Confederate EmancipationSouthern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War

Confederate EmancipationSouthern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War

Bruce Levine

Print publication date: 2007

ISBN: 9780195147629

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Abstract

This book offers an illuminating account of Major-General Patrick Cleburne's fascinating and politically charged idea — that “the most courageous of our slaves” be trained as soldiers and that “every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war” be freed. This book looks closely at such Confederate plans to arm and free slaves. It shows that by 1865, within only a year of Cleburne's proposal, which was initially rejected out of hand, Jefferson Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, and Robert E. Lee had all reached the same conclusions. At that point, the idea was debated widely in newspapers and drawing rooms across the South, as more and more slaves fled to Union lines and fought in the ranks of the Union army. Eventually, the soldiers of Lee's army voted on the proposal, and the Confederate government actually enacted a version of it in March. The Army issued the necessary orders just two weeks before Appomattox, too late to affect the course of the war. The book aims to capture the voices of blacks and whites, wealthy planters and poor farmers, soldiers and officers, and newspaper editors and politicians from all across the South. In the process, it sheds light on issues such as what the Confederacy was fighting for, whether black southerners were willing to fight in large numbers in defense of the South, and what this episode foretold about life and politics in the post-war South.