Black Confederates: Free Versus Enslaved

If you set aside the usual discussion about black Confederates in favor of serious scholarly inquiry, one subject worth studying would be free blacks who sought to serve as Confederate soldiers.  After all, students of southern race relations are aware that during the late 1850s black southerners who were free found themselves under increased scrutiny from white southerners ( most work on black slaveholders concentrates on South Carolina); at the same time references to “the South” tend to flatten regional variations and complicating issues, including the Creole population (primarily in Louisiana), where a substantial free black population provided the source for the oft-cited Louisiana Native Guards.  Moreover, given contemporary definitions of race, one could be predominantly “white” in terms of ancestry while being defined as “black” legally; we know of plenty of cases of people of mixed racial heritage attempting to “pass” as white.

Concentrating on free blacks in Confederate service offers a way to explore certain questions in a different way.  Such people were not fighting to perpetuate their own enslavement (as they were not slaves); they would not under normal circumstances have been likely to volunteer to be servants, and it would be interesting how many blacks listed as cooks, teamsters, and musicians were free.  Yet these people might well have sought to join the armed forces as a sign of loyalty to deflect queries about their disloyalty; better to be seen as a friend than as a potential enemy.  Moreover, the tendency to blur distinctions of circumstance and status when it comes to black Confederates does a disservice to history and to the study of those individuals.

In short, we might try to be a little more careful, not only in documenting the fact of service (including whether the individual involved was a soldier or served/supported the CSA war effort in some other capacity), but also in discussion about what such service meant.  Individuals may serve without supporting the goals of the belligerent/nation in whose army they serve.

37 thoughts on “Black Confederates: Free Versus Enslaved

  1. Robert Moore September 4, 2011 / 2:41 pm

    … and good luck being able to clearly establish an individual’s personal motivation. Was the service of a free black a matter of personal belief in the the complicated meaning behind THE “cause”, or the was service in the name of self-preservation. Heck, for that matter, there’s not much of a difference in that and trying to figure out (in the absence of anything that comes from the person who lived in the time) the motivation behind many a Southern white, and whether or not they ended up wearing gray.

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 4, 2011 / 2:45 pm

      …. exactly. People tend to project motivation in the absence of evidence to promote their own agenda. That also saves them from the obligation to do real research.

      • Ray O'Hara September 4, 2011 / 4:37 pm

        What would be nice to know is.
        Did the Black Confederates have to use a colored only latrine and did they have to sleep at the back of the tent..

  2. Michael Furlan September 4, 2011 / 7:39 pm

    Here is some real research. The one paragraph contains more factual evidence than the sum total of all the “Black Confederate” publications that I’ve seen so far.

    From “Southern Negroes” Bell Irvin Wiley, pages 160-61

    “There seems to be no evidence that the Negro soldiers authorized by the Confederate Government ever went into battle. This give rise to the question as to whether or not any Negroes ever fought in the Confederate ranks. It is possible that some of the free Negro companies organized in Louisiana and Tennessee in the early part of the war took part in local engagements; but evidence seems to the contrary. (70) A company of “Creoles,” some of whom had Negro blood, may have been accepted in the Confederate service at Mobile. Secretary Seddon conditioned his authorization of the acceptance of the company on the ability of those “Creoles” to be naturally and properly distinguished from Negroes. (71) If persons with Negro blood served in Confederate ranks as full-fledged soldiers, the percent of Negro blood was sufficiently low for them to pass as whites. (72)

    (70) If they did, their action was not authorized by the Confederate Government.
    (71) O.R., Ser. 4, II, 941
    (72) Henry Clay Warmouth said that many Louisiana mulattoes were Confederate service but they were “not registered as Negroes.” “War Politics and Reconstruction.” p. 56

    Following up on the last footnote:

    “Known as gens de couleur libre, the men and women of this society were neither black nor white. They successfully rejected identification with any established racial order and achieved recognition as a distinct ethnic group.” p. xiii “The Forgotten People, Cane River’s Creoles of Color” Gary B. Mills

    By 1861 slavery was centuries old in America. There were slaves of every possible physical description, Freedmen who considered themselves “Black” who were just as varied, and then particularly in Louisiana well established groups of free people who thought themselves neither “Black” nor “White.”

