The current Confederate heritage fetish with black Confederate soldiers and the confidence with which many assert the existence of these loyal and brave men in arms stands in sharp contrast with the fact that you are hard pressed to find anyone in Confederate ranks or on the home front who acknowledged the existence of these men during the war. How could it be that black men in arms escaped the attention of…well…everyone? Again, I’ve not come across one piece of evidence during the height of the debate over the enlistment of slaves in the Confederate army that states that these men were already present. Not one. What you will find, on occasion, are outright denials that they exist at all.
Consider John B. Jones’s diary entry for March 22, 1863:
It was thawing all night, and there is a heavy fog this morning. The snow will disappear in a few days.
A very large number of slaves, said to be nearly 40,000, have been collected by the enemy on the Peninsula and at adjacent points, for the purpose, it is supposed, of co-operating with Hooker’s army in the next attempt to capture Richmond.
The snow has laid an embargo on the usual slight supplies brought to market, and all who had made no provision for such a contingency are subsisting on very short-commons. Corn-meal is selling at from $6 to $8 per bushel. Chickens $5 each. Turkeys $20. Turnip greens $8 per bushel. Bad bacon $1.50 per pound. Bread 20 cts. per loaf. Flour $38 per barrel,–and other things in proportion. There are some pale faces seen in the streets from deficiency of food; but no beggars, no complaints. We are all in rags, especially our underclothes. This for liberty!
The Northern journals say we have negro regiments on the Rappahannock and in the West. This is utterly untrue. We have no armed slaves to fight for us, nor do we fear a servile insurrection. We are at no loss, however, to interpret the meaning of such demoniac misrepresentations. It is to be seen of what value the negro regiments employed against us will be to the invader.
It’s unlikely that even a well placed diarist such as Jones will have any influence on the hardcore. That’s what happens when you are driven by wanting or needing to believe as opposed to engaging in serious study. Ultimately, what goes missing is Jones’s brief reference to what he perceives as the meaning behind those Northern journal reports. He doesn’t simply deny it. In referring to these reports as “demoniac” Jones is communicating something about the importance of slavery to the Confederacy and the broader society that just about every white Southerner (regardless of their slave holding status) would understand. To miss even this brief reference is to fail to understand just how divisive the eventual debate was over slave enlistment in the Confederate army in 1864 and 65. For many Confederates the picture of armed slaves was and always would be “demoniac.”[Thanks to Ken Noe for passing it along.]