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In Their Own Words

August 12, 1864

Soldier Wrote Wife on Dealing with Slaves

A Georgia soldier with the Confederate army in Atlanta wrote home to his wife with instructions on how to deal with their slaves, and describing the challenging conditions under which he was living. The first part shows the contradictory type attitude many Southerners had about slaves.

“…Tell the Negroes to stay at home and not to be led into any difficulty, for there will apt to be hanging done. If the Negroes are unruly, tell them I have been a good master, have waited on and cared for them when sick and now they must fight for you and the children if necessary. Give them more meat than you have been giving them. … There is no chance for me to be discharged. They do not even doctor rheumatic men up here. I have been very well since I came up here, can sleep on a plank about as well as on [a] feather bed, have eaten unsifted bread and fat meat with a good stomach, have performed the duty of a soldier with a good spirit, have ditched, bored with two-inch auger on one Sunday afternoon in the rain and then slept with my wet clothes on and it did not hurt me, to sleep in the ditches on planks. And [we] are about as dirty as hogs, for it has rained several times, and the ground is very wet, and we are as thick as we can stick in the ditches. We can seldom leave the ditches without being shot at. In fact, there are minie balls flying at all times. … And then there are shells exploding frequently, so you can see the only safe place is the ditch. …”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), “Dear Mother: Don’t grieve about me. If I get killed, I’ll only be dead.”: Letters from Georgia Soldiers in the Civil War (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), p. 329.