Thomas Howell Cobb: Letter to Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon
January 8, 1865
“I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R.E. Lee, given as the authority for such a policy. My first hour of despondency will be the one in which that policy shall be adopted.
You cannot make soldiers of slaves, nor slaves of soldiers. The moment you resort to Negro soldiers your white soldiers will be lost to you; and one secret of the favor with which the proposition is received in portions of the Army is the hope that when Negroes go into the Army they will be permitted to retire. It is simply a proposition to fight the balance of the war with Negro troops.
You can’t keep white and black troops together, and you can’t trust Negroes by themselves. It is difficult to get Negroes enough for the purpose indicated in the President’s message, much less enough for an Army. Use all the Negroes you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution.
If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong–but they won’t make soldiers. As a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier.Better by far to yield to the demands of England and France and abolish slavery, and thereby purchase their aid, than to resort to this policy, which leads as certainly to ruin and subjugation as it is adopted; you want more soldiers, and hence the proposition to take negroes into the Army.
Before resorting to it, at least try every reasonable mode of getting white soldiers. I do not entertain a doubt that you can by the volunteering policy get more men into the service than you can arm. I have more fears about arms than about men. For heavens sake try it before you fill with gloom and despondency the hearts of many of our truest and most devoted men by resorting to the suicidal policy of arming our slaves.”