Thursday, January 16, 2014

January 2, 1864

January 2, 1864

---Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and arguably the best combat commander in the Confederate armies in the west, writes an infamous but eloquent letter to Gen. Johnston, commander of the Army of Tennessee, recommending the recruiting of slaves and free blacks into the Confederate army, in exchange for freedom for the blacks who do serve.  Cleburne argues “that slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the commencement of the war, has now become, in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.”  He goes on to discussion the South’s distinctive vulnerabilities:

Apart from the assistance that home and foreign prejudice against slavery has given to the North, slavery is a source of great strength to the enemy in a purely military point of view, by supplying him with an army from our granaries; but it is our most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness. Wherever slavery is once seriously disturbed, whether by the actual presence or the approach of the enemy, or even by a cavalry raid, the whites can no longer with safety to their property openly sympathize with our cause. The fear of their slaves is continually haunting them, and from silence and apprehension many of these soon learn to wish the war stopped on any terms.

Adding that President Davis plans to call up all reserves, Cleburne argues that this will result in depleting the last of the South’s manpower.  Then, he launches his principal proposal:

Adequately to meet the- causes which are now threatening ruin to our country, we propose, in addition to a modification of the President's plans, that we retain in service for the war all troops now in service, and that we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war. As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter — give up the negro slave rather than be a slave himself.

Cleburne also points out that England and France, both publicly opposed to slavery, might have the last objection to helping the South eliminated, and thus change the balance of power in the Confederacy’s favor.  He also predicts that this move would therefore “deprive the North of the moral and material aid which it now derives from the bitter prejudices with which foreigners view the institution” of slavery, and thus the greater horror of the war would be the slaughter itself, and thus influence foreign opinion against the North for continuing it. 

His letter ends with the signatures of himself and a long list of senior officers, including Generals Govan, Lowery, and Kelly.  At the time, Cleburne has little idea of the furor that will result.
Maj. Gen. Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, CSA

---Sergeant Alexander Downing, of the 11th Iowa, writes in his journal of the suffering on picket duty and of a humorous incident with three local women who attend a church service in the army camp:

Saturday, 2d—I was detailed for picket again this morning, and the post I drew stationed me on the bottom land. It began to rain late in the afternoon and continued into the night and I was soon standing in water. I tell you, it is poor comfort on picket. The commanding officer banished three women from our lines today. The case against them grew out of a meeting on last Thanksgiving Day. They attended the meeting held in the Presbyterian church and when the minister prayed for the President of the United States, for the success of our arms, and for the Stars and Stripes, saying, “May they continue to float over the land of the free and the home of the brave,” the three women got up and indignantly walked out. They were banished for disloyal conduct.

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