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.