A Proposal For Negro Enlistments In The Confederate  Army

Major General Patrick Cleburne

        On the night of January 2, 1864 most of the Army of Tennessee's ranking generals met at army headquarters in Dalton, Georgia. The purpose of the meeting, although most did not know it at the time, was to hear Major General Patrick Cleburne's proposal for using slaves in the Confederate army. Those in attendance at this meeting, besides Cleburne, were General Joseph E. Johnston, who had replaced Braxton Bragg as commander of the army one week earlier, Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, Major Generals William H.T. Walker, Alexander Stewart, Thomas Hindman, and Carter Stevenson, Brigadier Generals Patton Anderson and William Bate.
        After the presentation by Cleburne there was some discussion and the proposal was soundly rejected. Johnston called an end to the meeting and refused to forward the proposal to Richmond on the grounds, later speculated to be, that "in tenor it was more political than military." After the meeting, Johnston wrote Davis reporting the condition of the army and in that correspondence proposed a plan of his own for introducing Negros into the army.
        However, for reasons of his own, Walker contacted his superior, Hindman,  informing him of his intentions of forwarding the proposal to the War Department.  He was firmly rebuked by Hindman.  Then, with the tacit approval of Stewart and Bate, attempted to send it to the War Department with Johnston's endorsement. Johnston refused "for reasons satisfactory to himself." Walker then circumvented the chain of command and wrote directly to President Davis. Davis responded by requesting that the paper written by Cleburne be suppressed.
        The preceding are the facts, without interjecting 20th century opinions into 19th century actions, as I know them. I have gathered as much information as I could documenting this incident and provided it below. You will find Cleburne's original proposal, as it appears in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, the series of correspondence resulting from the meeting, also from the Official Records, and some articles extracted from the "Southern Historical Society Papers" that speak to the incident. 
        As I have previously stated, I have not interjected opinion into the actual incident, however, it is my firm conviction that Cleburne's actions, given the mood of the Confederacy at the time, may very well have cost him promotion to higher command.

Cleburne's Proposal Long buried in the Official Records, this is the proposal, in its entirety, as presented by Cleburne on January 2, 1864.
Walker/Hindman ORs Despite Johnston's refusal to forward the proposal, Walker was determined to inform Richmond of what was going on. This is his initial try.
Walker's Letter to Davis Having no success with either Hindman or Johnston, Walker broke the chain of command and went straight to the President.
Davis's Letter to Walker Upon receiving Walker's letter, Davis immediately responded.
Seddon's Letter to Johnston Davis, through Seddon, the Secretary of War gives Johnston his instructions.
Johnston's Letter to Seddon The last of the correspondence regarding this incident, Johnston says he will comply.
Negros in Our Army Written in 1904, this article appeared in the Richmond Dispatch and is extracted from the "Southern Historical Society Papers."
Plan For Arming Slaves Written in 1901, this article appeared in the Charlotte Observer and is extracted from the "Southern Historical Society Papers."

           This Page last updated 11/17/02