Monday, July 22, 2019

Black Southern Support for Secession and War

 A drawing published in Harper's Weekly, depicting African American soldiers in the Confederate States Army. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sooner or later any student of the War for Southern Independence will run across discussion of “black Confederates,” which may well be the most controversial topic related to the war. From an objective standpoint it might seem odd that there is any controversy at all. The South had a large black population in 1861, mostly slave but some free, and these men and women held a diverse set of opinions, just as the white population did. Simply playing the odds will tell us that someone among the four million black men, women and children in the South would choose to support secession.

Slaves had little choice in whether they participated in supporting the war effort (though they had more options than might be expected) but while the “free men of color” as they were often called were not treated as equals by the white population, they were often skilled tradesmen and businessmen who owned property, and many had family who had lived in their home state for several generations, so they had deep roots in the South. Some were veterans of past military conflicts. The idea that they would have an interest in the outcome of the war and might well choose to side with their home states over an invading army should surprise no one, especially early in the conflict before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation changed the calculation by making freedom for the black population into a wartime goal of the Union.

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