January 21, 1863: Enlisting black troops

22nd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops

The Richmond Daily Dispatch reports Thaddeus Stevens’ plan to enlist black troops, and outlines the South’s policy toward them. The editor was convinced that former slaves would enlist only under duress, and that they would be unsuitable as soldiers in any case. As the Dispatch says, captured black troops were not treated as prisoners of war, but as traitors to be summarily executed. This policy put an end to prisoner exchanges for the remainder of the war.

By the way, this short article gave me two linguistic lessons. One was “cuff” as a nickname for a slave; the other was the usage of “intestine” in the sense of “internal to the affairs of a country”, in the phrase “intestine war”.

Thad Stevens and the Niggers.

Thad, Stevens is determined not to let the contrabands eat the bread of idleness. As 300,000 Yankee troops go out of service in May, he proposes to supply half the deficiency by darkles.–These latter, therefore, are likely to have a lively time of it in future. They though, no doubt, when they left their masters and went off with the Yankees, that they would spend the rest of their lives in idleness, which state is the genuine African’s ideal of Heaven. They are likely to find themselves mistaken in their calculations, as wiser men have been before them.

The Yankees do not know what to do with them. By carrying them North they displace while labor in a country where it is either work or starve. The huge number that have already gone there has been the cause of serious riots on more than one occasion. The still greater number expected may breed intestine war. It is absolutely necessary to do something with them, and Thad thinks he has found out what that something should be.

Poor cuff is placed in a most awkward predicament. There has been nothing like it since the days of the trial of witches by the ordeal of water. If the person accused swam she was a witch, and was burnt for skill in aquatics. If she sank she was no witch, and was only drowned. So cuff must enlist or be shot by the Yankees. If he enlist, he is to expect no quarter from his former masters, for most assuredly none will be given.–He will have already forfeited his life by bearing arms against the State. If taken, he will be hanged; if not taken, he stands a pretty good chance of being shot; if he escape, the Yankees will bring him back again, and keep on trying him until they get him finished at last. Here is a very bright prospect for poor cuff, and it cannot fall to make him more in love than ever with the Yankees.

The introduction of this proposition by Stevens indicates an assurance on his part, and doubtless on that of his party also, that the gap to be made by the withdrawal of so many men in May cannot easily be filled up. As citizens the negro will improve Yankee society very greatly. They are better bred and more honest. But they are not exactly the material for soldiers, and as the making of them soldiers is not what they bargained for when they ran off and left their masters, they will not be apt to take to it with a very good will, especially when they know that they are not to expect quarter if taken. The Yankees must have become tired, indeed, of the war when it is found necessary to fill up their ranks by such substitutes. The circumstance is full of encouragement to us, and ought, by all means, to stimulate our authorities in pushing the conscription. Let us have a full army in the spring, and we will put an end to this last Yankee levy. They will never be able to raise another. By all means push the conscription.

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