Friday, November 11, 2016

"98 Percent of Confederate Soldiers Never Owned a Slave"

Back in 2011, the Texas legislature passed a resolution designating April Confederate Heritage Month. As I just learned from Dead Confederates, written into the language of the bill was an old bit of Lost Cause propaganda, the statement that "ninety-eight percent of Texas Confederate soldiers never owned a slave". This statement is routinely made about Confederate soldiers in general, and is factually inaccurate. The best available study on this sort of question is Joseph T. Glatthaar's General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse (2009). Glatthaar showed that about 10 percent of the soldiers who volunteered to serve in 1861 personally owned slaves. But even that number is misleading, because soldiers were mostly young men, and young men don't own much property. Another 26 percent of Lee's soldiers came from families that owned slaves, so their own future inheritances consisted largely of human beings. So a better number for the number of slave owners in Lee's army is about 36 percent. Across the whole Confederacy, about 24 percent of households owned slaves, so soldiers were more likely to own slaves than those who did not serve.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

There's also the fact that one need not personally own slaves to be complicit in the institution of slavery.

Plantations were economic centers, and were reliant on many kinds of tradesmen, artisans, and laborers to function. Slaves might work the fields, but free men worked many of the jobs essential to the basic operations of plantations.

Teamsters to bring the cargo to market overland; farriers to shoes horses; ranchers to raise them; farmers to supply feed; stablehands and grooms to house them; leatherworkers and carpenters to fashion harnesses, saddles, and wagons; woodcutters and miners to provide the raw materials...

Along major rivers you had associated aquatic transportation needs - dockworkers to load and unload cargo; warehouses to store it; bargemen and raftsmen to transport wood and coal; shovelers to feed it onto the steamships; engineers to operate and maintain the boilers; professional pilots to steer the ships and navigate the river, day or night, rain or shine, flood or drought; servants and stewards and all the rest to accomodate passengers; cooks to feed the crews; captains to oversee it all; shipwrights to make it all possible...

And on and on and on. You had vast chains of individuals who all collectively owed their livelihoods to the plantation owners. Get rid of the slaves and the plantations don't make as much money, forcing them to scale back their operations or cut costs, in turn feeding less money into the economy at large.

If your small rural town's economy relied overwhelmingly on the local plantation's regular shipments just so the locals could all make ends meet, you'd be pretty disinclined toward talk of giving those slaves freedom and forcing the plantation owners to start paying for their field labor. And if some far away urbanite politicians decided to force the issue on moral grounds seemingly without regard to the harm it would inflict great hardship on your community, you'd be pretty inclined to forcibly resist them out of self preservation (or at least self interest).