Black Confederates: Laborers or Soldiers? (part five)

CSA Servantthe final part in a series

In 1969, in his book The Confederate Negro, Professor James H. Brewer wrote, “Today, in a lonely unmarked grave, forgotten and unknown, lies the Confederate Negro—a casualty of history.”

What would he think about the black Confederate soldier subject of today, where many people are saying that these men were soldiers?

His research outlined the many roles that the African American played in the Confederate army. The thousands of men he wrote about were mainly unskilled laborers, but many were also highly skilled craftsmen. However, he did not say they were soldiers. His book was a “Top 200 Civil War Book” and won the Mayflower Award in 1970.

I say that there may have been servants to pick up arms and fought in a battle or two, but they were not considered soldiers by their own masters. I would have thought the generals would have known if there were blacks fighting for their armies. Sam Smith’s ECW post Black Confederates from May of last year stated that none of the generals acknowledged black soldiers in any of their official reports.

Also, on the Civil War Memory website, read Peter Carmichael’s paper titled We were the ‘men’”: The Ambiguous Place of Confederate Slaves in Southern Armies, reprinted April 17, 2009. He related the actual relationships of slaves to their masters in the Confederate armies.

I admit there were free and enslaved African Americans who supported the Confederacy, but there were only a few who were considered soldiers.

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Here is General Order 14:

Confederate Law Authorizing the Enlistment of Black Soldiers, as Promulgated in a Military Order


Richmond, Va., March 23, 1865.


  1. The following act of Congress and regulations are published for the information and direction of all concerned:

AN ACT to increase the military force of the Confederate States.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That, in order to provide additional forces to repel invasion, maintain the rightful possession of the Confederate States, secure their independence, and preserve their institutions, the President be, and he is hereby, authorized to ask for and accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such number of able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service in whatever capacity he may direct.

SEC 2. That the General-in-Chief be authorized to organize the said slaves into companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades, under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of War may prescribe, and to be commanded by such officers as the President may appoint.

SEC 3. That while employed in the service the said troops shall receive the same rations, clothing, and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of the service.

SEC 4. That if, under the previous sections of this act, the President shall not be able to raise a sufficient number of troops to prosecute the war successfully and maintain the sovereignty of the States and the independence of the Confederate States, then he is hereby authorized to call on each State, whenever he thinks it expedient, for her quota of 300,000 troops, in addition to those subject to military service under existing laws, or so many thereof as the President may deem necessary to be raised from such classes of the population, irrespective of color, in each State, as the proper authorities thereof may determine: Provided, That not more than twenty-five per cent. of the male slaves between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, in any State, shall be called for under the provisions of this act.

SEC 5. That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear toward their owners, except by consent of the owners and of the States in which they may reside, and in pursuance of the laws thereof.

Approved March 13, 1865.

  1. The recruiting service under this act will be conducted under the supervision of the Adjutant and Inspector General, according to the regulations for the recruiting service of the Regular Army, in so far as they are applicable, and except when special directions may be given by the War Department.

III. There will be assigned or appointed for each State an officer who will be charged with the collection, enrollment, and disposition of all the recruits that may be obtained under the first section of this act. One or more general depots will be established in each State and announced in orders, and a suitable number of officers will be detailed for duty in the staff departments at the depots. There will be assigned at each general depot a quartermaster, commissary, and surgeon, and the headquarters of the superintendent will be at the principal depot in the State. The proper officers to aid the superintendent in enlisting, mustering, and organizing the recruits will be assigned by orders from this office or by the General-in-Chief.

  1. The enlistment of colored persons under this act will be made upon printed forms, to be furnished for the purpose, similar to those established for the regular service. They will be executed in duplicate, one copy to be returned to this office for file. No slave will be accepted as a recruit unless with his own consent and with the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freedman, and which will be filed with the superintendent. The enlistments will be made for the war, and the effect of the enlistment will be to place the slave in the military service conformably to this act. The recruits will be organized at the camps in squads and companies, and will be subject to the order of the General-in-Chief under the second section of this act.
  2. The superintendent in each State will cause a report to be made on the first Monday of every month showing the expenses of the previous month, the number of recruits at the various depots in the State, the number that has been sent away, and the destination of each. His report will show the names of all the slaves recruited, with their age, description, and the names of their masters. One copy will be sent to the General-in-Chief and one to the adjutant and Inspector General.
  3. The appointment of officers to the companies to be formed of the recruits aforesaid will be made by the President.

