Last month, while discussing the issues facing the Charleston defenders, I mentioned the shortage of labor needed to build the defenses. General P.G.T. Beauregard and other military officials complained the planters failed to supply the numbers required to complete the works. Often when interpreting this particular issue, we bring up the irony that in order to preserve States Rights and the “peculiar institution” the Confederacy came to some rather “federalist” policies. Not to take away from that, I’d offer a side path to consider.
The requirement for labor remained, even after the ironclad attack of April 7, 1863 – if nothing else, the requirement was even greater. At Savannah, officials estimated the need for 1,500 slaves. But in the previous month only 132 were “engaged upon the earthworks near Savannah. Of these 102 will be discharged this week.” In South Carolina, the army called upon the state for 3,000 laborers. Yet, officials reported receiving only a fraction of that number.
And I would point out this was not just a practice unique to South Carolina and Georgia were Beauregard commanded. Fellow blogger Jim Schmidt recently discussed slave labor employed to build the defenses of Galveston, Texas (both Federal and Confederate use, BTW).
While the military complained the planters were not answering the calls, the planters had grievances of their own. A letter from state senator A. Mazyck to South Carolina Governor Milledge Luke Bonham, later attached to correspondence to General Beauregard, offers ample enumeration of those:
South Santee, April 21, 1863.
His Excellency M. L. Bonham, Governor, &c.:
MY DEAR SIR: While I was in Charleston, on my way home from Columbia, I met my neighbor, Dr. A. E. Gadsden, who told me that some 7 or 8 negroes that he had had there for some months in the public service had been without employment fur a week or ten days because it was said there was nothing for them to do, and were at length discharged and sent home to him, yet notwithstanding this a notice is published that negroes will be called for from this district early in May. The fact stated by Dr. Gadsden will be generally known in this part of the country, and cannot fail to make the impression that the labor is not really wanted, and that the planters are harassed and their business interrupted for nothing. Most of the negroes on this river have been removed. A few of us, however, have kept ours at home, and are endeavoring to plant a crop, which we cannot do if our negroes are taken away in May. In the course of the winter a good many of them were employed in constructing a battery on North Santee, which has been a long time finished, but not a single gun has yet been mounted on it, and it does not seem that any will be, so that this, like all the rest of our work, is wasted. Under these circumstances I do not think it likely that any negroes will be obtained here. The facts I have stated show that there must be some gross mismanagement on the part of the military authorities. I do not know that you can do anything to remedy the evil, but I think it right to bring it to your notice, as you may not otherwise lie aware of it.
Very respectfully and truly, yours, &c.,
Given the inefficiency of the system, and the ever present need for labor on the plantation, little wonder the planters were reserved with their support.
In Georgia, Governor Joseph E. Brown added his concerns in correspondence with Brigadier-General Hugh Mercer, commanding at Savannah, on April 24, 1863:
… It was believed that the Confederate generals in command had no more right to call on the State government to impress negroes for them than they had to call on State officers to impress provisions, forage, or any other thing necessary for the Army, as the act of Congress makes the one as much the duty of Confederate officers as the other. It was also believed that the negroes now called for could not be collected in time to erect new works which might be completed and ready for use before the time when the enemy will be forced by the heat of the climate to abandon further offensive operations against Savannah this spring…. If we are to continue the war successfully it is of the most vital importance that our fields shall be cultivated and provisions made for the Army and the people at home, including the families of our brave soldiers. It is now the time of greatest necessity for labor in the fields. A hand taken from the plantation for the next two or three months had as well be taken for the whole year, as he can make no crop unless he works now….
The State troops last year built the line of fortifications constructed by order of General Jackson, including Fort Boggs, with the exception probably of the masonry, without any additional compensation and without complaint. The troops in Virginia and Tennessee have generally built the fortifications ordered by our generals in the same way.
The letter from Brown carried considerable sting. However his prediction about Federal operations proved incorrect, at least in part. The “enemy,” apparently undeterred by the heat, continued active operations outside Charleston through the summer. Although, as far as Brown was concerned Savannah remained safe.
Now having offered these citations, I could then invite you down the path to discuss the practical failure of states rights in a Confederacy at war. But you’ve probably read the “died of a theory” quote before.
Instead, consider the ready example offered by Brown when insisting the troops do more of the work. Virginia and Tennessee? Both states had seen heavy campaigning the previous year. The Armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee had carried the war into the North during 1862. And…And, more importantly the rank and file had seen the “total war” being waged.
We shouldn’t just isolate discussions about “total war” to blusterous John Pope or William T. Sherman. That mode of warfare had implications in the Confederacy as well.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 902, 914, and 915-16.)