Perhaps a war winning measure if the year had been 1861, by 1865 the action of the Confederate Congress authorizing the enlistment of black troops could only be regarded as a just before midnight measure of a dying nation. The measure is interesting for two reasons: the black troops were to be treated precisely the same as white troops in regard to pay and rations, and the measure explicitly did not provide for enlisted slaves to be granted their freedom. A historical curiosity now, the whole issue of black troops might have been one of the few paths to victory for the Confederacy if it had been undertaken prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. However, if the leaders of the Confederacy had been willing to consider such a measure at the onset of the struggle, it is likely that secession would never have occurred, since the preservation of slavery was the core reason for the creation of the Confederacy. Here is the text of the statute:
AN ACT to increase the military force of the Confederate States.
The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That, in order to provide additional forces to repel invasion, maintain the rightful possession of the Confederate States, secure their independence, and preserve their institutions, the President be, and he is hereby, authorized to ask for and accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such number of able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service in whatever capacity he may direct.
SEC 2. That the General-in-Chief be authorized to organize the said slaves into companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades, under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of War may prescribe, and to be commanded by such officers as the President may appoint.
SEC 3. That while employed in the service the said troops shall receive the same rations, clothing, and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of the service.
SEC 4. That if, under the previous sections of this act, the President shall not be able to raise a sufficient number of troops to prosecute the war successfully and maintain the sovereignty of the States and the independence of the Confederate States, then he is hereby authorized to call on each State, whenever he thinks it expedient, for her quota of 300,000 troops, in addition to those subject to military service under existing laws, or so many thereof as the President may deem necessary to be raised from such classes of the population, irrespective of color, in each State, as the proper authorities thereof may determine: Provided, That not more than twenty-five per cent. of the male slaves between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, in any State, shall be called for under the provisions of this act.
SEC 5. That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear toward their owners, except by consent of the owners and of the States in which they may reside, and in pursuance of the laws thereof.
Approved March 13, 1865.