The South’s Sable Arm
By January 1865 the alleged cause the North fought for, the emancipation of the Negro, was being advocated by many high officials in the South and effectively dispensed with that claimed Northern war aim. On November 7, 1864, President Jefferson Davis had proposed “the training of 40,000 Negroes for service,” and emancipation for those who should fight for Confederate independence. Davis had previously opposed arming blacks for military service as he felt they were not trained for war, were better suited to agriculture, and should not be used inhumanely as cannon-fodder as the North was doing.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The South’s Sable Arm
“[A group] of Southerners led by Gen. Pat Cleburne [wrote] in a petition presented to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston by several Confederate officers: “Will the Slaves fight? – the experience of this war has been so far, that half-trained Negroes have fought as bravely as many half-trained Yankees.”
[Judah] P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, urged that the slaves would be certainly made to fight against the Southerners if not armed for Southern defense. He advocated also the emancipation of those who would fight — if they should fight for Southern freedom.
In a letter to President Davis, another correspondent argued that since the Negro had been used from the outset of the war to defend the South by raising provisions for the army, that the sword and musket be put in his hands, and added: “I would not make a soldier of the Negro if it could be helped, but we are reduced to the last resort.”
Sam Clayton of Georgia wrote: “The recruits should come from our Negroes, nowhere else. WE should . . . promptly take hold of all means God has placed within our reach to help us through this struggle – a war for the right of self-government. The enemy fights us with Negroes, and they will do very well to fight the Yankees.”
A strong recommendation for the use of Negroes as soldiers was sent to Senator Andrew Hunter at Richmond by General Robert E. Lee, in January 1865. “I think, therefore,” said he, “We must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves be used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced upon our social institutions. My own opinion is that we should employ them without delay. I believe with proper regulations they may be made into efficient soldiers.
[We must encourage fidelity in the black soldier] by giving immediate freedom to all who enlist at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully (whether they survive or not), together with the privilege of residing in the South. To this might be added a bounty for faithful service . . . “
(Black Southerners in Confederate Armies, J.H. Segars & Charles Kelly Barrow, editors, Southern Lion Books, 2001, excerpts, pp. 6-7)