3 November 1864: “I have considerable misgiving as to the question of Negro troops”

Item Description: Letter dated 3 November 1864 from William Porcher Miles to Robert E. Lee. He discusses the use of slaves as soldiers in the Confederate Army.


Item Citation: Folder 52, William Porcher Miles Papers, #508, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Item Transcription:

Richmond Nov. 3rd/64

Genl Robert E. Lee

Dear Sir,

Accept my thanks for your very full and interesting letter in response to mine asking your views touching secondary matters of Army organization. I confess I have considerable misgiving as to the question of Negro troops- both as to their efficiency and the effect of such a measure when our political and social system. Of course anything is better than our subjugation by such a people as this War has revealed the people of the Northern States to be- and to avert such calamity and degradation I would be willing to sacrifice all the wealth of the Confederate States including Slavery which in its chief element it is not however as I have already initiated merely a question of wealth and property. *

[on the side of the page] *But I do not propose to discuss the subject generally. Looking at it in a purely military point of view

But can the negro in our armies effectively aid us in our struggle? And has the time arrived when our arms-bearing white population can no longer resist the tide of invasion? There are the two present and pressing questions- and I feel that upon both of them you speak with a weight of authority second to no one in the length and breadth of the Confederate States confederacy. Your opinion seems mature and positive decided. In deference however to the circumstances of our people on so delicate a subject– and the violent opposition which the proposition for arming our slaves will excite in many quarters– would it not be well even if Congress should concur in my opinion to proceed guardedly and gradually? For instance suppose Congress were to authorize the organization of large bodies of Sappers + miners- composed of negros- say fifty or sixty thousand in all – and see how that will work, between now and the next session. They certainly would be very useful- as much so perhaps as they could be in any capacity. This and the exclusive employment of negros as cooks, teamsters, Artillery drivers etc etc would constitute practically an addition of perhaps one hundred thousand men to our armies with more stringent legislation on the subject of exemption and details we ought to put from fifty to seventy five thousand additional white men in the field. Would not this suffice for the next campaign? With acknowledgements for your willingness to respond to any inquires I may desire to make concerning subjects connected with the Army, I am, General, with highest respect your obedient servant,

W. Porcher Mills



This entry was posted in Southern Historical Collection and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.