President Davis on Black Southern Troops


The question of the South’s emancipating and arming slaves is raised by President Jefferson Davis in his message to Congress in November 1864.  He saw the need to keep the agricultural production of black Southerners unimpaired in order to feed the armies but states “but should the alternative ever be presented of subjugation or of the employment of the slave as a soldier, there seems to be no reason to doubt what should then be our decision.”  He did not want to use the black man as cannon-fodder, as was the case with the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"


President Jefferson Davis, Message to Congress, November 7, 1864.

“Whenever…the service of the slave is thus acquired by the government, the question is presented by what tenure he should be held. Should he be retained in servitude, or should his emancipation be held out to him as a reward for faithful service, or should it be granted at once on the promise of such service; and if emancipated, what action should be taken to secure for the freedman the permission of the State from which he was drawn (for Confederate service) to reside within its limits after theclose of the public service?

The policy of engaging to liberate the Negro on his discharge after service faithfully rendered seems to me preferable to that of granting immediate manumission, or that of retaining him in servitude.

A broad moral distinction exists between the use of slaves as soldiers in defense of their homes, and the incitement of the same persons to insurrection against their masters. The one is justifiable, if
necessary, the other is iniquitous and unworthy of a civilized people; and such is the judgment of all writers on public law, as well as that expressed and insisted on by our enemies in all wars prior to that now waged against us. By none have the practices of which they are now guilty been denounced with greater severity than by themselves in the two wars with Great Britain, in the last and in the present century; and in the declaration of independence of 1776, when enumeration was made of the wrongs which justified the revolt from Great Britain, the climax of the atrocity was deemed to be reached only when the English monarch was denounced as having “excited domestic insurrections amongst us.”

The subject is to be viewed by us, therefore, solely in the light of policy and our social economy. When so regarded, I must dissent from those who advise a general levy of arming the slaves for the duty of soldiers. Until our white population shall prove insufficient for the armies we require and can afford to keep in the field, to employ as a soldier the Negro, who has merely been trained to labor, and as a laborer (under) the white man, accustomed from his youth to the use of firearms, would scarcely be deemed wise or advantageous by any; and this is the question now before us.

But should the alternative ever be presented of subjugation or of the employment of the slave as a soldier, there seems to be no reason to doubt what should then be our decision.

Whether our view embraces what would, in so extreme as case, be the sum of misery entailed by the dominion of the enemy, or be restricted solely to the effect upon the welfare and happiness of the Negro population themselves, the result would be the same.

If the subject involved no other consideration than the mere right of property, the sacrifices heretofore made by our people have been such as to permit no doubt of their readiness to surrender every possession in order to secure their independence.”

(Messages & Papers of the Confederacy, James D. Richardson, US Printing Office, 1906, pp. 493-496)