January 23, 1865: South won’t really arm slaves

Andrew and Silas Chandler
Ever wonder why it’s always the same picture of a “Black Confederate”?


The New York Times points out that, although the South is finally talking about arming slaves, they can’t seriously hope to have a significant number of them ready to fight before the spring campaign gets going. With no real source of new troops, the south is doomed, and the editor worries that the fight will degenerate into “partizans and brigands” by summer.

The Rebel Proposition to Arm the Negroes.
Published: January 23, 1865

There are now only three months at the very most before the opening of what is called “the Spring campaign;” that is before it becomes feasible for armies to move in Virginia, and until military operations on a great scale become possible throughout all the Border States; until, in short, the period of the year at which the South has always hitherto found itself assailed at all points, and its strength subjected to the severest strain; and yet we do not perceive the slightest sign of the adoption of any plan by the rebels for arming and enlisting the negroes. There are vague reports that Gen. LEE favors it, and that DAVIS and his Secretary of War are prepared to resort to it, whenever there is clearly no other mode of saving the Confederacy, but there must be and certainly is also a vast deal of opposition to it, latent as well as expressed, and of which we shall only know the full strength when an attempt is made to put the scheme into legal shape.

But if it is ever to be resorted to, it ought to be done now; and the fact that it is not being done, seems to prove pretty clearly that the idea is not seriously entertained by the Confederate leaders. Three months is too short a time in which to perfect the details of a measure involving nothing less than a social revolution, to secure first what is absolutely necessary — the approval or support of the planters, and to make arrangements for catching the slaves, after it has been decided that they are to be caught. We see by the Richmond papers that the mere talk of putting them in the army is causing a general panic amongst them in that city and the neighborhood, and that they are making their way North as fast as circumstances will permit. We may guess from this what the effect on them would be of the actual preparation of the measure in Congress. And it must not be forgotten that the difficulty of getting at them, even after it had been decided to arm them, has been enormously increased by SHERMAN’s presence in South Carolina. Communication with Georgia, or at least regular communication, may now be said to be at an end; the mails only come in now and then; SHERMAN’s cavalry and bands of Anti-Confederate guerrillas are swarming over the country, breaking the railroad lines and rendering the systematic execution of the orders of the Richmond Government impossible. The same thing may be said of the state of affairs in Alabama and Mississippi; so that a regular conscription throughout the Confederacy is no longer possible. If it were possible, it is certain that it would be useless to try to get together an army of negroes large enough to be worth anything, and arm, drill and organize them, and issue the needful supply of cowhide to the officers between now and the first of May.

So that it is fair to conclude that the plan is given up, and that the chiefs of the Confederacy intend to fight it out, with such white men as they can lay their hands on, or have already got in the ranks. If so, it may be safely asserted that the contest will not be protracted far into the Summer, and that by next Fall we shall have simply the great “guerrilla” difficulty to deal with. The fact that the Confederate advocates in London already begin to descant upon the magnitude and gravity of this, warrants the presumption that the Confederate agents abroad are expecting to see the conflict degenerate on their side into a war of partizans and brigands at an early date.

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