It's always imortant to realize that black slaveowners and black confederates were a very tiny percentage of the whole, and were, by an extreme amount, the exception.
There is nothing even close to a justification for slavery. Period.
I know you weren't trying to justify slavery, but I think it's very important, given the terrible history of the institution that we don't forget the true nature of the system. I think it is right that when we look at slavery, we see the negative aspects, because even many of the things we call positives were only lighter negatives.
btw, as to the numbers of blacks in the Confederacy, a couple of questions. 1, wouldn't it have been very late in the war before blacks were allowed to fight in most places, given the Southern attitudes toward black soldiers and the reaction to Cleburne's proposal? 2. I'm curious as to the source for the numbers, since they seem high in light of the estimate I've seen that there were 900,000 confederate soldiers overall, and no black Confederate soldiers were ever taken prisoner by the North.
I know McPherson and others doubt some of the reports of a large number of black Confederates, though there were obviously some. I think there's overall some objection to classifying those who accompanied the armys as servants--including those who carried arms for their masters, but who did not take part in battles--as soldiers.
marc, you're right, slavery cannot be defended. Nevertheless the negative effects of its harshness varied from region to region. Historians can't sweep under the rug historical instances from black history which make them uncomfortable or don't fit the accepted view. Again-that's not to defend slavery, but to view it non-passionately as it really was. Like I said, slavery really was a "peculiar institution." As African-American scholar and author on blacks in Civil War Virginia Dr. Irvin Jordan says, "My job is neither to praise nor condemn them [black Confederates] but to explain them." We're not doing anybody, black or white, a favor, by ignoring aspects of history that makes uncomfortable or aren't politically correct. Indeed, part of the problem with this topic in particular is that partisans on both sides trying to push an agenda, manipulating, exaggerating, or ignoring the relevant data, have turned it into a political issue, rather than a historical issu. But I understand that its a sensitive subject to many people. When I gave my black Confederates lecture last year to a mixed audience of black and white people I wasn't sure what to expect; I told them the lecture wasn't a pro-slavery or pro-Confederate program, but a program studying a fascinating historical subject. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how many African-American folks who were there told me the program was interesting and informative. No one got offended at all. And I heaved a great sigh of relief, I can tell you! I knew my regular genealogy patrons who're black didn't have a problem with the subject, but there people there I didn't know. Luckily it went well.
Believe me, at first I was every bit as skeptical as you are that there even were any black Confederates, because I'd been assured that such was impossible, a contradiction in terms.
As for the numbers of black Confederates, they're best guesses, however I think 60,000 may be closer to the actual mark. None of the historians I've read seem to agree as to the number. This subject has only begun to be taken seriously by historians over the past ten or so years. Much more research needs to be done. The majority of blacks in the Confederate Army weren't officially enlisted, hence estimates of numbers are hard to arrive at; many served as body servants, many in labor battalions, many as cooks, teamsters, musicians, hospital orderlies, etc. But though not oficially enlisted, many of these men were armed and saw as much combat as whites did.
But though the Confederate Congress stalled on the official creation of all-black CSA regiments until 1865, individual Confederate commanders had been utilizing black troops from 1861: Tennessee was the first Confederate state to authorize free black enlistment in 1861. Union officers reported being ambushed by a black CSA regiment in late 1861. So not all Southerners were averse to the idea of black Confederate troops.
And there were some black bodyservants who went to prison with their masters, rather than accept their freedom-Capt. J. R. Wilson moved to Florence, AL from Mississippi after the war. According to Capt. A. O. P. Nicholson, writing in the Confederate Veteran
of March, 1905, Capt. Wilson was captured and sent to Johnson's Island and his black body servant John was captured with him. John "went through the hardships of prison rather than accept his freedom and remunerative service from the Federals."
Here's a quotation from Union Capt. Isaac Heyslinger, upon observing the Army of Northern Virgina as it moved through Frederick, Maryland in 1862:At four o'clock this morning the rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson's force taking the advance. The most liberal calculation could not have given them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in that number. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only cast off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. They were shabby, but not shabbier than those worn by white men in the rebel raks. Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie knives, dirks, etc . . . They were . . . manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy Army. They were seen riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissaons, in ambulances, with the staff of generals, and promiscuously mixed up with all the rebel horde.
Commenting on this statement in his The South Vs. the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War,
Dr. William Freehling writes:That word
promiscuously, just what a Yankee would use, lends credibility to this report of black Confederate soldiers. Later in the war, after Yankees invited black troops to gun down rebels, northern whites segregated the allegedly inferior race in its own companies. Northerners, as the saying went, furthered the black race but shunned black individuals, while Southerners enslaved the race and embraced the individual. When black and white confederates soldiered side by side, Yankee segregationists saw only the "promiscuous."
Freehling records two Mobile slaves who boght $400 in Confederate bonds, and a New Orleans slave who who subscribed for $200. A weeping elderly black hackman offered his entire life savings of $1,000. (p. 90) A handicapped free black man named Ab, in my home town, tried to enlist in Capt. Houston's Confederate company, and when told he could not go, donated his life savings to a soldier of that company. Slaves from Huntsville, AL made socks for their Confederate soldiers.
These blacks actively supported the Confederate war effort for a number of reasons. I think many of them were forced to. Others did so out of the hope that after the war their patritoic service for the South would be remembered and rewarded with freedom-or at the very least a relaxation of some of the restrictions. of slavery. Many, like Reuben Patterson, were fiercely loyal to their masters, and (if his 1906 Trotwood's Monthly
interview is anything to go by), wanted to have a grand adventure. Still others felt they were defending their homes from Northern agression. Some blacks, like the men of the Louisiana Native Guards of New Orleans, were successful businessmen, planters and slaveowners themselves, hence had a vested interest in a Southern victory. And then a few blacks, motivated purely from self-interest, supported whichever side was in power at the moment. Some Confederate blacks switched sides or ran away at the first opportunity. The Native Guards began as a Confederate militia regiment but ended as a Union militia regiment. The motives of Southern blacks were every bit as varied as those of whites. That some of them reacted as whites did really doesn't surpise me; at the very least it was a case for many of them of "the enemy you know rather than the enemy you don't know." But that there was some genuine Southern patriotism exhibited by many of these people is too well documented to deny. It sounds bizarre, but history is not often all black and white, no pun intended. Fact is often stranger than fiction. Obviously this black support did little of practical value, I mean the South still lost, after all. But it was there nonetheless.
Some states, such as Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, actually awared Confederate pensions to their eligible black veterans.
ere's a website for "Tennesse Colored Pension Applications for CSA Service":http://www.angelfire.com/wi/Carver/csaaa.html
Should you be interested there are four or five really good, balanced books on black Confederates I can recommend. You can read them and make up your own mind.