officers had left the place. At the same time, an order was issued not to allow any of them to carry negroes beyond the lines, or to permit them to go out. “If I had been let alone,” said the Colonel of the colored regiment, “my regiment would have been full by this time.” Those who have seen these colored men in line, and under drill, have spoken of them as a fine, soldierly-looking set of men.

A Union officer was conversing with a rebel officer yesterday, when this subject came up. “Oh, don’t talk to me about nigger soldiers, it makes me sick!” exclaimed the rebel. No doubt of it.

I find this account to be particularly interesting for a number of reasons.  First, it reaffirms that Confederate officers did not think of their personal servants as anything other than slaves.  What we see a glimpse of here, however, is the emotional and psychological fallout of the end of slavery and emancipation for these men.  Confederates experienced the direct effects of slavery’s demise.  We get to imagine what it must have felt like for Confederate to no longer be able to control the movements of these men or to have to stand behind their former slaves and beg for food.  Not only was their authority stripped away, they could do nothing but watch as many of their former slaves joined the Union army.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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29 comments… add one
  • TF Smith Apr 14, 2013 @ 10:03

    Interesting story – anyone know who “our correspondent” for the NYT at Vicksburg was?

    July 3, 1863 would not strike me as the “end of the war.”

    Given everything that has been written on the Civil War, I would guess there are studies of journalism history that examine the staff, politics, and veracity of the NYT’s reporting staff in the field.

    • Betty Giragosian Apr 14, 2013 @ 14:19

      Sorry, the WAR had two more years to go. My math was all wrong, but intent was the same.

      • Betty Giragosian Apr 15, 2013 @ 2:28

        Well–after being enlightened by you guys, I guess I can only say, one is never too old or too smart to improve one’s mind.

        • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2013 @ 2:30

          I can’t tell you how many times my understanding of the past has been improved/corrected by readers. As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        • Forester Apr 16, 2013 @ 8:08

          @Betty: This is an enlightening blog. Over the last few years of reading it, I went from a youthful Neo-Confederate to a rational human being with real knowledge of history. 😀

          I have been at the library reading a lot of historical newspapers and court documents relating to a race riot that took place in my hometown on today’s date, April 16th, in 1866. Never ONCE are “negroes” referred to as people by former Confederates (and seldom by Yankees), but always as escaped/stolen property. The whites (at least in Norfolk, Virginia) were quite outraged and vocal about it. Union sympathizers were called “damned abolition sons-of-bitches” (quote from a Federal inquest) and risked beating and/or murder. One Unionist said he wouldn’t “feel safe for a day without Federal troops” and another remarked that Virginia was only safe “if [you’re] armed to the teeth.”

          Former slave-owners were NOT happy about their loss of property.

          On April 19th, the Norfolk-Virginian (a very pro-Confederate newspaper), ran a headline article, “Outrages by Negro Soldiers,” with second-hand tales of USCTs calling white women “d–n b—es” (their censorship), walking on white people’s yards, breaking open gates and supposedly killing a white girl. “Negro soldiers” referred exclusively to NORTHERN soldiers, without the slightest hint of black Confederates existing. Camp servants weren’t mentioned any more than horses or mules. USCTs were still referred to as slaves a year after the war ended.

          “House servants,” while no longer termed slaves in 1866 newspapers, were still described as objects — simply “negro girl,” and never a name. The idea of white ownership was VERY strong even after the fighting ceased. Also, there were classified ads printed by masters looking for escaped slaves right up until the war ended. They definitely wanted them back, no matter how bad the conditions were.

          So in light of that …. complaining about wanting their servants back is very believable, and supported by everything I’ve read in local Southern sources.

          (Disclaimer: not ALL whites in Norfolk were so racist, and many respected the USCTs and spoke well of them. But alas, the vocal minority of racists printed the newspapers).

          • Betty Giragosian Apr 16, 2013 @ 11:42

            We grow up thinking and feeling a certain way about our southern ancestors and are inclined to bristle at any suggestion of criticism of them. I have lived long enough to remember segregation at its worst. I am glad it is no more.

            Thanks for your reply, “Forester.’ Very enlightening. Very brave, I must say. Most of all, I liked it.

            • Betty Giragosian Apr 16, 2013 @ 19:39

              I would say, as unpleasant as this was to read, please keep in mind that this happened 150 years ago, in a different time and place. See how abhorrent it seems today, as we read the words.
              Thank the Lord.

