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130 • 6 • On Battlefields and in Prisons Confederate Soldiers Confront Black Union Troops With the Emancipation Proclamation came the North’s use of black Union troops to help crush the Confederacy. By the spring of 1863, the United States had organized some black regiments, and it had thousands of volunteers ready to fill others. Over the course of the war, 180,000 African Americans, most of them former slaves, served in the Union army. In 1863, Confederates found, much to their dismay, that colored troops were now invading the South. Rebels who had joined the ranks with dreams of Walter Scott–like glory, found their chivalry tested when they confronted black men in battle. Confederates treated black regiments with little of the respect they often showed Northern whites, and over the course of the war, they promised “no quarter” when they fought them.1 Most Confederates never confronted black soldiers in battle. But with their manhood and combat reputations, not to mention slavery and the Southern social order at stake, Confederates found that racially charged combat proved to be the bitterest fighting in a very bitter war. It was the kind of combat they must win were the Confederates to succeed as defenders of a slaveholding nation. From the war’s beginning, Southerners vowed to treat Northerners without restraint, and such grim assurances were not always racial in tone. Confederates often spoke of flying the black flag or showing no quarter toward any Northerner. In their eyes, Yankees were abolitionists and they must pay dearly for waging war against the South. In March 1863, Henry Semple, an Alabaman in the Army of Tennessee, wrote from Tullahoma , Tennessee, about the recent depredations by the Yankees. He complained of Northern troops having taken the “unwilling as well as the willing” slaves from a house in northwestern Alabama. In response, he said, his men had refused to take prisoners and those who were captured confederate soldiers confront black union troops 131 would be shot if they were not “keeping up.” Flying the black flag would become common.2 The fighting between Confederates and black Federals was not the beginning of racial violence in the South. Slavery had always depended on coerced labor, armed patrols, and corporal punishment. Whatever their disposition, masters had always had control over their servants’ bodies, rewarding or punishing them according to their whims. But Confederate soldiers were different. A master might only have to discipline a slave for a minor act of rebelliousness, but Southern troops were fighting for their lives. Slave owners sometimes killed or maimed a slave for some infraction , but in wartime, Confederate troops believed they had much more to lose if they did not stop black soldiers from invading their communities. Thus, the killing often spun out of control and devolved into massacres. Merely defeating “Negroes” was often not enough to satisfy Confederate soldiers. For some Confederates, such interracial combat took on the characteristics of a race war. The South Carolina cavalryman U. R. Brooks remembered the savagery of engagements between white and black soldiers. “Comrades, did you ever fight negroes in the war?” he asked. “Well,” he continued, “if so, did you notice that your guns would shoot faster and straighter than ever before? Did you ever see a comrade after he had surrendered to a negro soldier, and if so, where? And did you ever take a negro soldier prisoner, and if so, what did you do with him? I never saw one captured nor one after he was captured. General Sherman says ‘war’s hell,’ and we found race prejudice to be strong there.”3 For some, by 1863 the war had become more destructive, even biblical , in nature. That March, concerning recent raids by black and white Union troops, the Florida soldier Winston Stephens called upon God, who, “being our helper,” would clear out the invaders.4 Confederate soldiers believed that they must inflict Jehovah-like wrath on the “Yankee-​­ Negro” alliance. Most felt up to the task. Daniel R. Hundley, the author of the influential Social Relations in Our Southern States, drew on another antebellum book, Armageddon, or the United States in Prophecy, written by S. D. Baldwin in the 1850s, to bolster his belief that the fighting between black and white troops was echoed in the words of the prophet Ezekiel. Hundley saw the North in the role of Gog, an invading power that worshipped a false god, whereas the South was the true Israel. As depicted in Ezekiel...


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