And Now for a Post on Black Confederates Called…

22 06 2011

…the Black Confederates post, in which your host desperately bids for hits.

I’m reading Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South. It’s excellent, by the way. I sent an email to Prof. McCurry at her Penn address and asked for an interview, but I received no response.

Anywho, on page 278 I ran across this sentence:

Building on a congressional act of April 1862 that allowed for the enlistment of small numbers of slaves or free blacks in the army as cooks or musicians, the Confederate Congress passed an act authorizing the general impressment of private property for use by the army…

The footnote at the end of the paragraph refers to the later act in the OR and to B. H. Nelson, Confederate Slave Impressment Legislation 1861-1865 (1946).

I’d never heard of the 1862 act, and this footnote doesn’t point me to a primary source. Admittedly, I pay very little attention to the Black Confederate “debate” – it simply does not interest me. So this particular item may have been discussed before in the sphere. Can somebody bring me up to speed – not on the whole debate, but on this specific “act”?

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10 responses

22 06 2011
Dick Stanley

Should increase your hit count okay. This subject is the equivalent of ACW porn.

22 06 2011


“BILL [AN ACT] for the enlistment of cooks in the Army.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That hereafter is shall be [the] duty of the captain or commanding officer of his company to enlist four cooks for the use of his company, whose duty is shall be to cook for such company-taking charge of the supplies, utensils and other things furnished thereof, and safely keep the same, subject to such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by the War Department or the colonel of the regiment to which such company may be attached:

[SEC. 2.] Be it further enacted, That the cooks so directed to be enlisted, may be white or black, free or slave persons: Provided, however, That no slave shall be so enlisted, without the written consent of his owner. And such cooks shall be enlisted as such only, and put on the muster-roll and paid at the time and place the company may or shall be paid off, $20 per month to the chief or head cook, and $15 per month for each of the assistant cooks, together with the same allowance for clothing or the same commutation thereof that may be allowed to the rank and file of the company.

Approved April 21, 1862.

22 06 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks – that’s what I was looking for.

22 06 2011

Hi Harry,

Unfortunately, all of my books are packed so I don’t have access to McCurry’s book and other relevant references. There were a number of steps taken in 1862 to allow for the impressment of slaves as cooks, teamsters, etc. As you know from reading the book, slave holders objected to these efforts every step of the way. If I remember correctly, a sweeping piece of legislation on impressment was passed in 1863.

22 06 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Yes, I get the whole impressment thing. The enlistment bit is what intrigues me.

22 06 2011

Sorry about that, Harry. I see that BR’s reference should help. I should have read it more carefully. I had a root canal done this morning. :-)

22 06 2011
Harry Smeltzer


Now what I guess would be helpful is how many such enlistments of black (free and slave) cooks and musicians were recorded. Anyone? Bueller?

23 06 2011

About 1,000

22 06 2011


AN ACT for the payment of musicians in the Army not regularly enlisted.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That whenever colored persons are employed as musicians in any regiment or company, they shall be entitled to the same pay now allowed by law to musicians regularly enlisted: Provided, That no such persons shall be so employed except by the consent of the commanding officer of the brigade to which said regiments or companies may belong.

Approved April 15, 1862.

27 06 2011
Andy Hall

BR’s citations are most helpful. There’s lots of anecdotal evidence of slaves going along as cooks or musicians from the beginning of hostilities, so my guess is that these acts were formally codifying something that was already happening. Thomas Yopp of the 14th Georgia Infantry was appointed Captain of Co. H in July 1861, and presumably brought his slave Bill along with him. Bil served as a drummer, as well, although I haven’t seen an enlistment record for him in that capacity. Bell I. Wiley, who met Bill Yopp, simply described him as a body servant, I don’t know if he was ever officially designated a musician.

The other thing to note is that published CS army regulations, issued annually 1861-64, all distinguish musicians as a separate category from privates and non-commissioned officers, with different enlistment standards. The regs also never acknowledged authorization for enlistment of any but “free white male persons.” Musicians, particularly, really were sort of betwixt-and-between the privates and non-coms on one side, and the personal servants on the other.

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