            • Lisa Germaine Apr 17, 2013 @ 19:53

              Truer words have not been spoken. I am sure it was quite a shock to the confederate soldiers to suddenly realize their “slaves” no longer had to do their bidding, cook their food, wash their clothes and empty their chamber pots. Have you ever wondered how many slaves would aid the Union by adding herbs and roots to make their masters sick to the food? Or how many made a “Minnie Pie” (a reference to The Help)? The confederate army used the slaves to do all the dirty hard labor, dig the trenches etc and didn’t recognize them as soldiers until, what, 17 days before the war ended.

              I find it very interesting that some are trying their hardest to ‘prove’ all the black confederate slaves were voluntary soldiers fighting for the cause. Some are using the fact many applied for a pension from the confederate army as proof. Those slaves were not in any way stupid~17 days before the war ended they were made soldiers~ I would have requested a pension too!!

              Unfortunately, there are those who find it difficult to believe that the war has been over 150 years, who continue to demand you ‘take sides’. They fail to realize not every southerner was confederate, and not every county was pro confederate. Here in East TN Carter County was very pro Union, where many of the 13th Tn Calvary made their home. Many descendants of Dan Ellis still live in the area. This area was one of brother against brother, families torn apart by a war.

              Thank you Kevin, Brooke, Corey, and so many others who continue to show the war for what it was ~ warts and all.

              • Betty Giragosian Apr 18, 2013 @ 4:18

                Lisa, I will always honor and love the Confederacy and the Confederate soldier, warts and all. Please remember, not all were planter princes–not all took their retainers with them. Planter princes–they were soldiers, too. Good ones.
                You have to be one of us to understand our undying passion.
                I try to keep an open mind, and to continue to learn.

                • Kevin Levin Apr 18, 2013 @ 5:58

                  You have to be one of us to understand our undying passion.

                  I’ve never understood this point. Who exactly is “us”?

                  • Betty Giragosian Apr 18, 2013 @ 10:41

                    Kevin, Of course you cannot understand what “us’ means, because you are not one of ‘us.”
                    “Us” refers to descendants of Confederate Veterans, and those who loved the Confederacy. It refers to that beautiful land known as the South. It is a sense of belonging.
                    You all can pile it on, but you are never going to change us or our way of thinking. I like who I am , and the people to whom I belong..

                    I do not include the extremes on the heritage sites.

                    • Kevin Levin Apr 18, 2013 @ 10:52

                      My goal was not to change anything about how you think.

                    • Betty Giragosian Apr 18, 2013 @ 17:04

                      Okay–I give you the last word. Just wanted to let you know that we are a stubborn bunch.

                    • Kevin Levin Apr 18, 2013 @ 17:08

                      Still don’t know who “we” is intended to refer to.

                    • Betty Giragosian Apr 18, 2013 @ 17:40

                      I just told you –didn’t you read my comment? Don’t act uninformed.

              • Nathan Towne Apr 18, 2013 @ 6:16


                Some people still purport the infamous old “loyal slave narrative.” There is no doubt that this position is a drastic oversimplification of a very complicated master-slave relationship. However, we must also be careful not to go too far the other way. I am not sure if you are aware of the concept of relations of reality. In essence, it states that ones understanding of the world and their place in it, is grounded upon their position within society. In other words, one can older see the world through the reality that they have been exposed to. The reality for a domestic slave is that they are reliant on their master and his family. Their position in life is thoroughly ingrained within this social construction. This very real dilemma for a slave clashes dramatically with the abstract idea of freedom. Contrary to popular belief, the evidence is overwhelming that many slaves had a very close relationship with their master and their masters family, especially amongst domestic slaves. Yet these feelings were confronted with the prospect of freedom. We can understand the slaves position through that context.

                Nathan Towne

              • Nathan Towne Apr 18, 2013 @ 6:40


                Historian David Potter in his “The Impending Crisis,” first published in 1976, explored in depth what he refered to as “The Nature of Southern Seperatism.” In essence this chapter explores the demographics of secessionism. In this chapter he came to some startling conclusions, which have been instrumental in our understanding of secession. He revealed many interesting points, but most startling I think, were the statistics he presented with regards to slave population within a county, the relative correlation to secessionism of those counties, the slaveownership per household and the voters within those households positions on secession.

                Not surprisingly, the higher the black populations within a county the more fervent secessionism was within those counties. The correlation is distinct and pronounced. Furthermore, it is almost universal, aside from the former Whig strongholds of Western Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana which had massive enslaved populations but were comparatively Unionist when evaluated against counties with similar black-white ratios, such as those in the blackbelts of Southern Georgia and South-Central Alabama. The statistics per household however, are backwords within those counties. The higher the enslaved populations owned by a family, the more moderate the voters within those families are. This shows itself over and over again and has now become central to our understanding of secession.

