Blacks in the Army

Although black men were consistently barred from military service for the Union Army early in the war, they were included in the Confederate Army from the beginning. However, black Confederate military service was built on the conventions of Southern society, which put blacks to work performing the menial tasks of heavy labor. Harvey's Scouts, a group that rode with Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Third Georgia Infantry, and the Louisiana Native Guards and who would later join the Union Army after Benjamin Butler's occupation of New Orleans in 1862, all served support functions for the Confederate Army. The use of coerced or ''voluntary'' black military service for manual labor freed white Confederate soldiers for frontline duty and kept firearms from African Americans. The Confederate Congress passed several bills, including the Negro Musicians Bill (1862) and the Regimental Cooks Bills (1862 and 1863), ensuring that free and enslaved blacks filled support roles and did not serve as soldiers. Slaves and conscripted blacks also built fortifications, expanded river defenses, repaired railroads, and assisted in the manufacture of armaments. In the early years of the war, there was no talk in the Confederacy of arming slaves for combat.

Although Major General Patrick Cleburne called for the enlistment of slaves as soldiers in January 1864, Confederate president Jefferson Davis would not consider Cleburne's plan. Later that year, Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin also called for the enlistment of blacks, and by January 1865, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee similarly called for the use of black soldiers to fill the thinning ranks of the Confederate States Army. On March 13, 1865, the Confederate Congress authorized recruitment of black soldiers promising a loosely defined emancipation in exchange for service. Few blacks were recruited, however, and the surrender documents at Appomattox one month later showed no black soldiers among those who surrendered. Generally, black soldiers who served the

A few African American men worked in the Confederate Army, especially as "servants" to their enlisted owners or as cooks, general laborers, teamsters, and musicians. This photo shows a man identified as Marlboro, a servant to Major Raleigh Spinks's Camp of the 40th Georgia Infantry of the Army of Tennessee. (AP/ Wide World Photos)

Confederacy did so because they were conscripted, coerced by their masters or other whites, or sought economic gain or protection for their families and communities. There is no evidence that blacks fought to support the South or its so-called peculiar institution.

Free and enslaved black men and women in both the North and South interacted with the Union and Confederate causes and troops in some way or another during the war, and thus the ''world came to the plantation'' (Bardaglio 1992, 219). Slave children's workload increased as white men left for military service and black men were either impressed into service or ran away. The war meant more than an increased workload for African American children. The Civil War further destabilized African American families in a myriad of ways. Slave fathers' control over their children could and often was trumped by the master's absolute power over slave lives. During the Civil War, fathers and mothers ran away. When families reunited, fathers asserted their authority in ways that had been completely unknown under slavery. Families were destabilized and divided as slaves sought freedom behind Union lines. The military accepted male slaves into military service, particularly after 1862, but families were expected to remain behind on the plantation. Enslaved women and children who were left behind on the plantation were often brutalized by vengeful masters. Patsey Leach of Kentucky recalled how her master became particularly abusive after her husband left and later died on the battlefield: ''When my husband was killed my master whipped me severely saying my husband had gone into the army to fight against white folks and he my master would let me know that I was foolish to let my husband go.'' Leach was so badly beaten that ''blood oozed from the lacerations'' on her back. Desperate to escape, Leach fled without four of her children (Leach as quoted in Taylor 2005, 194).

Thus, for African American men and women the decision to flee or to stay, to fight or to sit idly by was fraught with painful choices. Adding to the chaos of African American family life was increased government interest in slave marriages, which marked a dramatic change for black families. As the federal government passed legislation allowing the wives of black soldiers to receive pensions, the government expressed a heightened interest in ''proper'' and ''improper'' marriages and ''moral'' and ''immoral'' activities of the widows. Still black families generally welcomed the intrusion of the public worlds of politics and war into their domestic affairs because they saw in such a blending of the public and private a means of achieving liberation.

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Retirement Planning For The Golden Years

Retirement Planning For The Golden Years

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