  3. Matt Gallman September 4, 2011 / 8:01 pm

    Brooks, here are my two cents. (or two cents pulled out of a stack of random pennies that do not yet have any larger form):

    Rather than focusing on the highly empirical questions (how many guys were black soldiers? how shall we define a soldier?) and rather than paying any attention to the useless presentist questions (who were really the ‘good guys’ in this drama?) why not ask a set of questions that are informed by our understanding of contingency and identity.

    First, contingency: It is useful to keep in mind that events matter in shaping the events to come. It is surely useful to keep in mind that a Union victory was not preordained, and universal emancipation – regardless of who won – remained a long shot until very deep into the war.

    Then, identity: One might argue that African Americans – in both the North and the South – had every reason to understand that they were interested bystanders, watching a war between white people. That was surely the case until late 1862, but really remained the case long after that. [nb: If you are at war and your wife can’t ride on the streetcar, and you are not making the same money as your white comrades, you might reasonably conclude that you are essentially fighting as a mercenary for somebody else]

    So. if we consider events and decisions within an historic context, it is perhaps reasonable to look at the wartime decisions of black men and women in both the Union and the Confederacy as decisions made by individuals who were weighing the merits (and future chances) of two competing nations. What personal decisions are likely to maximize long term security? Is it obvious in January 1862 that the smart money is siding with the Union? Or, might some freedmen reasonably conclude that their future is best protected by casting their lot with the Confederacy (like the New Orleans Militia)? Or, what about free blacks in the North who essentially survey events and conclude that this war has nothing to do with them?

    My sense is that within the African American community the presumption among most folks was that on balance the Union was on the side of the angels, but many reasonable people concluded that neither side was really on the side of African Americans. So, how did they respond to that terrain, as it existed in 1861-1863?

    All this suggests shifting the focus away from the decisions and preferences and legislation of white people, and instead asking how African Americans might have surveyed their options in a changing universe/

    Food for thought?

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 4, 2011 / 10:21 pm

      I think that this is exactly the sort of discussion we need, in which black people are not objects but actors with their own priorities, which may or may not match up with what white folks want.

      • Sherree September 5, 2011 / 6:23 am

        Hi Brooks,

        …..And, another angle to consider, in just this line of inquiry, is how Indigenous Nations did just that—chose to join the Union or the Confederacy based upon what the best outcome might conceivably be for their people, not upon the goals of white men and women in either the North or the South.

        Very interesting conversations lately in the CW blogosphere!

        • Matt Gallman September 5, 2011 / 12:51 pm

          William McKee Evans has a nice essay on the diverse wartime decisions and experiences of Native Americans in Susannah Ural’s edited collection, CIVIL WAR CITIZENS

          • Sherree September 5, 2011 / 1:46 pm

            Thank you for the suggestion, Matt! I will definitely read this essay. And thank you, Brooks, for the post. Sherree

    • Kevin September 5, 2011 / 3:02 am

      Hi Matt,

      I think that is incredibly helpful as the beginning of a research project. Along the same lines I’ve been thinking about the crackdown on free blacks following Brown’s raid and through Lincoln’s election. Historians such as Clarence T. Mohr show that the already limited freedoms of free blacks were being constrained even more. In fact, as you know that line between free and enslaved was being collapsed through various laws and ordinances. It leaves me to wonder to what extent free blacks in the South viewed some kind of involvement in the Confederate cause as an opportunity to regain some of that lost ground. Thanks for the comment.

    • marcferguson September 5, 2011 / 6:53 pm

      You make a couple of very important points, however, by 1862, blacks, free and enslaved, North and South were already making choices and taking action, based on what they viewed as in their best interests; what, after all drove the Contraband Acts? and why were Frederick Douglass and other black leaders publicly advocating for the North to enlist blacks in the military? Are there any instances of Northrn blacks turning to the CSA asking to be enlisted in their armies? While there is always room for debate over what motivated individual blacks, free and enslaved, to make certain choices or take certain actions, I think that the historical record shows a large movement underway by 1862, revealing that blacks, free and enslaved, Northern an Southern, understood quite well the consequences of a Northern versus a Southern victory for themselves and their families.

      • Matt Gallman September 6, 2011 / 8:09 am


        I would agree that by the end of 1862 people are making decisions in response to shifts in both the shifting options and the changed public position of the federal government

        But if we look at northern free blacks – the people who have the greatest range of freedom in making choices – it is probably worth keeping in mind that the choice is between enlisting/supporting the Union or remaining on the fence. So, sure, many people choose to enlist but many others choose to not enlist. That is, staying out of the fight might be an interesting choice as well.