                Why this is the case is more complicated and would take more time to explain but the point is that this myth of a powerful planter elite carrying their states out of the Union is in ruins. The truth is far more complicated.

                Nathan Towne

          • Nathan Towne Apr 17, 2013 @ 8:27


            Firstly, I am very glad to see that you have shed Neo-Confederate positions, but you need to be careful in your interpretations. You must not oversimplify a very complicated master-slave relationship. Most slaveholding and by extension their families, no matter their positions with regards to the institution, saw little to no contradiction between his/her slave’s position as subservient property and their individuality as a human being. This becomes increasingly more pronounced the more personal the master-slave relationship. Without stereotyping, as a general rule, the larger the slave holding, the less personal the master-slave relationship and as a consequence the treatment and respect of slaves as people tended to decrease. This said however, I have only come across one person (Dr. Samuel Cartwright of New Orleans) who openly pronounced that slaves were not human beings but rather another species.

            Secondly, you must understand that even though blacks had no political power, or voting power, they held immense power over white slaveholding society. Everyone knows about the power blacks held over slaveholding society from a racial perspective. Part of the responsibility of a white citizen was to protect their family from the perceived horrors of racial amalgamation. Less known in some quarters is the incredible responsibility felt by many citizens in protecting their slaves from the horrors of racial amalgamation. Presbyterian Reverend Benjamin Morgan Palmer of New Orleans in his famous Thanksgiving day sermon “The South: Her peril and her duty,” delivered in New Orleans, LA on November 29, 1860 spoke at great length about the responsibility of being white within slaveholding society and how the responsibility extends to the slave as one his four main tenets in the speech.

            “This duty is bound upon us again as the constituted guardians of the slaves themselves. Our lot is not more implicated in theirs, than their lot in ours; in our mutual relations we survive or perish together. The worst foes of the black race are those who have intemeddled on their behalf. We know better than others that every attribute of their character fits them for dependence and servitude. By nature the most affectionate and loyal of all races beneath the sun, they are also the most helpless; and no calamity can befall them greater than the loss of that protection they enjoy under this patriarchal system. Indeed, the experiment has been grandly tried of precipitating them upon freedom which they know not how to enjoy; and the dismal results are before us in statistics that astonish the world. With the fairest portions of the earth in their possession and with the advantage of a long discipline as cultivators of the soil, their constitutional indolence has converted the most beautiful islands of the sea into a howling waste. It is not too much to say that if the South should, at this moment, surrender every slave, the wisdom of the entire world, united in solemn council, could not solve the question of their disposal. Their transportation to Africa, even if it were feasible, would be but the most refined cruelty; they must perish with starvation before they could have time to relapse into their primitive barbarism. Their residence here, in the presence of the vigorous Saxon race, would be but the signal for their rapid extermination before they had time to waste away through listlessness, filth and vice. Freedom would be their doom; and equally from both they call upon us, their providential guardians, to be protected. I know this argument will be scoffed abroad as the hypocritical cover thrown over our own cupidity and selfishness; but every Southern master knows its truth and feels its power. My servant, whether born in my house or bought with my money, stands to me in the relation of a child. Though providentially owing me service, which, providentially, I am bound to exact, he is, nevertheless, my brother and my friend, and I am to him a guardian and a father. He leans upon me for protection, for counsel, and for blessing; and so long as the relation continues, no power but the power of Almighty God shall come between him and me. Were there no argument but this, it binds upon us the providential duty of preserving the relation that we may save him from a doom worse than death.”

            Over 60,000 copies of his speech were disseminated across the Deep South, predominantly in Louisiana and it had an immense impact on the citizenry and their ultimate decision to support secession. (Southern Pamphlets on Secession: November 1860-April 1861, ed. by Jon L. Wakelyn and Gary Gallager, 1996 pgs. 63-77) America was a very religious society in the mid 19th century, far more so than today. Americans were, almost without exception, a god-fearing people, which was one of the prime initiators of the cultural revolutions that slaveholding society had underwent with regards to the treatment of the slave, especially as the slave population climbed, dramatically in some areas, across the slaveholding states.

            The same factor played a powerful role in Virginia politics. After Nat Turner’s raid in August of 1831, the Virginia legislature called a convention to decide how to deal with slavery within the state. One will see when reading those speeches that again and again the responsibility to ones domestic slave, many of whom have lived with their families for years, is inseparable within the context of the discussion, with several delegates even resorting to ad-hominem attacks against the integrity of Thomas Jefferson Randolph, the chair of the convention and William Henry Broadnax, both of whom advocated the transitioning of slaves out of Virginia by either sending them to back to a colony in Africa, or selling slaves out of state. Ultimately, efforts to resettle enslaved blacks in Virginia failed because of the responsibility whites felt toward enslaved blacks within the state. The same issues would arise thirty years later in the 1861 debate, with several men, like conditional unionist John Brown Baldwin, secessionist professor James Holcombe of the University of Richmond and unconditional unionist Alexander Hugh Holmes Stuart all espousing these positions.