VII. To facilitate the raising of volunteer companies, officers recruiting therefor are authorized to muster their men into service as soon as enrolled. As soon as enrolled and mustered, the men will be sent, with descriptive lists, to the depots of rendezvous, at which they will be instructed until assigned for service in the field. When the organization of any company remains incomplete at the expiration of the time specified for its organization, the companies or detachments already mustered into service will be assigned to other organizations at the discretion of the General-in-Chief.

VIII. It is not the intention of the President to grant any authority for raising regiments or brigades. The only organizations to be perfected at the depots or camps of instructions are those of companies and (in exceptional cases where the slaves are of one estate) of battalions consisting of four companies, and the only authority to be issued will be for the raising of companies or the aforesaid special battalions of four companies. All larger organizations will be left for future action as experience may determine.

  1. All officers who may be employed in the recruiting service, under the provisions of this act, or who may be appointed to the command of troops raised under it, or who may hold any staff appointment in connection with them, are enjoined to a provident, considerate, and humane attention to whatever concerns the health, comfort, instruction, and discipline of those troops, and to the uniform observance of kindness, forbearance, and indulgence to their treatment of them, and especially that they will protect them from injustice and oppression.

By order:

  1. COOPER,
    Adjutant and Inspector General.


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Here is my bibliography:

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans – John Hope Franklin (James B. Duke Professor Emeritus Duke University) and Alfred A. Moss, Jr. (Associate Professor of History University of Maryland College Park)

The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation – Robert F. Durden (Duke University Professor of History Emeritus)

An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War – Charles P. Roland (University of Kentucky Professor of History Emeritus, also LSU and Tulane and Past President of the Southern Historical Association)

Battle Cry of Freedom; The Negro’s Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union; and Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Civil War – James M. McPherson (Davis Professor of History Princeton University)

Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War – Bruce Levine (Randall Professor of History University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

The Confederate Negro: Virginia’s Craftsmen and Military Laborers, 1861-1865 – James H. Brewer (Professor North Carolina Central University)

Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the Civil War and The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War – David J. Eicher (Civil War Historian)

The War for the Union: The Organized War 1863-1864 and The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory 1864-1865 – Allan Nevins (Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University

Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia – Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. (Assistant Professor and Associate Curator, special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library

Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction – Allen C. Guelzo (Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College)

Black Southerners in Gray: Essays on Afro-Americans in Confederate Armies – Andrew Chandler Battaile, Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., Thomas Y. Cartwright, Ervin L. Jordan, Richard Rollins, Rudolph Young Edited by Richard Rollins

Black Confederates – Charles Kelly Barrow, J. H. Segars, R.B. Rosenburg

The Black Phalanx: African American Soldiers in the War of Independence, the War of 1812 & the Civil War – Joseph T. Wilson

History of the Negro Troops 1861-1865 – George W. Williams

The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference – edited by Margaret E. Wagner, Gary W. Gallagher, Paul Finkelman

The American Heritage New History of the Civil War – Bruce Catton, edited by James M. McPherson

The Civil War: A Complete Photographic History – William C. Davis, Bell Wiley

Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War – edited by Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy, Leslie S. Roland

The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War – James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.

The Teaching Company The Great CoursesThe American Civil War – Gary W. Gallagher (John L. Nau Professor in the History of the American Civil war at the University of Virginia)

The Negro in the Civil War – Benjamin Quarles (Professor Emeritus at Morgan state University)

5 Responses to Black Confederates: Laborers or Soldiers? (part five)

  1. Have followed the “Black Confederate” posts and have learned a great deal. Well written and documented!

  2. An interesting series of posts, Steward. Glad ECW reran them. You may already know about historian Kevin Levin’s blog, “Civil War Memory” (, but if not, check it out. He writes about a lot of controversial topics, including Black Confederates, and it appears you and he share common ground on the myth vs. reality issue. He has a book coming out on the subject. His most recent post on Black Confederates is dated Feb. 8, and if you scroll back into the fall, you’ll find more– including his challenge to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s assertion on his PBS “Finding Your Roots” series that Blacks served in a military capacity in the Confederate army. He’s also done a lot on Confederate monuments.

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