Category Archives: Slavery

“No Hired Hessians or Negroes in the Southern Army”

In 1909 Philip K. Fall, Commander of the Dick Dowling Camp in Houston, welcomed the United Daughters of the Confederacy to their annual meeting. His brief welcome acknowledged the UDC’s crucial role in preserving and protecting the memory of the men who fought under the Confederate flag. Fall’s address also reflects the “limits of reconciliation” between North and South at the beginning of the twentieth century by framing the conflict as a defensive war against radical abolitionists fighting to carry out John Brown’s final mission. In the process Fall also shares a little nugget that is lost on those who depict the Confederate army as a racially integrated institution filled with loyal black soldiers.

Being notified only a day since, that our comrade was called away on an important matter and could not represent Dick Dowling Camp, the duty devolves upon me to greet you, on behalf of our Camp. Such short time leaves me ill prepared to do the occasion justice, but I know our good women will accept the will for the deed. The veterans of Houston welcome you, one and all, and we shall prove your humble and loving servants during your stay with us. Command us whenever necessary. As the years pass by we feel more and more the benefits accruing from your loving and valiant struggle in our behalf. Had you not thrown down the gauntlet and assumed the offensive for the old soldiers of the Confederacy, their names would have gone down in a partisan Northern history as rebels and traitors; who tried to disrupt what they call the greatest and best government on earth, when in fact, they in arbitrary, puritanical spirit, brought about the disruption, causing a war such as the world has never known, hiring nearly a million Hessians and nearly two hundred thousand Africans, to slaughter their brethren of the South. Nothing but a civil war could have ever satisfied the John Brown stripe of abolitionists, especially after their leader John Brown was hung.

The war was not the worst feature of the sixties. The myriads of carpet-baggers that flocked like buzzards, all eager to filch from the already impoverished and heartbroken whites, as well as from the poor deluded ex-slaves, what little was left, proved to be a carnival of misery, which can never be blotted from the memory of any who experienced the miserable rule of those Northern birds….

This is a statement of facts, which cannot be controverted. What few of the Southern veterans that yet live, glory in the fact that their noble women are now their protectors, as were they of the women in the long, long, ago. No soldier in the past or present ever received the homage of their women, as do those of Dixie Land. There were no hired Hessians or negroes in the Southern army. All fought for a principle they knew to be right and thousands upon thousands gave up their lives in defense of truth.

Fall is not suggesting that there were no blacks present in the army. Confederate soldiers encountered them performing myriad roles in camp, on the march, and on a wide range of military projects. What Fall is saying is something very different. He is remembering a war of white citizen soldiers defending their homes and a new nation from radical abolitionists and their immigrant and black hirelings. Fall is drawing a sharp distinction between what he believed constituted two very different societies. To suggest that blacks fought as soldiers would be to place the Confederacy on the same moral level as the United States. Fall is sharing his understanding of Confederate Exceptionalism.

It’s a memory of the war that was no doubt filtered through a concern that many Americans expressed at the time over the effects of continued immigration on the cultural and political identity of the nation.

Look, if there were black Confederate soldiers in the army, individuals like Fall would have said so.

Georgia Historical Society Interprets Cleburne’s Plan

Thanks to Eric Jacobson of the Battle of Franklin Trust for sending along this image of the GHS’s new marker interpreting Patrick Cleburne’s plan to arm slaves for the Confederate army. This should give you some things to think about as you compare this marker with that of the Georgia Historical Commission’s which I posted earlier today. I shared a short video of the marker’s dedication back in 2011. Given my criticisms re: the GHC’s text you can probably surmise which one I prefer. How about you? What goes into an effective historical marker?

cleburne marker, black confederates

Eric also pointed out in a comment re: the marker to Clark Lee (previous post) that the text is verbatim to what is on the Find-a-Grave website. It would be interesting to know which came first. No doubt there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. :-)

The Georgia Civil War Commission’s Black Confederates

Update: Once again, thanks to Andy Hall for doing the leg work of looking into the documentation behind the claim that Clark Lee was a Confederate soldier. No surprise by what he did not find to support such a claim nor that what is available points to a very different picture of Lee’s presence in the the army.

I have no doubt that the Georgia Civil War Commission has done some excellent work in the area of battlefield preservation, but this is the kind of website that troubles me as both a historian and especially as a teacher. Check out the following two panels that the commission has unveiled in recent years.  The list of members does not include anyone prominent in the field of Civil War history and given what I have to share with you I am not surprised one bit to find Charles Kelley Barrow’s name on this list. Barrow is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and has been a vocal advocate of the black Confederate narrative over the years.

