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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

December 28, 1864

Richmond Newspaper Printed Northern Editorial on Arming Slaves

The Richmond Times Dispatch reprinted an editorial from a St. Louis newspaper on the prospect of the South arming slaves.

Yankee view of the question of putting Negroes in the army. The St. Louis Republican of the 10th contains several columns, made up of articles from Confederate papers, on the subject of employing negroes in the army. The same issue of the paper contains the following letter on the same subject from its Washington correspondent: Washington, November 4th.–The agitation of the rebel leaders and press of the policy of drawing upon their able-bodied male slaves for fighting men is received by many able minds on our side with ominous forebodings of the consequences, while the interest and attention it is known to excite in official circles leave no doubt that the Government may appreciate the advantages the rebellion will derive from the proposed measures, and at the same time feels itself poorly prepared to counteract them. Mr. Lincoln and his supporters have, time and again, defended his emancipation and negro soldiery policy upon the plea of naked necessity. They have repeatedly asserted that the Government could not put down the rebellion without the assistance of negro soldiers. “I am satisfied this war cannot be waged successfully according to Democratic “arithmetic, ” said the President. He referred to the opposition of Democrats to enlisting negroes, and to the probability of their refusing the assistance of those already made soldiers in the event of succeeding to the administration of the Government and prosecution of the war. For the sake of argument, let his assertion stand. Now, how about his arithmetic? He has confessed he cannot succeed in the war without the assistance of the 200,000 negroes now in Federal uniform. Suppose the South puts three hundred thousand negro troops in the field, and more than neutralize the military power of his two hundred thousand? Why, then, according to his own premises, it will be impossible to put down the rebellion.–No wonder the prospect of the South calling on her slaves strikes him with consternation. The experience of this war has pretty well dissipated the false idea, inculcated in the minds of Northern people by the teaching of abolitionism - fanaticism - that Nat Turner embodied the representative characteristics of the Southern slaves; yet there are many now in the Northern States who, though compelled to admit, with evident disappointment and disgust, that they have modified their views upon the subject, still believe the natural instinct of the slave is hatred toward his master, and therefore deride the idea that any considerable number of the servile race can be induced to take up arms in support of the South. Experience alone must teach these skeptics of their error. Does any one doubt the South can raise, equip and put in the field three-hundred thousand negro soldiers, who will prove as efficient to her in a military cause as our sable auxiliaries prove to us? Let us see. She has full three millions of slaves; and among them there is a much larger proportion of able-bodied men than among the same number of whites in any country. If she could contribute one in five of her white population to the war, she can certainly contribute one in two of her slaves. The only difficulty will arise from the necessary reduction of her agricultural producers; but this will hardly prove so much as an inconvenience, since, owing to the influx into her present limited territory of slaves from States overrun by our armies, she can readily spare three hundred thousand able-bodied negroes without serious damage to her producing resources. Will they fight? “There’s the rub,” derisively exclaims the Abolitionist, who thinks he knows more of the natural instinct and educated sympathy of the Southern slave than he knows of those of his own race. Says he, with confidence, ” You may raise, arm and put them in the field, but they won’t fight like our negro soldiers.” What foundation has he for this flattering conclusion? Men fight at the bidding of incentives of many kinds, and their valor is called forth in proportion as their incentives are strong or weak. Array an army of Southern slaves against an army of Federal negroes, as the South proposes, and which will have the strongest incentive to fight? Certainly the Southern slaves. The best part of our negro auxiliaries are impressed in the army; and those of the remainder that are not bribed into the service by bounties, take up arms only to secure the necessaries of life– food and clothes. The small per cent. that fight voluntarily must know that their assistance will never be properly appreciated or recognized. Looking beyond the war, they see but little in their future lot above a condition of slavery to the white race. What incentives have those classes to fight that cannot be found influencing the Southern slave to fight in the interest of the rebellion?– The latter are offered their freedom and fifty acres of land in the South, which guarantees them a home in the land claiming all their native sympathies and associations, while the former fight for nought. So far, we have only viewed the different interests which prevail on the respective sides. But there is another influence at work upon the Southern slave tending to make him play the part of a faithful soldier to the rebellion. It is that relation, affection and sympathy between himself and master. Its existence was once generally discredited in the North, in spite of manifold proofs; but the war has furnished too many notorious incidents of the devotion of a majority of the slaves to allow it longer to be doubted. Thousands of slaves follow their masters, be they in the ranks or at the head of armies, through the dangers of the battle field, and many have laid down their lives as the price of the temerity dictated by their love. During Early’s last invasion of Maryland, General McCausland owed his life to the valor of his faithful body servant, who came to the rescue of his master when hard pressed by Averill’s troops, and relieved him by seriously wounding the Federal captain at the head of the attacking party. General McCausland is represented as the roughest of Virginia’s cavaliers,-yet he binds the heart of his lowly slave by the ties of affection that cannot be stifled by the dangers of battle. There are many such masters and slaves in the South.