The tragic story of how the Confederacy forced Black soldiers to fight on their side without allowing them to bear arms

Bruno Goes January 11, 2023
Photo credit: Brittanica

Today, January 11th, marks a significant date in the history of the United States. On this day in 1865, The Confederacy forced Blacks to fight on their side, based on the recommendation of Robert E. Lee. This decision was met with controversy as the Confederacy had long upheld the institution of slavery, and the idea of Black soldiers fighting for the Confederate cause was met with resistance.

During the Civil War, enslaved individuals were forced to work in various capacities, primarily in support roles such as cooks, launderers, and stretcher bearers. But as the war dragged on, the Confederacy found itself in dire need of manpower and began to consider using enslaved individuals as soldiers. In January of 1865, Robert E. Lee sent a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis recommending the use of enslaved individuals as soldiers in exchange for their freedom.

However, it was clear that this decision was not rooted in a belief in the equality of African Americans but rather as a last-ditch effort to bolster the flagging Confederacy. Black soldiers were not allowed to bear arms and were relegated to lesser capacities such as manual labor. Furthermore, there were many cases of black soldiers who fled to the Union army in search of freedom, further diminishing the Confederate’s ranks.

It is important to remember this controversial aspect of the Civil War, and how the Confederacy’s defense of slavery was a driving force behind their decision to enlist black soldiers. Today, January 11th, serves as a reminder of the atrocities committed during this tumultuous time in American history and the ongoing fight for equality and justice for all individuals.

Robert E. Lee, born in 1807, grew up surrounded by enslaved African Americans, as his father, Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, and mother, Ann Hill Carter Lee, were both from prominent families that owned enslaved individuals. Although Lee himself did not own enslaved individuals before the age of 22, he inherited the responsibility of manumitting enslaved people that his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, left after his death. As the executor of his father-in-law’s estate, Lee was criticized for taking the full five years to free them.

Before the Civil War, Lee and his wife supported the American Colonization Society, which sought to relocate enslaved African Americans to Africa, but resisted the abolitionist movement. Lee always claimed that his support to the Confederacy was not based on the defense of slavery. During the Maryland and Gettysburg campaigns, Lee’s officers kidnapped free Blacks and sold them into slavery, a strategy that seems to contradict his own claim.

In 1865, as the Confederacy was losing the war, Robert E. Lee supported the enlistment of enslaved African Americans in Confederate army as soldiers. However, the decision came too late and had little impact on the outcome of the war. After the war, he generally opposed political and racial equality for African Americans. His relationship with slavery and race was complex and filled with ambivalence and contradiction, reflecting a society where those issues were not easy to tackle or understand.

On January 11, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee recommended to the Confederate government the enlistment of enslaved African Americans as soldiers in the Confederate army. This controversial decision was made as the Confederacy was facing increasing pressure from the Union army and dwindling numbers of soldiers.

Lee, who had previously opposed the abolition of slavery, believed that this move would be necessary to secure the Confederacy’s victory in the Civil War. However, despite Lee’s recommendation, the Confederate government did not immediately implement this policy and it was ultimately too late for it to make a significant impact on the outcome of the war.

Lee, who came from a prominent Virginia family with a history of owning enslaved individuals, had a complex relationship with slavery and race. Throughout his career, he was known for his military prowess but also for his contradictory views on these issues. His decision to recommend the enlistment of Black soldiers in the Confederacy is a reflection of the desperate measures he believed were necessary to save the Confederacy, but also the complicated history of his stance on slavery and race.

However, it is important to note that these Black soldiers were not given the same rights and privileges as their white counterparts and were often used in support roles rather than being allowed to bear arms. This decision, however, ultimately backfired as many of these Black soldiers would flee to the Union side for freedom during the war.

As we reflect on this day, it serves as a reminder of the atrocities and injustices that occurred during the Civil War, and the need to pursue the ongoing fight for equality and freedom for all people of African descent.

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