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104 • 5 • “We Crushed Their Freedom” Emancipation and the Problem of Slave Loyalty In July 1863, the Federal army raided Adams Run, South Carolina, near Charleston. With the arrival of troops came the freeing of slaves. “My Plantation will very soon become a wilderness,” complained Henry H. Mani­ gault, a civilian who owned dozens of black workers. All but two had left him. Before they fled, they broke open a trunk, stole clothes, and robbed a neighboring colonel’s plantation “of everything.” They even ripped apart feather beds to make rough sacks to carry away their booty. The Confederate soldier Lewis Grimball wrote of the destruction and its aftermath. Concerning his uncle Henry, he said, he looked “ten years older since the loss of his negroes.” Despite his losses, Grimball’s uncle was fatalistic about the flight of his slaves, saying he had “lost them just a little sooner than every body else.” Lewis Grimball concluded, “This seems rather poor consolation.”1 Thousands of Southern masters would find themselves in the same situation as Grimball’s uncle. For them, the breakdown of slavery was not a matter of if it would happen, but when. By 1863, the United States had made emancipation an official war aim, worsening an already difficult situation for Confederates, who were trying to win their independence and maintain racial control. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, even though it gave hope to millions of slaves, spurred Confederates to make more-concerted efforts against Union forces, and it led them to a closer embrace of slavery.2 Through the use of force and the help of “loyal” black people, Confederate troops were confident they could assure the survival of human bondage. Rebel troops believed they could prevent the freeing of the slaves, not only because of the inner divisions within the Union concerning abolition, but because they had faith in the South’s long-standing resourcefulness in controlling the black population. Historians have often shown how slaves resisted their masters and emancipation and the problem of slave loyalty 105 opposed white Southerners’ authority. Without ignoring the importance of resistance and agency among slaves, one should remember that black people faced practical and psychological boundaries that prevented them from throwing off their chains. Through laws constricting black mobility, statutes preventing slave literacy, and the use of mounted patrols and individual acts of punishment, white Southerners had worked hard, though not always successfully, to keep black people enslaved. In the ante­ bellum period, the difficulties inherent in slaves gaining their freedom were evident in the lack of successful slave revolts and the relatively small number of runaways that ever made it to Northern soil.3 Moreover, slaves did not challenge their masters’ power out of fear of destroying families or upsetting kin ties. During the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of slaves fled to the Yankees, but many more remained where they lived and worked. Enslaved people understood that the Federals could not liberate them all instantly, or necessarily help them once they were free. Wherever the Federal army held ground, slaves gained their liberty, but elsewhere, black people had to find other ways to challenge their Confederate masters, if they challenged them at all, and could only hope for an eventual Union triumph. What is important in discussing Confederate soldiers and emancipation is not the fact that many slaves resisted their masters or that their actions weakened the Rebel cause; rather, it is the effect of black resistance on Southern troops’ morale and the conduct of the war effort. Many slaves absconded in wartime, but Confederate soldiers continued to believe that black people were more loyal to the Confederacy than to the Union. Most of the rebelliousness whites encountered in African Americans ’ behavior was not deemed to be serious, or was only serious because the Federals had lured slaves away with false promises. Given the formidable strength of the Confederate military well into 1864, Rebel troops were confident that they could contain disloyalty among the slave population . Black people were not always reliable, but Confederate soldiers believed that they could control them and maintain slavery indefinitely. After the war, veterans forgot or downplayed the difficulty the Confederacy had experienced in trying to control its black population. In veterans’ eyes, the slaves had been loyal “darkies” who never seriously challenged their masters’ authority and who remained true to their white “families.” In 1912, the magazine Confederate Veteran asserted that in wartime the devotion of black people had had “no equal in...


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MARC Record
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