The Slaves and Free Negroes Can Be Impressed Just as Any Other Property

October 6, 1864 (Thursday)

John Wallace Comer with his slave Burrell.  Putting a slave in a Rebel uniform did not make him a soldier. Only the Confederate Congress had that power.
John Wallace Comer with his slave Burrell.
Putting a slave in a Rebel uniform did not make him a soldier. Only the Confederate Congress had that power.

The Confederate government was doing almost everything in their power to fill up their armies with conscripts, former soldiers, ex-partisan rangers, and pretty well any male who could carry a musket. But the Richmond Enquirer understood that there was an untapped wealth of soldiers within the slave population.

Earlier in the war, the Confederate Congress thought it best to fill every available noncombatant role with a black man. This would free up the white man for duty.

If fully carried out, this would, calculated the Enquirer, “give ten thousand men to the Army of Northern Virginia.” It reasoned that “the slaves and free negroes can be impressed just as any other property, and the law provides for their support and clothing, and pays the owner soldier’s wages.”

Believing this was not going quite far enough, the newpaper asserted that “the question of making soldiers of negroes, of regularly enlisting them and fighting them for their safety, as well as our own, must have presented itself to every reflecting mind.”

The editor argued that simply because “the Yankees have not been able to make soldiers out of their drafted negroes,” it did not mean “that we cannot train our slaves to make very efficient soldiers.”

Of course, this ignored the fact that by this time, over 125,000 black soldiers had entered the Federal army, and had been present upon a number of battlefields after the white southern forces had retreated.

Nevertheless, the paper put forward the idea that the Yankees had no idea how to deal with black people. “We believe that they can be, by drill and discipline, moulded into steady and reliable soldiers.”

Though it might not be proper, read the copy, ” whenever the subjugation of Virginia or the employment of her slaves as soldiers are alternative positions, then certainly we are for making them soldiers, and giving freedom to those negroes that escape the casualties of battle.”

The paper proposed that “the Confederate Congress provide for the purchase of two hundred and fifty thousand negroes, present them with their freedom and the privilege of remaining in the States, and arm, equip, drill and fight them.”

And that was their proposed deal. If the black soldiers survived, then they would be given their freedom. It never mentioned what their incentive might be, seeing as how it appeared that the South was about to lose the war. If only the slave or freed black man could hold out until Grant took Richmond, this might all be pointless.

“We believe that the negroes, identified with us by interest, and fighting for their freedom here,” continued the draft, “would be faithful and reliable soldiers, and, under officers who would drill them, could be depended on for much of the ordinary service, and even for the hardest fighting.”

In closing, the article stood: ” It is not necessary now to discuss this matter, and may never become so, neither negroes nor Slavery will be permitted to stand in the way of the success of our cause. This war is for national independence on our side, and for the subjugation of white and the emancipation of negroes on the side of the enemy. If we fail, the negroes are nominally free and their masters really slaves. We must, therefore, succeed. Other States may decide for themselves, but Virginia, after exhausting her whites, will fight her blacks through to the last man. She will be free at all costs.”1



  1. From the Richmond Enquirer, October 6, 1864. []
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The Slaves and Free Negroes Can Be Impressed Just as Any Other Property by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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