        Look at the recruiting rhetoric aimed at free black men by July1863. Those speeches and editorial surely seem to be aimed at an audience who the speakers feel are unconvinced that this is really their fight. We tend to focus on those who hear the speech and sign up, but what about those who heard the speech and said “no thanks”?

        • Ray O'Hara September 6, 2011 / 9:58 am

          The resorting to a draft show a lot of people sat on the fence

          Responsibility for the New York Draft Riots is put squarely on the Irish-Americans and Irish immigrants.
          The Federal Govt had to send a few veteran regts from the AoP to suppress them .
          . Yet 100,00-150,000 Irish volunteered and some of the most famous units were Irish
          { the Irish always remember to bring along.a few poets and bards }

          I’d not be surprised if the average reason among the groups was the same, self preservation and not my fight.

        • Mike Musick September 6, 2011 / 11:20 am

          With respect to the options open to northern free blacks, it may be worth noting that, as with whites, they became subject to conscription. The proportion of blacks drafted into what was technically designated as the volunteer force of the Union who were able to pay commutation or hire substitutes was presumably less than it was of whites.

  4. Charles Lovejoy September 5, 2011 / 6:52 am

    >>>”Yet these people might well have sought to join the armed forces as a sign of loyalty to deflect queries about their disloyalty; better to be seen as a friend than as a potential enemy. “<<<< That also could apply to a loyal slave's devotion as a servant with the Confederate army or a loyal slave's devotion back on the home front. Keep in mind we have the advantage of hindsight knowing how the war turned out, they didn't. I can understand a free black or slave taking what they thought at the time as the safest course of action for themselves. I also can understand a free black or slave's thinking win or loose we are going to have to live with these people after the war and not want to agitate matters further.

  5. Charles Lovejoy September 5, 2011 / 7:05 am

    A side note, I find what I think are interesting things at times. At the old city cemetery in St Marys Ga, there is a USCT grave marker just a few yards from a Confederate Veteran’s grave marker. A once friend and a foe resting together in a grave yard.

  6. Ray O'Hara September 5, 2011 / 7:58 am

    Black Confederates isn’t as much an historical issue as it is a modern political issue.
    If the BCM prevails for the CSA it’s “proof” the war wasn’t about Slavery and for people like Black Studies professor Melissa Harris-Perry is just another example of Black Americans being denied credit for building America.

    For the truth to prevail the Kevin Levins of the world have to “win” both the historical and the political fight.

  7. John Foskett September 5, 2011 / 9:03 am

    I have an admittedly more simple-minded approach. Given the hundreds of thousands who served, I have little to no doubt that there were freed blacks, and even slaves, among thiose large numbers who took up arms willingly for the CSA, possibly with any number of motivations. Brooks has highlighted at least one highly plausible incentive. After all, there were Jews and Slavs who fought alongside the Wehrmacht. I don’t think that’s the area of “debate”, however, and I’m skeptical that the numbers were remotely close to a “crirtical mass” that would allow for insightful study. (Of course, I could simply be wrong). As we’ve noted many times, there are a lot of folks out there who want to prove that significant numbers of blacks served in the Confederate armies because (for the most part) they are trying to use that to in turn disprove that slavery was the/a “cause” of secession and the resulting war. I have little to no doubt that, given the stated purposes of the secessionists and the CSA regarding slavery and the role of blacks in society that there would have been zero toleration of any substantial, organized numbers of arms-carrying blacks in the Confederate cause. Hence the utter absence of anything in the OR, memoirs, journals, diaries, photographs, or correspondence revealing the existence of these units. Michael, by the way, makes an interesting point (and cites something which is fighteningly reminiscent of German rationales for determining who was “Jewish”). I suspect the situation was especially complex in New Orleans, with “mulattoes”, “quadroons”, etc., all over the place.

