The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

Question for Civil War Buffs

| 18 Comments

Here is a statistic I’d love to learn: What percentage of Confederate officers own slaves versus enlisted men? Further broken down by field officer versus general officer, and by number of slaves. I have a feeling this would shed some interesting light on the “Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” idea that went through the Confederate Army. If it exists, I can’t find it. If it doesn’t, some graduate student somewhere should use it for a thesis.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

18 Comments

  1. I dunno, but since money could make you an officer, I would expect the gap to be enormous. (Yes, this worthless comment is mostly put here so I can subscribe to this thread.)

  2. I’ve never seen any kind of breakdown by officer vs enlisted man, much less field officer vs general officer. However the following numbers might prove useful.

    In the entire Confederacy only 30% of white families owned slaves. This changed based on where in the South you were from. In Mississippi and South Carolina the number was closer to 50%. In some states the number of slave owning families was less than 15% (Missouri, Delaware, Maryland).

    In addition the vast majority of slave owners only had a few slaves. The image of the plantation that has come to symbolize the antebellum South was very much a minority thing. 88% of slave owners held less than 20 slaves, and 50% of slave owners owned fewer than 5 slaves.

    Of course this completely overlooks the economic and social impact of the slave owning society in the South. If a soldier didn’t come from a slave owning family odds were pretty good that he knew a slave owner or worked for a slave owner. The wealth of the South was in slaves, slaves did the hard labor that drove the Southern economy, and the society of the South was a slave society.

    As Andy Hall puts it (from the Dead Confederates blog) “Slave labor was as much a part of life in the antebellum South as heat in the summer and hog-killing time in the late fall.”

    He’s also got an interesting breakdown of slave ownership refuting the notion that the majority of Confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves.

    http://deadconfederates.com/2011/04/28/ninety-eight-percent-of-texas-confederate-soldiers-never-owned-a-slave/

  3. skzb

    Yeah, those were the numbers I was familiar with, which is what made me wonder how they translated into military service. This is, to what were officers made up from that 30%; more particularly from the owners of the larger plantations.

  4. Now I want to know what percentage of free blacks owned slaves.

  5. This is interesting, though not quite relevant:

    http://www.uwec.edu/Geography/Ivogeler/w188/south/charles/charles3.htm

    I gotta say, googling this resulted in too damn many hits of posts by racists and social justice warriors, neither of which are helpful if you don’t already agree with them.

  6. As someone working towards his MA in US History, I’m glad I already have a different thesis project. I would think, however, that while it is highly likely that more officers owned slaves than enlisted men, I would be surprised if you saw too much difference before you hit field grades of colonel and higher. In general, the higher the rank, the higher the social class, and thus the greater likelihood that the officer would come from the slave owning classes. I’ll do a little poking about and ask a professor or two, but I’m not sure there are any truly hard numbers out there.

  7. I found an Atlantic Article:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/08/small-truth-papering-over-a-big-lie/61136/
    …that quotes from at length from “General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse”. Here’s the relevant portion:

    More than half the officers in 1861 owned slaves, and none of them lived with family members who were slaveholders. Their substantial median combined wealth ($5,600) and average combined wealth ($8,979) mirrored that high proportion of slave ownership. By comparison, only one in twelve enlisted men owned slaves, but when those who lived with family slave owners were included, the ratio exceeded one in three. That was 40 percent above the tally for all households in the Old South. With the inclusion of those who resided in nonfamily slaveholding households, the direct exposure to bondage among enlisted personnel was four of every nine. Enlisted men owned less wealth, with combined levels of $1,125 for the median and $7,079 for the average, but those numbers indicated a fairly comfortable standard of living. Proportionately, far more officers were likely to be professionals in civil life, and their age difference, about four years older than enlisted men, reflected their greater accumulated wealth.

    I think this quote might be referring only to the Army of Northern Virginia (or some other subset of the Confederate Army); it’s not completely clear from the excerpt.

    The Atlantic article has some other links you might find worthwhile.

  8. Actually, the post referenced by John Johnson gives most of the numbers you’re looking for, although it’s only for the Army of Northern Virginia, and only for its initial composition in 1861:

    For enlisted personnel: “Combining those soldiers who owned slaves with those soldiers who lived with slaveholding family members, the proportion rose to 36 percent…. One in every ten volunteers in 1861 did not own slaves themselves but lived in households headed by non family members who did. This figure, combined with the 36 percent who owned or whose family members owned slaves, indicated that almost one of every two 1861 recruits lived with slaveholders.”
    For officers: “More than half the officers in 1861 owned slaves, and none of them lived with family members who were slaveholders.”
    (It sounds like there might be more detailed information in the book by Glatthaar which those quotes come from, possibly including whatever changes might have accompanied the introduction of the draft.)

