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”)