  8. TF Smith September 5, 2011 / 9:38 am

    You know, the “prove your loyalty through blood” concept for minoriy groups is not exactly unknown to American (or human) history…Dunnigan’s “Soldiers Without Politics” examines the example of South Africa in the 20th Century, but subaltern studies in terms of colonial militaries would appear potentially a rewarding way to examine the question – why, for example, did the CSA avoid a “martial races” approach to the non-white population? The answer is obvious, but it could cause a few BCM-hawkers’ heads to explode…

    More seriously, something else that needs to be considered is that within the African-American population of the Confederate States,. there were tremendously significant divisions (totally overlooked by the BCM barkers), in terms of legal status and all that meant with regards to agency, demographics, culture, language, assimilation, etc.

    Even lumping AAs within the Confederacy into “subaltern” status is over-simplifying: an enslaved individual in Virginia vs a “person of color” in New Orleans (or even a “person of color’ in New Orleans vs one on Natchez) were very different…as witness the Louisiana Native Guards vis a vis the non-existant equivalent in Mississippi.

    Having said that, however, I think Profs. Gates and Stauffer are both whistling in the graveyard – they are bypassing the macro-historical reality of the southern states as slave societies, with enslaved status dependent wholly on African ancestry, and to what end I can not fathom, other than media attention.

    Neither are trained or educated as historians, in any sense of the word; as public intelletuals, I think TN Coates, with his “250 Year War” meme, provides a far better tool for understanding the conflict than Gates’ “black people are just as complex as anyone else.”

    One historian who has not come up yet is Ronald F. Davis, whose work in the Adams County courthouse and other records in Natchez is really fascinating; not quite “Montaillou” in terms of micro-history, but really well done and very insightful in terms of how a slave society functioned. Well worth reading…


    • lunchcountersitin September 7, 2011 / 9:51 am

      I agree with the point that certainly some number of freemen desired to enlist in the Confederate army as a way of showing loyalty to the regime, improving their status within society, etc. The thing is, it takes two to tango.

      Consider this. In November 1863, CSA Major-General DABNEY H. MAURY sent this communication to the Confederate military command:

      I again call your attention to my request to accept into the Confederate service the company of creoles of Mobile, because I think that perhaps the War Department is not exactly informed about the people I have reference to. When Spain ceded this territory to the United States in 1803, the creoles were guaranteed all the immunities and privileges of the citizens of the United States, and have continued to enjoy them up to this time.

      They have, many of them, negro blood in the degree which disqualifies other persons of negro race from the rights of citizens, but they do not stand here on the footing of negroes. They are very anxious to enter the Confederate service, and I propose to make heavy artillerists of them, for which they will be admirably qualified. Please let me hear at your earliest convenience if I may have them enrolled in a company, or in companies if I can find enough of them to make more than one company.

      In this case, a group of free “blacks” was “anxious” to enter Confederate service. What response did they get? This is from CSA Sec of War Seddon:

      Our position with the North and before the world will not allow the employment as armed soldiers of negroes. If these creoles can be naturally and properly discriminated from negroes, the authority may be considered as conferred; otherwise not, unless you can (use) them… for subordinate working purposes.

      In other words: these “negroes” could fight… if they could pass for white. Otherwise, they could do labor duty.

      Of course, the United States also turned away black volunteers, before policy was changed in mid-1862. But in the Confederate States, policy didn’t change until the war was just about done.

      I have not seen extensive research on this, but it does not appear that the negro’s brave service to the Confederacy was recognized by post-war southerners in terms of using that as a rationale for providing blacks with equal political and civil rights. Perhaps that was because it just didn’t happen often enough.

  9. Ray O'Hara September 5, 2011 / 10:07 am

    Still no one can name an actual Black Confederate soldier despite the fact unit rosters for CSA military units are in existence.
    Until someone can do so I’ll remain skeptical about the BCM.

    • Carl Schenker September 6, 2011 / 7:52 am

      Ray —
      I am by no means whatsoever a propagandist for the idea of black confederates; in fact, like you, I am highly skeptical. But I would be surprised, in this complex world, if there were none — zero — because whenever I look really hard at something I find more and more stuff and learn that nothing is as simple as it seems.
      Andy Hall has already offered some perspective on the matter of “Henson Williams” (or possibly “Henry Williams”), supposed Confederate veteran. His 1900 death was reported in at least 5 or 6 newspapers, presumably originating as an Associated Press report.
      Here is a link to a less-than-objective source saying that Williams served with Alabama troops (not reported in the NYT article). I don’t know nothing but maybe the Alabama reference is a little more grist for someone interested in the Williams case, like Andy.