            Hence, you must be very careful when talking about the master-slave relationship. It is a very diverse and very complicated topic that must be understood within the context of mid 19th century America. To a man or woman living in a slaveholding society the relationship between them and their property remained one between human beings. This may be difficult for people today to wrap their head around but it was a very real dilemma to the slaveholder in Virginia that you studying.

            Nathan Towne

            • Forester Apr 20, 2013 @ 21:03


              I get what you’re saying. Slavery was a very complicated issue, and it wasn’t ever clear cut black and white (no pun intended). However, my studies of the times and issues are admittedly narrow — the city of Norfolk. Not even all of VA, but just Norfolk. I’m specifically a Norfolk history buff because it’s my hometown. I was careful to specify that I spoke only of one city, not necessarily all of Virginia or the whole South.

  • Betty Giragosian Apr 14, 2013 @ 8:35


    • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2013 @ 8:37

      Hi Betty,

      Thanks for the all CAPS response. 🙂 I don’t believe it is in the OR. As we already know, this appeared in the New York Times. Again, is there some aspect of the story that you question?

      • Betty Giragosian Apr 14, 2013 @ 14:17

        Only that I do not believe it. I do not think reporters have changed all that much during the years and have only become worse. True, the end of the war of was a year away but wasn’t there starvation in Mississippi? Can you honestly believe that the soldiers were whining about their ‘human’ property? I really doubt it. I cannot believe they were going to General Logan’s tent asking where were their slaves. They were probably heartsick and that would not been first thing on their minds.
        By the way, my caps were stuck, and I did not take the time to change to lower case. I was not jumping down your throat, Kevin!! I enjoy your papers very much,
        even if I do not always agree 100 per cent.

        • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2013 @ 18:29

          Hi Betty,

          First, thanks for the kind words.

          Can you honestly believe that the soldiers were whining about their ‘human’ property? I really doubt it. I cannot believe they were going to General Logan’s tent asking where were their slaves.

          Slaveowners complained about the impressment of their property by their own government so it is very easy to imagine these officers expressing their disapproval. The surprise would be if they did not.

          • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 14, 2013 @ 19:34

            On July 7, 1863, Ulysses S. Grant wrote to James B. McPherson as follows:

            “Give instructions that no passes are to be given to negroes to accompany their masters on leaving the City. The negroes may be informed that they are free by anyone who may choose to give them the information and if they still wish to go no force need be used to prevent.” Grant did report on one case where a CSA officer claimed that he could not get along without the family’s enslaved black nurse, who had been (supposedly) treated as a member of the family and did not want to be separated (no word from the nurse in question). See OR, series 1, xxiv, part 3, 483.

            Grant’s directive came in response to a report from John A. Logan to John A. Rawlins, which is also in the OR, series 1, xxiv, part 3, page 483. Logan complained that Confederate officers “are permitted to intimidate their servants in the presence of officers appointed to examine s[ai]d servants, and also against passes worded permitting them to go with their masters, the manner in which this is done is conniving at furnishing negroes to every officer who is a prisoner in Vicksburg.” You can alos find this (as I did) in the opening document of volume 9 of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant.

            • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2013 @ 1:50

              Thanks, Brooks.

  • Betty Giragosian Apr 14, 2013 @ 7:09

    i doubt the story is accurate, but does make good reading. I wonder just how many slaves were still in the Confederate ranks with their owners at the end of the war? Is this in the Official Record? Or is it a story written by a reporter?

    • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2013 @ 7:12

      Always worth questioning the veracity of a news story, but what exactly do you question? The link takes you to the NYTs archive article. I’ve read in a number of secondary sources that the number of camp servants declined sharply by the middle of the war because of the risk of their fleeing or capture. I have yet to see a statistical study of any sort.

  • J. L. Bell Apr 14, 2013 @ 6:44

    The Confederate officer’s complaint, “Oh, don’t talk to me about n!gger soldiers, it makes me sick!”, is telling evidence of that army’s enthusiasm for African-Americans in their ranks.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2013 @ 6:47

      Assuming the report is accurate, I have to wonder whether this officer has given any thought to the question of slaves in Confederate ranks. The public debate throughout the Confederacy over this question begins in earnest in 1864. What I like here is the connection between blacks in the Union army as framing the end of their antebellum social and racial hierarchy.

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