Slavery and the 13th

I don’t know how many men in the 13th regiment owned slaves. So far, there is evidence that nine of them either did or at least had family connections to slavery. (UPDATED, see below.) That’s out of the more than one thousand who initially mustered with the regiment in 1861.

In one of his 1862 letters to his wife Newt Nash of the Minutemen of Attala, sent a howdy to “Jim and Milly,” and asked them to “be good darkeys until I come home.”

Perhaps they were his property. In the 1860 federal slaves schedule census, they are listed as his property: Milly apparently a 25-year-old and Jim age 11. At twenty-seven, he Nash was older than many of the other privates and seems to have owned a substantial farm. But they could have belonged to his father, or to his wife’s father.

In another letter he mentioned sending Private George Clark’s “boy Tom” to Leesburg to buy Nash a pair of shoes. McLean identifies Clark as George Lafayette Clark, eighteen, who enlisted in the Minutemen at Union City, TN, in June, 1861, and “took his servant Tom Clark with him.”

McLean also identifies four more soldiers (one private and three officers) accompanied by servant-slaves. All four of them filled out muster rolls for a servant-slave. They were all in Co. A (B), The Winston Guards:

Private James W. Gage, whose servant-cook was named Elias Gage; Sergeant Judge Cornwall, whose servant-cook was Jim; Sergeant Major Robert E. Yarbrough, whose servant-cook was Abram Yarbrough; and Quartermaster Captain Duncan P. McAllum, who named Charles as his servant-cook.

Then there were the Johnson brothers, William B. and Alex W., of the Winston Guards, who McLean identifies as being the sons of a wealthy planter, which certainly indicates family ownership of slaves.

My own paternal great grandfather, Edward P. Stanley, also a private in the Minutemen, had family connections to slavery. His  stepfather, who was a farmer but not wealthy, owned eight at least a few slaves.

Such family connections to slavery were not unusual for soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia, according to some historians. Including University of North Carolina professor Joseph T. Glatthaar, author of the 2008 socioeconomic history General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse.

“More than one in every four volunteers that first year lived with parents who were slaveholders,” Glatthaar writes. “Combining those soldiers who owned slaves with those soldiers who lived with slaveholding family members, the proportion rose to 36 percent. That contrasted starkly with the 24.9 percent, or one in every four households that owned slaves in the South, based on the 1860 census. Thus volunteers in 1861 were 42 percent more likely to own slaves themselves or to live with family members who owned slaves than the general population.”

Glatthaar’s conclusions here are based on a statistical sample of just 600 soldiers who served in the Army of Northern Virginia. And the professor goes much further, sticking his neck out with hedge words and tenuous connections:

“Untold numbers of enlistees rented land from, sold crops to, or worked for slaveholders. In the final tabulation the vast majority of the volunteers of 1861 had a direct connection to slavery.”

Finally, with no obvious evidence whatever, Glatthaar adopts a refrain that is becoming more common among historians these days than ever before. He simply asserts that all of these connections he’s assumed meant the soldiers of Lee’s Army were fighting for slavery. And the poor ones among them for the chance to someday move up in Southern society by buying their own slaves.

Glatthaar specifically mentions only one 13th private, George S. High, writing that he had a more direct connection to slavery than renting land from a slaveholder or selling crops to him. He said High was a married Tennessean, thirty-one years old, and a father of three “who worked as an overseer on a farm of nineteen slaves near Starkville” when he enlisted in May, 1861.

Both McLean and Howell, however, name him as George W. High, of the Spartan Band. And McLean says High was “22/25 years old” and single at muster in 1861.

McLean’s contradiction of Glatthaar is not unusual. At least one reader-reviewer of the book at Amazon faults Glatthaar’s statistical survey:

“…the author apparently threw away any random selections of soldiers if he was unable to obtain census data and tax information on them to see what their economic and slave-holding status was. Deselecting from a statistical sample invalidates the sample, casting all of the author’s conclusions into doubt.”

I doubt Glatthaar’s claims because of the makeup of his  sample. Half of his 600 came from cavalry and artillery units. Cavalrymen were expected, at least initially, to provide their own horses, and artillerymen generally were more educated because of the mathematical precision required in their work. Both horses and education indicate wealth, which could mean they were more likely to come from slaveholding families than infantrymen. And, by Glatthaar’s own admission, infantrymen comprised 81.8 percent of the army.

But, in the end, I just think it’s odd that a fellow supposedly devoted to historical truth can pretend to know what was in the minds and hearts of thousands of soldiers—ascribing materialistic motives to young men who submitted themselves to horrific combat and, seeing their comrades-in-arms blown apart in a terrible battle like Malvern Hill, stoically go on for more.

Inspired by a post on Glatthaar’s book at Dead Confederates.

