Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
For a view at the internal dynamics on the other side, a no less fascinating book is my current read, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War (which came up in the discussion a year ago). Nothing shows the depths of Southern white self-delusion and the absurdity of the Southern "cause" as clearly as this subject.

The story of black Confederates is shown to have been a desperate last-ditch effort to ease manpower shortage, which proved to be a monumental failure: only two units of altogether less than hundred could be assembled in the last weeks of the war, anxiously guarded by military police but still exposed to abuse from white kids, and seeing no significant battlefield action. Nevertheless, the plan was discussed widely and with great controversy both among Southern whites and slaves and made many a Union general concerned.

A most interesting thing about the Southern white debate as revealed by the book was how the more thoughtful proponents and opponents finally considered issues from the slaves' viewpoint. The greatest Southern self-delusion was mistaking feigned submission for slave loyalty: at the start of the war, slave-owners fully believed their own propaganda that most slaves are thankful for the divinely granted guidance of masters and will faithfully follow them through fire and water. But the hundreds of thousands of slaves fleeing to the North (including the most trusted domestic servants), the remainders' refusal to follow orders when Union troops neared, the help provided to Union troops as spies, guides, voluntary labourers or black Union soldiers slowly undermined these views even across the noise of incessant propaganda. The conduct of black Union soldiers also undermined the axiomatic view that blacks are cowards and thus unfit for organized battle. Thus key proponents of the arming of slaves realised that – whodunnit! – slaves actually want to be free, and offering potential recruits freedom is essential. However, the less emotional of the opponents (and those who considered the measure too little too late) argued that that won't cut it. Even if victory is achieved, the free black veterans would demand full emancipation and then equal rights. But, more likely, slaves would be better off waiting for Union victory so that their families and friends are freed, too, or they may join only to desert once they gained training and guns. They were actually right: the book quotes numerous sources indicating that slaves widely discussed the service-for-freedom proposal and most contemplated just the last two options.

The debate among whites, meanwhile, brought internal divisions to the fore: slave-less white trash groaning about fighting the rich man's war vs. slave-owners concerned about loss of property and about leaving wife & children alone, the plantation economy of the Deep South vs. the Upper South where slaves were mostly domestic servants, the Gulf region with its legacy of racial mixing under French rule vs. the total-segregationist rest, the secessionists of the first hour with their series of failed optimistic predictions vs. the more reluctant patriots accused of defeatism. Already before arming slaves came up, planters became extremely reluctant to lend their slaves for army construction work and logistics, leading to a surprisingly oft-repeated accusation that they value their slaves more than their fellow whites, including their own sons. Planters also held out hope for a negotiated peace involving a renouncement of emancipation or compensated emancipation, for which case they wanted to keep their property. While a small minority, but one including military leaders, were even prepared to sacrifice slavery for independence (an argumentation later used as the basis for the creation of the Lost Cause myth), others pointed out that this way the South would give up the very reason for independence. The latter prevailed: in the form adopted by a narrow margin, the black soldier plan was restricted to blacks promised freedom by their own masters rather than government (which already plotted to limit post-war freedoms).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 07:44:06 AM EST

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