Skip to comments.New book looks at startling Confederate policy during Civil War
Posted on 02/21/2006 7:59:04 AM PST by stainlessbanner
Relatively few people are aware that during the Civil War, Confederate leaders put forth a proposal to arm slaves to fight against the Union in exchange for their freedom.
In his new book Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2006), UCSC history professor Bruce Levine examines the circumstances that led to this startling and provocative piece of American history. In the process, he sheds new light on a little-known but significant story of slavery, freedom, and race during the Civil War.
The idea for the book came to Levine in the late 1980s when he was teaching at the University of Cincinnati and working on another book about the origins of the Civil War.
"The more I read about this episode, the more I realized how important it was to our understanding of the war; it wasnt just an interesting little footnote, said Levine. "After all, how could the war be about slavery if the Confederates were willing to sacrifice slavery in order to win the war? And it turned out that there was a cornucopia of information on that and related subjects available in letters, government documents, and newspaper articles and editorials.
Levine traveled throughout the South, combing through archives for newspaper accounts of the war, letters sent to Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders, diaries of officers and troops, and memoirs by and about former slaves. He spent time exploring the internal documents of the Confederate government, which were captured by the Union army and are now stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Levine found that Confederate leaders had been receiving--and rejecting--letters from various Southerners suggesting that they arm the slaves since the very beginning of the war.
But it was only in November of 1864, after the Confederates were defeated at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and finally Atlanta, that Davis reversed himself and endorsed the proposal to arm the slaves. The result was a fierce public debate in newspapers, drawing rooms, army regiments, and slave quarters throughout the South.
The book shows how the idea was proposed out of desperation and military necessity--the Confederates were badly outnumbered, slaves were escaping and joining the Union armies, and the South was close to defeat and to the loss of slavery. But as Levine points out, "the opposition of slave owners was ferocious--even though they were facing defeat and the end of slavery, they would not face those realities. They would not give up their slaves, even to save the Confederate cause itself."
"Only a tiny handful of slaves responded to the Confederate proposal," Levine added. "They viewed it as an act of desperation and were skeptical of the sincerity of promises of emancipation. The reaction of the slaves generally was 'Why would we fight for the Confederacy; it's not our country? They were very well informed through the grapevine."
Levine noted that the book is designed to emphasize how important the slaves actions were during that period of history.
"The story of the Civil War is usually told as a story of two white armies and two white governments," Levine said. "The popular image is of passive, grateful slaves kneeling at the feet of Father Abraham. But in fact, the slaves were very active in shaping the war and its outcome.
"There are a lot of revelations in this book," Levine added. "The proposals discussed here provided an early glimmering of how the white South would treat blacks for the next century."
Levine is the author, coauthor, or editor of six previous books, including Work and Society (1977), Who Built America? (two volumes, 1990, 1992), The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of the Civil War (1992), and Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War (rev. ed. 2005). He has been a professor of history at UCSC since 1997.
New research on Southern policy
I knew about this when I was just a lad..some 45 years ago..my Dad, a Southerner, explained this to me..it's not "startling" or new..
bump for later
Exactly, anyone who has read Shelby Foote knows this.
Which proves again that the war was never about slavery. But that won't stop the Lincoln idolators from repeating the statement.
I thought this policy was fairly well known.
didn't have to read him, just watch Discovery or History Channel..I've seen programs dedicated to this exact subject..
He gets off on the wrong foot from the get-go in the headline in his search for accuracy. This was not a civil war, but a war between two separate nations. A civil war is a war between opposing factions fought within the same national borders.
Also can be found int he book "April 1865, The month that saved America." A great Civil War book...this is nothing new.
"I knew about this when I was just a lad..some 45 years ago..my Dad, a Southerner, explained this to me..it's not "startling" or new.."
....New book looks at startling Confederate policy during Civil War.....
NEW BOOK TELLS SAME BORING STORY OF CONFEDERATE POLICY DURING THE CIVIL WAR
go fly a kite !!!!!
You are correct but Shelby Foote is a joy to read.
Kind of like our borders now, think it can't happen?
Get me a book about Battlefield Prostitutes and I will read it
he was fun to listen to too..he's gonna be missed..
This is NOT new information. It has been well known for years and years.
True enough, the Civil War was not solely about slavery. But think of this way: If one subtracts the issue of slavery as the cause for the "irrepressible conflict," what ,then, forced the country to enter into its bloodiest conflict?
Get a book on General Hookers campaigns and the "campfire" girls that would follow his forces..it's where the term "hooker" came from..
Indeed, there were black regiments that fought on the side of the Confederacy. There were "uncomfortable" moments when veterans of these regiments showed up at commemorative events in the years after the war.
And, as any serious student of history knows, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves in the Southern states.
I'll second that. I'm in the middle of his second volume of the Civil War Narrative. Reads like a novel.
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