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Johan Steele
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Southern Historical Society Papers
1959. New Series, Vol. 14, Old Series, Vol. LII.
2d Confederate Congress--(2d Session)--Friday, February 3, 1865.
EMPLOYMENT OF NEGROES IN THE ARMY
The Senate resumed the consideration of the Senate bill to provide for the employment of free negroes and slaves to work upon fortifications and perform other labour connected with the defences of the country. The pending question being on agreeing to the second amendment of the House to strike out the clause restricting the number of negroes to be employed to thirty thousand east of the Mississippi River, and ten thousand west of that river.
Mr. Orr said he should vote against the amendment of the House. Forty thousand negroes to be employed in the army was the number recommended by the Executive. If eighty or one hundred thousand had been recommended he should have voted for that number. But the bill had given rise to the discussion of a subject which had excited the publick mind more than any other whatever--putting negroes in the army as soldiers. In his opinion, this would be one of the most fatal steps that could be taken. He believed our soldiers would object to the measure to such a degree that it would have the effect of disorganizing our army. When the Yankees first began to occupy our country, there was a great exodus of our slaves to the enemy's lines. This continued until the Yankees began to enlist the negroes as soldiers, when it almost entirely ceased. But the moment it was known that we designed putting them into our armies they would leave by thousands. He believed the negroes were naturally cowardly; but if it was simply a choice between entering one or the other army, they would go to the Yankees. Nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand would do so.
Mr. Orr then went on to show that emancipation was a necessary concomitant of putting negroes into the army as soldiers, and dwelt eloquently upon the disastrous effect upon our country that the emancipation of the slaves would entail.
There was an impression in the country that a large number of men were absent from the army with and without leave. If this opinion was incorrect, no one was so much responsible for it as the President himself, who, during his unfortunate speech at Macon, wherein he said that two-thirds of that army was absent, and one-third of those two-thirds absent without leave.
Mr. Hill stated that the President never made such a statement. The report of the speech was incorrect, and was so stated in the Georgia papers. The President said that two-thirds of that army, the Army of Tennessee, were absent, many of them without leave. The correction was made in the Georgia papers, but not by authority.
Mr. Orr repeated that the President's speech at Macon, as reported, and even as stated by the Senator, was the most unfortunate speech ever made by any publick man. The country, the ordinary newspaper readers, understood him to mean that most of the absentees were absent without leave, which was not a fact. In that speech he had also aimed a blow at General Johnston; saying that he had put in command of the Army of Tennessee a man who would strike an honest and manly blow for Atlanta; that Sherman's campaign would be more disastrous than the retreat of the army of the French empire from Moscow.
Mr. Hill explained that he heard the speech, and did not understand that the President aimed any blow at General Johnston. The whole purpose of the speech was to induce the people to recruit and support the army, and stating what would be the result if the people would do so.--The charge had been made that the President designed to abandon Georgia to her fate. For the purpose of refuting this imputation, and not as a blow at General Johnston, he stated that he had placed a man at the head of the army who would strike an honest and manly blow. If the Army of Tennessee had been recruited by the return of the absentees, the result of Sherman's campaign would have been what the President predicted.
After some further remarks about this speech of the President, Mr. Orr said General Johnston was removed from the Army of Tennessee, and nothing but disaster had followed. All the men and boys of South Carolina were now in the field to resist the advance of Sherman. It would inspire confidence if General Johnston were in command there. A report had just reached him that General Beauregard had been relieved from the command of the southwest and ordered to command in South Carolina. This assignment would be acceptable to the people of that State. But he thought that General Johnston should be given an important command somewhere. He did not know whether there was much of the Army of Tennessee left. He hoped that General Lee, now that he had been made General-in-Chief, would see to it that General Johnston's talent and high military genius should not be lost to the country.
Mr. Maxwell spoke in opposition to putting negroes into the army as soldiers. It involved abolition of slavery. He could scarcely realize that he had heard such a proposition discussed in the Confederate Senate. He did not believe that putting negroes into the armies would add to its strength, and as the amendment of the House was understood to tend in that direction, he would vote against it.
Mr. Johnson, of Missouri, said he was astounded at the range this debate had taken on this amendment. The question was not whether we shall put negroes into the army as soldiers, but whether we shall restrict to forty thousand the number of negroes to be put at the disposal of the commanders of our armies to cook, drive, throw up fortifications, &c. He was in favour of giving Generals Lee and Beauregard whatever amount of negroes they should find necessary. Another subject had been freely discussed; the restoration of General Johnston to the Army of Tennessee. He had no opinion on this subject himself, because he had no knowledge of its merits, but he would state that every Missourian of the Army of Tennessee with whom he had conversed had told him that General Johnston was the only man who could revive the spirit of that army, and that the heart of every man in the army had sunk when he was removed from its command.
Mr. Burnett said he had not lost the pride of a Southern citizen, but his chief end was severance from the Northern Government. If this could be done without resort to negro soldiers, he would say never put a negro into the army. If he was convinced that there was white material enough in the country, he would vote against negro soldiers, but he was not convinced of it, and, if called an abolitionist, he was in good company. General Lee, and many other distinguished officers, favoured putting negroes into the army. The material of which the Yankee army was composed was Irish, Germans and negroes. It was the policy of the enemy, having issued a proclamation of universal emancipation, they put into the army all the able-bodied negroes in the country as they overran it. The portions of Kentucky held by our armies in 1862 was now garrisoned by negro troops, the slaves of that country. In his opinion it was with us simply a choice whether we should put the negroes into our armies, or to leave them to swell the armies of the enemy.
Mr. Burnett said all the disasters to the Army of Tennessee had been the direct consequences of the removal of General Johnston, and he believed his restoration would be hailed with joy by the whole army. He did not know whether the President knew the truth, but he would do what he could to enlighten him. In conclusion, he said the question of putting negroes in the armies as soldiers was not practically before the Senate.--Whenever it should be, he would vote for it as a military necessity.
The vote being taken, the amendment was rejected--yeas 9, nays 10.
Those who voted in the affirmative were Messrs. Brown, Burnett, Dortch, Henry, Johnson of Missouri, Simms, Sparrow, Vest and Watson.
Those who voted in the negative were Messrs. Baker, Caperton, Garland, Graham, Haynes, Hill, Maxwell, Orr, Semmes and Wig-fall.
The remaining amendments were then considered, and, with three exceptions, agreed to.
Before a vote was taken on the bill, Mr. Orr, of South Carolina, moved to reconsider the vote by which the second resolution was concurred in.--He did not wish to change his vote, but had made the motion that one of the Senators from Mississippi (Mr. Watson), who desired to express his opinions on the subject of that amendment, might be heard.
On motion of Mr. Caperton, of Virginia, the Senate resolved into secret session.
CONTINUED

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