Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War

Article excerpt

Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War. By Colin Edward Woodward. A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era. (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2014. Pp. x, 283. $39.50, ISBN 978-0-8139-3541-6.)

Despite neo-Confederate claims to the contrary, only a negligible number of African Americans fought for the Confederacy--even when one includes a group usually overlooked: those who could pass as white. A former colonel acknowledged their combat participation when, as a member of the South Carolina legislature during a debate on the state's revised constitution, he spoke in opposition to a proposal to define "Negro" as anyone with any degree of African heritage whatsoever. A few of his soldiers, the colonel testified, had a small quantum of African American blood; he did not want to see them embarrassed.

But if only a handful of African Americans served in the ranks, they labored for Confederate armies in the tens of thousands, performing tasks that nowadays would be carried out by uniformed personnel in support units vital to the effectiveness of combat units. On those terms, these African Americans were soldiers in function if not in name.

Exploring this phenomenon is an important dimension of Colin Edward Woodward's Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War and is among its most valuable contributions. Two of the book's eight chapters address this topic directly, providing one of the deepest explorations of the subject yet to appear. Another chapter examines the Confederate government's eleventh-hour decision to enlist African Americans as soldiers. Although only partially implemented before the war's end, this dramatic policy revision revealed much about the attitudes of southern whites toward the military employment of slaves, attitudes heavily influenced by their extensive experience with enslaved southerners in noncombat capacities.

The remaining chapters cover different but congruent aspects of the book's overall theme; Woodward argues that "[b]y looking at the Confederate army's attitudes and policies toward enslaved people, we can see how the end of slavery unfolded in the United States" (p. …

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