UPDATE:  (See the separate post “Slave-owning officers of the 13th”)

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About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Mississippi, Nimrod Newton Nash, Slavery, The Minute Men of Attala, The Winston Guards and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Slavery and the 13th

  1. Andy Hall says:

    Dick, thanks for this. The original posting of mine that cites Glatthaar’s analysis is on The Atlantic, here. I do take exception to this comment from the reviewer on Amazon, ““…the author apparently threw away any random selections of soldiers if he was unable to obtain census data and tax information on them to see what their economic and slave-holding status was. Deselecting from a statistical sample invalidates the sample, casting all of the author’s conclusions into doubt.” That’s not really correct. Glatthaar (or any other researcher) would have no other choice than to exclude those incomplete records; without census or tax data, those individuals cannot be counted one way or another. Obviously the ideal situation would be to have complete records on everyone, but as a practical matter, the researcher has to work with what’s available. While Glatthaar’s sample may have been “just 600 soldiers” of the thousands that joined what later became the Army of Northern Virginia in the first part of 1861, that’s a still a big sample with a lot of statistical power.

    (Full disclosure: My day job is in health care research, and although I’m not a professional statistician myself, I work closely with a number of them , and deal with research analyses on a daily basis. One of my colleagues used to say, in response to questions about the validity of statistical sampling, “fine — next time you go to the doctor and they want to do a blood test, have them take it all.”)

    But Glatthaar’s work that I cited was only part of the evidence; generally speaking, his findings are supported by the 1860 census data at the University of Virginia, which allows anyone to generate their own tables and cross-tabs comparing (among other things) numbers of free households (designated in 1860 as “families”) with slaveholders. The proportions of slaveholders to households vary considerably across the South, from roughly 1 slaveholder to every 5 households (Arkansas) to 1 in 2 in Mississippi and South Carolina. It’s an imprecise measure, to be sure, but it presents a very clear picture of how widespread slaveholding was, and how common it surely was for Confederate soldiers to hail from slaveholding families.

    Thanks for giving me an opportunity to respond.

  2. Dick Stanley says:

    Thanks for the comment, Andy.

    I did not take my material on Glatthaar from your post. I bought his book and am reading it.

    Yes, I’m familiar with the science of statistics. My father taught it at William & Mary years ago. The blood remark may not be relevant, but it is funny.

    I still quarrel with Glatthaar’s sample, his broad-brush remarks “vast majority,” “untold numbers,” etc., the silly idea that renting land or selling crops to a slave owner (in a state where slave owning was so prevalent) makes the renter or seller complicit in the practice (i.e., guilt by association), and his leap from one concrete subject, i.e. slave ownership, to another abstract one that he couldn’t possible know: “fighting for slavery.”

    But despite a certain, perhaps forgivable, defensiveness on this subject, I recognize the extent of slave ownership in Mississippi and its inextricable role in the history of the 13th regiment.

    • Jack says:

      Glathaar does not account for the dirty inner city laborers from new Orleans who very poor. What about Irish Units like 10th Tennessee, 6th Louisiana, 5th Louisiana, 5th Confederate, and WArren Miss. light artillery? None of these units contain slaveholders.
      I’d say 10 percent of the CSA army owned slaves or their parents did.
      Take care!!
      Jack

  3. Pingback: A runaway slave | 13TH MISSISSIPPI INFANTRY REGIMENT

  4. Charles M. Harrell says:

    My great-grandfather, James Dawson Harrell, was from Clarke County. He enlisted in the “Secessionists” company in April, 1861. He was 19. He came home in late 1863 after being wounded during the Peach Orchard charge at Gettysburg, having his right arm amputated, being captured in a field hospital, and later being exchanged for a disabled Union soldier. He went on to teach himself dexterity in the use of his left hand, went to medical school, and spent the rest of his life as a much beloved country doctor in Choctaw County, Alabama. His custom made surgical instruments, allowing him to operate with one hand and the help of an assistant, are family heirlooms. What a great man ! However, his father, Alfred Harrell, owned 20+ slaves (1850 census) and was a substantial farmer. You just can’t get around the fact that, admire him as much as I do, my GGF was fighting for slavery, as these slaves were a substantial part of his family’s wealth, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation. The war may have started over “states’ rights”, but it was all about slavery by 1863. So I come down to love, admire and respect the Confederate soldier, but hate the cause. Is there any other honest way to approach it ? C. M. Harrell

    • Dick Stanley says:

      Good story! Thanks for the comment, Charles.

      Indeed, Grady Howell lists James D. Harrell as progressing from private to 2nd Sergeant by the time of his furlough for wounds at Gettysburg. McLean has him as a 1st Corporal by then.

      The “fighting for slavery” meme is debatable, to my mind. Not for the politicians and generals but for the privates and junior officers. My own ggrandfather was a private in the Minutemen of Attala whose stepfather owned eight slaves (as I mentioned in the post above), but I know of no evidence that ggrandfather even agreed with the practice let alone that he was fighting for its continuance.

      As for why the war began, the politicians were explicit. They said (and their documents still show) that they feared Lincoln and other “black” Republicans would abolish slavery. They explicitly denied “states rights” in asserting that the Northern states which refused to enforce the federal fugitive slave laws had any right to do so.

      “States rights,” as an explicit Confederate aim for the war mainly was expressed post-war, as part of the Lost Cause movement, which denied that slavery was a motive.

      I still think it’s fair to say that the actual fighters (the privates and junior officers) had many motives for fighting, from slavery to states rights, to comradeship, their own honor and manhood, to protection of home and kin from invasion. It wasn’t simple then and it isn’t simple now, try as modern politics will to make it so.

      An excellent book on the subject I recommend is historian James M. McPherson’s “For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in The Civil War.”

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