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Patrick Cleburne and Emancipation

In January of 1864 the Confederate Army of Tennessee high command was roiled by a proposal of its best divisional commander Major General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant, that Southern slaves be freed, and that black men be enlisted in the Confederate Army.  This was not the first time that a Confederate officer had made such a proposal, General Richard Ewell had advised Jefferson Davis to free the slaves after First Bull Run for example, but this was the most elaborate, well thought out proposal yet made on the subject of emancipation by a Confederate officer.  The plan met with considerable opposition among the officers of the Army of Tennessee that learned of it, and on instructions from Richmond it was quietly shelved.  Cleburne would die leading a charge at the battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864.  By this time Confederate plans to enlist slaves were being discussed publicly.  A bill allowing the enlistment of blacks in the Confederate Army was passed on March 13, 1865 by the Confederate Congress, far too late to aid the Confederacy.  Even that Act did not stipulate freedom for slaves who served.  A different positive reception to Cleburne’s proposal is one of the more tantalizing what ifs of Civil War history.  Here is the text of the letter in which Cleburne set forth his plan: Continue Reading