      • Andy Hall September 7, 2011 / 7:14 am

        That’s interesting — it’s obviously an article on BCS, but it gives a 1909 death date for Williams, and says nothing about a murder. (No citations, of course.)

  10. TF Smith September 5, 2011 / 8:37 pm

    Something to consider – here are the records for enlistements (1537 in total) for the 1st Regiment of Cherokee Mounted Rifles (Stand Watie’s regiment); note that this was a volunteer regiment recruited (quite literally) on the frontier, from a very mixed and subaltern population, and without the sponsorship of a Confederate state government – and yet, 150 years after the fact, the names and service records of every member of the regiment is available.

    Sort of puts the mythical BCS troopers in perspective.

    • Sherree September 6, 2011 / 5:26 am

      Hi TF,

      Yes, the availability of the names and service records of Watie’s Cherokee Mounted Rifles does put into perspective the claim that African Americans fought for the Confederacy as enlisted soldiers—and puts that aspect of the debate into perspective quite nicely. The history of the Cherokee Nation, however, before, during and after the Civil War (and that of other Indigenous Nations as well) also puts into perspective— and into high relief—larger issues of race, and the shattering implications that being a member of a race other than white in a country that once belonged to your ancestors indicate.

      I think that white men and women must strive very hard to avoid using the history of other races as projections of white narratives and of white identity. The BCS myth as portrayed by pro Confederate narratives is an extreme, and almost absurd, distortion of black history warped to fit a white narrative and a white agenda. The history of the USCT in relation to white Union soldiers as portrayed in popular culture by some is not far behind the BCS myth, however, and offers a distortion of history, too.

      I am including a link to the Oklahoma State University Digital Library that details and summarizes the tumultuous, fractured history of the Cherokee during the Civil War and following it. Neither a Union victory nor a Confederate one was advantageous to the Cherokee or to any other Native nation, since taking the land of the Cherokee, of the Lakota, the Apache, the Dakota, and many other Indigenous Nations was foremost in the minds of white America, as it always had been. There is just no getting away from that basic, underlying fact of the history of our nation‘s founding, as I think that you most likely would agree.

      • Sherree September 6, 2011 / 6:18 am


        That should read minds of white Americans, not white America, and here is the link again. Thanks.​encyclopedia/entries/C/CI011

      • Ray O'Hara September 6, 2011 / 7:42 am

        The Amerindian quickly learned the Americans weren’t their friend.
        From the Pequot war in 1634 through their final defeat in the Ghost Dancing craze the Americans waged war against them to steal their land.

        The Amerindians made common cause with whomever the Americans were fighting, first the French, later the English and finally the Confederacy under the principle of” my enemy’s enemy is my friend” unfortunately for them they picked the wrong side every time.

        That the Cherokee sided with the CSA is highly ironic as it was a Southerner who was President, Andrew Jackson, acting at the behest of other Southerners who perpetrated the most infamous atrocity against them. The Trail Of Tears, a Bataan Death March event but which included women and children and was about 40 times longer.

        • Sherree September 6, 2011 / 9:44 am


          I understand what you have said–and for the record, Andrew Jackson is not one of my heroes.

          For the Cherokee and for all other Indigenous Nations, each path offered by white society ended up becoming a trail of tears. No exceptions.

        • Bob Huddleston September 6, 2011 / 6:32 pm


          The Cherokee were slave holders. IIRC, some of the other Indian Territory tribes were non-slave holders — and supported the Union.

          • Stephen Graham September 6, 2011 / 9:54 pm

            It’s more complex than that. There was substantial division within each of the Five Civilized Tribes, leading to the same mix of pro-Confederate, pro-Union and just-leave-me-alone populations that you saw anywhere along the border. The three US Indian Home Guard regiments were formed mostly out of the pro-Union faction, but there were also a large contingent in those units who had initially been in the Confederate units.

            Then there’s the continued issues with the Texas frontier and the Native American attacks upon it, which continued throughout the war and effectively drove the line of settlement back about 100 miles.

            And those are just the tribes in the South Central region.

      • TF Smith September 6, 2011 / 9:29 pm


        I understand your point; quite well in fact. You are, so to speak, preaching to the choir about the agency (or lack thereof) of subaltern populations on a military frontier.

        Having said that, my reference to a Confederate regiment recruited in the CN was simply as a point of comparison of a – for lack of a simpler way to say it – “non-whte” (more or less) military unit raised by the CSA.