The first panel tells the story of Confederate General Patrick Cleburne’s plan to enlist slaves into the army.

Cleburne black Confederate

It is clear that not much thought went into this text. No mention is made that not only was Cleburne’s plan immediately rejected by President Davis and others, he was ordered not to discuss it further. Also conveniently left out is any sense of just how controversial this plan was throughout the Confederacy as it was debated in the army, on the home front and in Richmond at the very end of the war as a means to stave off defeat. Continue reading

A Virginia Teenager Assesses the War

One of the last independent studies that I advised in Charlottesville was a project centered on female diaries of the Civil War that one of my students used to write her own work of historical fiction. We spent some time looking through female diaries in Special Collections at UVA, including one written by Sallie Strickler of Madison County, Virginia. I am not surprised to find it referenced in Caroline Janney’s new book. I still remember the response of this particular student when we came across the passages below. The experience of holding the actual diary as well as the sense of loss and continued feelings of bitterness made for a memorable experience.

It grinds me sorely to think of our being compelled to give up our best-beloved institutions. I truly believe that African slavery is right. I love it & all the South loves it. It suits us & I do not see how we can do without it. It humiliates me, more than language can tell, to think of our being forced, ay forced, to give up what we love. So well! And that by Yankees. (quoted in Janney, pp. 84-85)

If memory serves me there simply isn’t enough wartime material to merit publication, which is disappointing given the quality of material on the war that is available.

The Esprit de Corps of Confederate Camp Servants

Glad to see that so many of you found this morning’s post to be of interest. There is so much to unpack in the Caffey book regarding the presence of camp servants with the Army of Northern Virginia.  This passage is of particular interest to me.

Did you ever remark our servants on a march? They make me laugh. Soon as the word ‘march’ is whispered abroad, these fellows bundle up their traps, and get them into the wagons, by some sort of sleight of hand, for I know that my baggage, with ‘little tricks’ added, far outweighs the authorized sixty pounds — a captain’s allowance. After safely stowing away all they can, the cooks shoulder some large bundle of curiosities of their own, and with a saucepan, skillet, or frying pan, all march some fifty yards in front of the band, whistling and singing, forming in regular or irregular files, commanded by some big black rogue who, with a stick and a loud voice, enforces discipline, among his heavy-heeled corps. And thus they proceed far ahead, monopolizing all attention as we pass through towns and villages, grinning and singing as they go, and frequently dressed up in the full regimentals of some unfortunate Yankee or other.

First, here is one example that potentially helps to explain why so many Union soldiers and other observers claimed to have sighted entire companies and even regiments of blacks in the Confederate army.  More interesting, however, is the question of why camp servants were allowed to march together in what appears to have all the trappings of a distinct unit in the Confederate army. This is pure speculation based on my extensive reading into the primary and secondary sources so feel free to disagree.

We know that individual camp servants functioned in small groups within companies.  They worked together to complete specific chores, especially washing and cooking so it’s not surprising to find these men bonding with one another.  Marching as a group not only deepened those ties with one another, but gave the men a sense that they were a distinct part of the army itself.  In other words, it encouraged a sense of belonging.  The passage above points to unofficial ranks, which suggests that these men may have been disciplined by one another.  Confederates likely understood that the uniforms and marching together would have tied their slaves more closely to the army and even encourage them to stay rather than run away.  This would have benefited the Army of Northern Virginia given its proximity to the Army of the Potomac through much of the war and especially when it was on march in Maryland in 1862 and Pennsylvania the following summer.

Caffey suggests that the discipline exerted by servants may have been more severe than that of their masters.

I know an instance of a boy who ran from the Eighteenth Mississippi, just before Manassas, July, 1861. He was recaptured during the engagement; for the Yankees putting him in the front, together with other runaways, made him very uneasy, so he slipped into our lines again, but was seized by two colored men, who observed the manoeuvre, and was handed over to his master. His owner refused to see him, and the general wish of our servants was, that he should be hung or shot for a traitor! He was given over to them, and met a death at their hands more violent than any white person’s anger could have suggested. Incidents of this kind, however, illustrative of the colored people’s loyalty to the South, are too numerous and tedious for enumeration.

What better than slaves disciplining themselves.  It goes without saying that at no point does Caffey shift from describing these men as slaves to soldiers.  In fact, Caffey, like others, was entertained by these men on march.  “They make me laugh.”  What the author illustrates is the extent to which the challenges of camp life, march, and even battle stretched the master – slave relationship. We can read into this account what we want.  There is plenty here to highlight the narrow and self serving interpretations found on hundreds of black Confederate websites.

In the end, what we can see, if we pay careful attention, is how the Army of Northern Virginia practiced slavery.