The latest issue of Civil War Times Illustrated features an article about Patrick Cleburne’s suggestion to arm the slave population. The cover advertises the piece with the following question: "Should the South Have Armed Its Slaves?" The question itself betrays a complete lack of understanding as to why this issue was so controversial and why it never happened until very close to the end of the war. And even when it did the decision on the part of Confederate officials to enlist slaves resulted in very few numbers. More to the point, however, the question reflects the tendency of so many to view military affairs or questions related to the military in a vacuum. This is another example of the "If-only the Confederacy had done x" philosophy. The question isn’t should the recruitment of slaves into the army have taken place, the question is, rather, could it have done so at some point earlier in the war.
Why It Is Important To Ask the Right Question
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