        The fact that Watie is (relatively) well known also makes the point – which I expect you agree with – that a question none of the BCM advocates can answer: who is it, exactly, who enlisted, organized, and commanded the alleged BCS troopers?

        And why isn’t there “any” documentation (beyond the 1865 recruitment records, of course) of these men?


        • Sherree September 7, 2011 / 5:10 am


          Thanks for your response.

          I knew that I was preaching to the choir based upon your many astute observations about a variety of subjects. I just wanted to flesh the topic out a bit, because it seems that in these conversations we run the risk of skimming the surface of very complex issues and possibly leaving a false impression for readers who do not frequent CW blogs.

          There was bitter dissension in the Cherokee Nation over which side to back in the ACW. There were, essentially, “civil wars within civil wars” in many Indigenous Nations every time there was a war in white society. And, in the end, the result was always the same—land was either ceded or taken.

          Back to our original topic, though: yes, the study of the Confederacy’s relationship to Native American troops and its use of those troops does provide concrete evidence, of a sort, that no comparable “Black Confederate” units were organized. What does this accomplish, however, and doesn’t it take us further away from relating the narratives of men and women of other races outside of the demands of a white narrative? That is, by pursuing this line of inquiry we begin to focus on the Cherokee involvement in the ACW in order to prove the pro Confederate narrative wrong. Then, we go further, perhaps, and create the good guy/bad guy dichotomy and end with observations such as the Cherokee were slaveholders and thus sided with the Confederacy, effectively pitting one subaltern group against another. (I believe fully in the concept of agency, as long as it is not used to avoid taking responsibility. Also, many Indigenous men and women do not see themselves or their ancestors as being in a subordinate position in this nation, but as its original, and rightful, owners, as I am sure you know) Now, unfortunately, this entire scenario is being played out today with the truly regrettable decision by the Cherokee Nation to deny citizenship to the descendants of the freedmen who once were slaves of the Cherokee whose mixed race members adopted the ways of the dominant white culture.

          Anyway, this is a blog post, not a peer reviewed journal, and I understand that the historians taking part in the discussion are speaking freely and thinking creatively. It is a privilege to be part of the discussion. Growing up on a reservation in Oklahoma was far from a positive experience for some people I know, and the fact that some in the Cherokee Nation held slaves is in no way justification for the abandonment of Indigenous men and women by white society and by the American government. The Cherokee would have been abandoned whether they held slaves or not and even if the Cherokee had supported the Union.
          Thanks, TF, and thank you again, Brooks.

  11. EarthTone September 7, 2011 / 7:20 am


    Brooks, I agree that there is definitely more that can be done to understand the actions and motivations of free blacks during the war. I would add the following to the above replies:

    • I want to echo an earlier comment: One pet peeve of mine is that free blacks in the CW era are often looked at as a monolith. Many free blacks in the South were creoles/mulattoes, with social (and familial) ties to their white neighbors. We know that in South Carolina, light-skinned and dark-skinned free blacks self-segregated from each other; in New Orleans, many creoles had black slaves. Thus we can say that the concept of “blackness” varied from place to place and group to group.

    I think it would be very helpful if research could be done that explores differences in behavior and motivations (if any) between “African” free blacks and mixed-race free blacks.

    • I do get bothered and frustrated when I see statements from people who say that free blacks were motivated to “fight for their Southern homeland.” When I have seen this said, the author of such comments seems to imply or infer that free blacks had the same conception of a “Southern homeland” as free whites.

    However, given that free blacks and whites lived under completely different sets of legal, social, political, and economic circumstances, it’s just not credible or plausible that the two groups would construct “Southern homeland” in the same way. But I have seen that point made more than once. Which suggests to me that, as this discussion of free blacks takes place, it will be important to show the differences between them and free whites; we can’t take it for granted that everyone in the audience “gets it” that free blacks and whites were “different.”

    • Primary sources give us a good understanding of how northern blacks felt about the war and their role in it. It’s clear that many northern freemen in 1860-62 were angry and frustrated when told that they couldn’t fight in the “white man’s war,” and that abolition was not a war goal.

