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QUESTIONS --- If there had been slaves serving as soldiers in the Confederate Army prior to February and March, 1865, why did the Congress of the Confederate States of America waste its time during a very critical period in its history by going through the motions and enacting legislation that authorized the issuance of the following Orders seventeen days before the surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865?

Why was the act of the Confederate Congress necessary?


GENERAL ORDERS No. 14 - March 23, 1865 and letter to General Robert E. Lee from Secretary of State J. P. Benjamin - February 11, 1865



Richmond, Va., March 23, 1865.

I. The following act of Congress and regulations are published for the information and direction of all concerned:

AN ACT to Increase the military force of the Confederate States.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That, in order to provide additional forces to repel invasion, maintain the rightful possession of the Confederate States, secure their independence, and preserve their institutions, the President be, and he is hereby, authorized to ask for and accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such number of able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service in whatever capacity he may direct.

SEC. 2. That the General-in-Chief be authorized to organize the said slaves into companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades, under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of War may prescribe, and to be commanded by such officers as the President may appoint.

SEC. 3. That while employed in the service the said troops shall receive the same rations, clothing, and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of the service.

SEC. 4. That if, under the previous sections of this act, the President shall not be able to raise a sufficient number of troops to prosecute the war successfully and maintain the sovereignty of the States and the independence of the Confederate States, then he is hereby authorized to call on each State, whenever he thinks it expedient, for her quota of 300,000 troops, in addition to those subject to military service under existing laws, or so many thereof as the President may deem necessary to be raised from such classes of the population, irrespective of color, in each State, as the proper authorities thereof may determine: Provided, That not more than twenty-five per cent. of the male slaves between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, in any State, shall be called for under the provisions of this act.

SEC. 5. That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear toward their owners, except by consent of the owners and of the States in which they may reside, and in pursuance of the laws thereof.
Approved March 13, 1865.

II. The recruiting service under this act will be conducted under the supervision of the Adjutant and Inspector General, according to the regulations for the recruiting service of the Regular Army, in so far as they are applicable, and except when special directions may be given by the War Department.

III. There will be assigned or appointed for each State an officer who will be charged with the collection, enrollment, and disposition of all the recruits that may be obtained under the first section of this act. One or more general depots will be established in each State and announced in orders, and a suitable number of officers will be detailed for duty in the staff departments at the depots. There will be assigned at each general depot a quartermaster, commissary, and surgeon, and the headquarters of the superintendent will be at the principal depot in the State. The proper officers to aid the superintendent in enlisting, mustering, and organizing the recruits will be assigned by orders from this office or by the General-in-Chief.

IV. The enlistment of colored persons under this act will be made upon printed forms, to be furnished for the purpose, similar to those established for the regular service. They will be executed in duplicate, one copy to be returned to this office for file. No slave will be accepted as a recruit unless with his own consent and with the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freedman, and which will be filed with the superintendent. The enlistments will be made for the war, and the effect of the enlistment will be to place the slave in the military service conformably to this act. The recruits will be organized at the camps in squads and companies, and will be subject to the orders of the General-in-Chief under the second section of this act.

V. The superintendent in each State will cause a report to be made on the first Monday of every month showing the expenses of the previous month, the number of recruits at the various depots in the State, the number that has been sent away, and the destination of each. His report will show the names of all the slaves recruited, with their age, description, and the names of their masters. One copy will be sent to the General-in-Chief and one to the Adjutant and Inspector General.

VI. The appointment of officers to the companies to be formed of the recruits aforesaid will be made by the President.

VII. To facilitate the raising of volunteer companies, officers recruiting therefor are authorized to muster their men into service as soon as enrolled. As soon as enrolled and mustered, the men will be sent, with descriptive lists, to the depots of rendezvous, at which they will be instructed until assigned for service in the field. When the organization of any company remains incomplete at the expiration of the time specified for its organization, the companies or detachments already mustered into service will be assigned to other organizations at the discretion of the General-in-Chief.

VIII. It is not the intention of the President to grant any authority for raising regiments or brigades. The only organizations to be perfected at the depots or camps of instructions are those of companies and (in exceptional cases where the slaves are of one estate) of battalions consisting of four companies, and the only authority to be issued will be for the raising of companies or the aforesaid special battalions of four companies. All larger organizations will be left for future action as experience may determine.

IX. All officers who may be employed in the recruiting service, under the provisions of this act, or who may be appointed to the command of troops raised under it, or who may hold any staff appointment in connection with them, are enjoined to a provident, considerate, and humane attention to whatever concerns the health, comfort, instruction, and discipline of those troops, and to the uniform observance of kindness, forbearance, and indulgence in their treatment of them, and especially that they will protect them from injustice and oppression.

By order:

Adjutant and Inspector General.


Richmond, February 11, 1865.

General-in-Chief ROBERT E. LEE:

MY DEAR SIR: You may perhaps have seen that at the public meeting on Thursday I spoke of the necessity of instant re-enforcement for your army. In order to disarm opposition as far as possible and to produce prompt action, I proposed that those slaves only who might volunteer to fight for their freedom should be at once sent to the trenches. From what I can learn, this would add promptly many thousand men to your force. Now, although this proposal seemed to meet with decided favor from the meeting, some of the opponents of the measure are producing a strong impression against it by asserting that it would disband the army by reason of the violent aversion of the troops to have negroes in the field with them. It occurs to me that if we could get from the army an expression of its desire to be re-enforced by such negroes as for the boon of freedom will volunteer to go to the front, the measure will pass without further delay, and we may yet be able to give you such a force as will enable you to assume the offensive when you think it best to do so. If this suggestion meets your approval the different divisions ought at once to make themselves heard, and there will be no further effective opposition in any of our legislative bodies, State or Confederate.

With very great regard I am, yours, very truly,

Secretary of State

SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 128 Volumes. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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