    So officers were far more likely to be slaveowners, partly because they were richer and partly because they were older and thus more likely to be heads of households. But a large fraction of the enlisted men were from slaveowning households (e.g., sons or grandsons of the official slaveowner).

  9. skzb

    Thank you, George and Peter. I hadn’t been thinking “households,” which changes everything. Good point indeed, and good information.

  10. For some interesting stats on who owned slaves and in what numbers, see:
    http://americancivilwar.com/authors/black_slaveowners.htm

    Of more interest is the unquestioned supposition that the war was about the specific issue of slavery. It ignores the fact that the last legal save owners were from a northern state. It ignores the fact that the emancipation proclamation was for rebelling states only. It ignores the fact that four northern states had legal slavery throughout the civil war.

    The civil war was triggered largely by a fight between agrarian and manufacturing societies. Many, if not most in slave states knew the practice was immoral but they were economically locked since slaves represented a substantial portion of the owners net worth that backs bank loans. Very few humans when faced with the choice of financial ruin or excusing their own moral lapse will side with the angels.

    Lincoln was trying to stop an already collapsing republic from dissolving, slavery was not a primary issue but an issue to leverage his objective. See two quotes below

    “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” (1st Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861)

    “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” (Letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862)

    Run the numbers. It would have been far less expensive and saved a half million lives if the US government had offered to outlaw slavery while compensating owners for the freed slaves. The objective was power. Usually is.

    Cheers,
    Rod

  11. skzb

    “Of more interest is the unquestioned supposition that the war was about the specific issue of slavery. It ignores the fact that the last legal save owners were from a northern state. It ignores the fact that the emancipation proclamation was for rebelling states only. It ignores the fact that four northern states had legal slavery throughout the civil war.”

    Oh, god. This again.First of all, Lincoln DID offer to outlaw slavery while compensating owners for the freed slaves. Repeatedly. Not even the border states would go for it, and not even when they knew slavery was already doomed.

    But what do you mean “about”? If you’re trying to argue that the North did not go to war because of moral objections to slavery, fine. No one is saying that it did (although many boys, especially from New England, joined up for that reason). The US Government was utterly controlled and dominated by the slave powers. If manufacturing was going to grow, the laws that favored slave societies had to be at least tempered. The southern slave oligarchy couldn’t permit this to happen, because it would mean limiting the growth of slavery, which (mostly because of what cotton and sugar production do to soil) would mean the collapse of their economy. Every time Eastern manufacturer hinted that it wanted some share in determining the course of the country, the South would threaten secession until it got what it wanted.

    “The objective was power. Usually is.” Whose power to do what? The single most vital issue was: A country governed by an ever-expanding slaveocracy in which manufacturing was forever stunted; or a country governed by emerging capital which would permit the economy to grow. The objective was what kind of economy there would be. Usually is.

    Slavery did not have to be ended; the power of the slave oligarchy has to be broken.

  12. My current take on the Civil War is that anyone who says it was only about one thing needs to do some more reading.

    And since I seem to be specializing in quasi-relevant links in this discussion: http://www.isreview.org/issues/80/feat-civilwar.shtml

    They quote some of Marx’s most insightful comments about Lincoln and the Civil War.

  13. “My current take on the Civil War is that anyone who says it was only about one thing needs to do some more reading.”

    Good!

    “The US Government was utterly controlled and dominated by the slave powers. If manufacturing was going to grow, the laws that favored slave societies had to be at least tempered.”

    To me this is a novel interpretation. I kind of like it

    Two different elites, stuck in the same government. Yankee textilers wanted to buy all the southern cotton at their own prices, but they couldn’t tax exports. The southern elite had to keep half the Senate or they would be legislated away. I completely missed the southern elite trying to keep the Yankee elite poor! Trying to stop industrialization so they wouldn’t fall too far behind….

    Cotton depleted soil. The soil could be restored at a cost, and plowing new land was cheaper. Nowadays they put down about 10 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer for each 100 pounds of cotton produced (but there are other products like oil and cotton meal too). It made sense they’d need new land, and they needed it to be slave land because they didn’t know how to cheat sharecroppers yet.

    Two elites trying to share. The southerners lost. Their railroads got torn up and replaced with standard gage. After awhile things settled down to a poor, grim existence in the south. The occupation army couldn’t protect people from terrorists then any more than now, and pulled out.

    Yankee elites in the north trumped yankee transplant elites in the south. They set up steel mills in Birmingham, and in the 1930’s the Railroad Commission adjusted shipping costs so that steel from Birmingham reached Atlanta at the same price as steel from Illinois.