    By contrast, there seems to be a RELATIVE paucity of wartime records concerning the thoughts of southern freemen on the war. And of course, the precarious position of free blacks in the slave states would explain why comments from them might be limited. But the point is, getting good records concerning southern freemen’s HONEST thoughts, feelings, and opinions is more of a challenge than it is for northern freemen, or even southern fugitives/contrabands/USCT members.

    • As a demographic note: in 1860, there were 262,846 free blacks in the slave states and the District of Columbia; but in the Confederate states, there were only 132,740 freeman. Among those 132,740 freemen, there were 58,042 free blacks in VA, 30,463 free blacks in NC, and 18,647 free blacks in LA; so there were just 25,588 freemen and freewomen spread out in the remaining 8 Confederate states.

    Basically, then, the story of freemen in the Confederacy is the story of free blacks in VA, NC, and LA. Now of course, every one of the free black population has a story to tell; it’s just that, there’s just not much of a story to tell outside of the three states mentioned. And as a further note: New Orleans was occupied by the Union early in the war, so there was a very limited free black presence in Confederate Louisiana during the course of the conflict.

    I have seen that, for historians, no subject can be too esoteric. But it does seem that, outside of two Upper South Confederate states, there’s not a lot of gold in them thar hills concerning free Southern blacks. One could probably get a very good view of the big picture concerning free blacks in the CSA with an examination of just 2 or 3 states.

    • Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky were all Union slave states. DE and MD, along with the adjacent District of Columbia, had 114,902 free blacks, a huge number of freemen for a relatively small (and interestingly, contiguous) area. It would be interesting to see a review of how free blacks fared/acted/served during the war in this particular locale.

    • Finally, I would note that:
    – free blacks were 11% of the African American population in 1860;
    – free blacks were just 3% of the African American population in the Confederate states in1860.

    The free black population in the Confederacy and/or the slave states was so small; and the gulf between the free black and enslaved black experience so great; that the free black experience might not be that useful for the purpose of providing insight regarding how enslaved blacks felt about the war. I say might, because I am no expert on the subject; but this is my speculation.

    That doesn’t mean that free black experience has no relevancy or insights to offer concerning slaves, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that this is not a good subject for research. Rather, I’m saying that the free black experience might not offer many useful generalizations that can be applied to enslaved blacks, but rather, it offers us insights that are unique to free blacks themselves. So, I am wary of those who look at the history of free “black Confederates” and conclude that this reflects the overall “black Confederate” experience. (For example: we have seen a lot of discussion of black Confederates in NC; but the large free black population in that state makes its black experience unique compared to others. I think it’s useful to note that NC might be an outlier in terms of its black Confederate experience, to the extent that there is one.)

  12. John Foskett September 7, 2011 / 7:30 am

    Adding Native Americans to the discussion really complicates it – just as discussing the various allances involving tribes in the F&I War and AWI does. While there might have been a few conflcting and seemingly inconsistent motivations among “black” populations (freed and slave), apply an exponent to that when analyzing the involvement of NA’s. Michino’s excellent new book on the first week of the 1862 Sioux uprising in Minnesota will hopefully lead to more exploration of the issues compklicated by the War along another of the border/frontier regions.

  13. Kgray September 10, 2011 / 1:22 pm

    “…As soon as slavery fired upon the flag it was felt, we all felt, even those who did not object to slaves, that slavery must be destroyed. We felt that it was a stain to the Union that men should be bought and sold like cattle.”
    Grant’s comment to Bismarck on his trip around the world, in 1878; quoted in William S. McFeely Grant. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1982

    the excuse was “states rights”, but the root of the problem was always slavery.

  14. Jordan Byron Kinley September 26, 2011 / 3:29 pm

    My great great grandfather William Peck Evans is buried at the Marrietta Confederate Cemetery.At the foot of his grave is the Confederate drummer Bill Yopp’s final resting place.I’ve always been proud of “Grandpa Billy” and his service to the cause, standing up for his homeland and what he believed in.At the same time, I have always been horrified that the main goal of that cause was to defend the State’s Right to do what? Keep slaves.Therefore, for me personally, it’s always been a wonderful, fitting, and sad irony that he is buried with honor next to the very rare instance of an African-American man buried with the same Confederate honor.My mother and I have visited four times and leave flowers on both graves, always at the end of one of our Civil War tours on the way home to Tampa, Florida.It’s a special legacy to live with and one that I feel obligated to own up to at a moment’s notice.Thanks for the oppurtunity to do so here, keep up the good work.

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