    After WWII Yankee elites noticed the south. Colonial empires were crumbling, but the USA had some third-world countries that could not secede. They kind of spoke english. They could not nationalize Yankee investments. Lots of cheap labor, who hated unions and union organizers.

    They started investing in the south. One thing led to another, and the cultures started to blend. Now lots of southern children lose their accents early, and then some of them learn fake southern accents from the media.

  14. I once asked a historian (actually, he was a grad student TA) from Texas, what would have happened had the south had been permitted to secede. Without hesitation (so I assume he had already mulled over that question) he asserted that the southern economy would have tanked in about 50 years.

  15. skzb

    I don’t think it would have taken nearly that long, and I think the Northern economy would have tanked with it. My reasons are as follows: there was intense and constant illegal (on both sides) trading going on during the war–that is, even during the war, the two economies were so tied together they almost couldn’t function without each other. The other reason is more complex, but has to do with the requirement for slavery to expand: the South would have demanded compensation, plus the border states, and then needed the west, in addition to more wars with Mexico and fillibustering in Central and South America.

    For a more complete study of this question: Grant Moves South by Bruce Catton, pp 347-356; MacPhersen, Battle Cry of Freedom, chapter 3-5 plus references cited.

  16. “I don’t think it would have taken nearly that long, and I think the Northern economy would have tanked with it. ”

    I’m not so sure about the second part of this. I do think the Southern economy would still have tanked. Assuming that they were allowed to secede, I don’t see how the anti-North rhetoric doesn’t increase and lead to increasingly high tariffs on the cotton. This in turn would presumably lead to retaliatory tariffs from the North to the South. So supposing a crippling in the cotton trade from South to North, I think the North recovers much more quickly than the South.

    The 1860 agriculture census has some enlightening figures. One of the common misconceptions about the conflict is that it was about an agriculture society (the South) vs a manufacturing society (the North), except this isn’t so much true.

    In 1860 the total value of Southern farm land was $1,921,230,612. The total value of Northern farm land was $4,710,289,434. That’s nearly 2.5 times more land value. That’s fine, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us how much was under production or what they were producing. One vital agriculture crop is wheat, and the discrepancy is startling. The total number of bushels of wheat grown in the South is 31,441,826. The total number of bushels of wheat grown in the North is 140,592,475.

    Other agricultural products have similar numbers. In 1860, the Northern states produced half of the nation’s corn, four-fifths of its wheat, and seven-eighths of its oats. In addition only 26% of the North’s population lived in cities. While this is still far more than the South’s numbers (the South had something like 10% of it’s population living in cities), it still meant that the average Northerner was far more likely to have come from a farm than the city. Despite this the North was far more economically diverse than the South with it’s reliance on cotton for trade.

    During the war itself the Southern economy collapsed, while the Northern economy didn’t. At least part of this is the effect of the federal government pumping money into the economy because of the war effort, but it certainly wasn’t the sole factor.

    Cotton can be grown in states other than the Southern states, including those still loyal to the US and also California. If needed the North could have also followed the lead of England (80% of it’s cotton pre-war was imported from the US) and imported cotton from Egypt.

    Basically I’m just not sure that the Northern economy would have been crippled. There may have been a depression for awhile, but I think they would have bounced back within 5 years.

    However, I do think that even had the United States allowed the Southern states to secede there still would have been war. As pointed out one of the requirements for a slave society is expansion to new areas. This would have undoubtedly led to conflict with the United States over territory in the West and that would have led war.

  17. skzb

    Okay, at some point in the near future, I’m going to start a Civil War topic and you and I are going to have FUN. 🙂

  18. “Despite this the North was far more economically diverse than the South with it’s reliance on cotton for trade.”

    So increasingly after the revolution, the south was a colony of the north (in the colonialism sense). It produced a few raw materials which it traded for many manufactured goods. The revolution let them trade which empire to be subject to.

    And for the South, the civil war was a colonial war for independence, like the revolution had been for the north and like many colonial revolutions in the 20th century.

    If the South had achieved independence they would have tried to sell their cotton to the highest bidder — yankees or england or whoever. Play one oppressor off against another, try to maintain that precarious independence. To succeed they would need to diversify. At least start to sell thread instead of cotton, and cloth instead of thread. They would put tariffs on yankee iron etc so their own higher-price industries could get a better start. If the north put tariffs on cotton that would tilt the trade toward britain.

    Very hard to predict beyond the first few years because it’s hard to tell what would be practical, and it’s also hard to tell what decisions would be made. Kind of like predicting today’s economy….

    Slaves who made it to the North would presumably be free. That would make it more expensive to keep slaves. I assume that the North found a use for lots of free blacks. If they turned into a burden then the North would discourage them from coming, probably by returning some.

Leave a Reply