Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War

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In early 1864, as the Confederate Army of Tennessee licked its wounds after being routed at the Battle of Chattanooga, Major-General Patrick Cleburne (the "Stonewall of the West") proposed that "the most courageous of our slaves" be trained as soldiers and that "every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war" be freed. In Confederate Emancipation, Bruce Levine looks closely at such Confederate plans to arm and free slaves. He shows that within a year of Cleburne's proposal, which was initially rejected out of hand, Jefferson Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, and Robert E. Lee had all reached the same conclusions. At that point, the idea was debated widely in newspapers and drawing rooms across the South, as more and more slaves fled to Union lines and fought in the ranks of the Union army. Eventually, the soldiers of Lee's army voted on the proposal, and the Confederate government actually enacted a version of it in March. The Army issued the necessary orders just two weeks before Appomattox, too late to affect the course of the war. Throughout the book, Levine captures the voices of blacks and whites, wealthy planters and poor farmers, soldiers and officers, and newspaper editors and politicians from all across the South. In the process, he sheds light on such hot-button topics as what the Confederacy was fighting for, whether black southerners were willing to fight in large numbers in defense of the South, and what this episode foretold about life and politics in the post-war South.
Confederate Emancipation offers an engaging and illuminating account of a fascinating and politically charged idea, setting it firmly and vividly in the context of the Civil War and the part played in it by the issue of slavery and the actions of the slaves themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A deeply researched, crisply written, and exceptionally cogent investigation of Confederate emancipation. Levine transforms the topic from a historical curiosity into a revealing and essential chapter in the Civil War."—W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Civil War Book Review

"Confederate Emancipation will serve as the classic work on the arm and emancipate proposal and an essential account in Civil War historiography."—Jennifer M. Murray, Southern Historian

"A major contribution to the field and should spark renewed scholarship concerning black soldiers, white southern unity, and Confederate nationalism."—Philip D. Dillard, The Journal of Southern History

"Remarkably concise and lucid.... Confederate Emancipation is a first-rate history. It is the latest word and the most authoritative source on this intriguing slice of American History."—Fred C. Smith, The Journal of Mississippi History

"Brilliantly researched and persuasively argued.... Levine delivers what ought to be a death blow to the still-popular refrain in Lost Cause rhetoric that the war had never been fought for slavery."—David W. Blight, Washington Post Book World

"Thoughtful, authoritative, and convincing.... No one since Robert F. Durden has examined this broader issue with the kind of systematic and detailed attention that Bruce Levine provides in this slim but elegant book."—Civil War Times

"Having fought for nearly four years to keep their bondsmen in slavery, many Southern whites experienced what amounted to a deathbed conversion to the idea of freeing and arming them to fight for the Confederacy. As Bruce Levine shows in this important book, the idea was unlikely to become reality even if Appomattox had not intervened to end the experiment before it fairly started. Disentangling myth from history, Confederate Emancipation deepens our understanding of the Civil War."—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"This is the little known, but vastly significant story of race at the crisis-point of the Confederacy. In clear and compelling tones, Levine sets out a history of the Civil War era through the words and actions of southerners pushed to the point of desperation, and hoping that slave soldiers might save the slavery-based southern way of life. This is historical detective work and analysis at its very best. The image of the Civil War South is transformed forever." —James O. Horton, co-author of Slavery and the Making of America

"The Civil War produced few more ironic episodes than the Confederacy's debate about whether to arm and liberate enslaved African Americans. Bruce Levine's welcome study illuminates the conditions that gave rise to the debate, the forces arrayed in favor and against the idea, and the ultimate failure of those who saw black men as the key to establishing a white slaveholding republic. This book, which reminds us again of the war's immense complexity, deserves to attract the widest possible audience." —Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Confederate War

"Throughout history, slaves have been armed in defense of their masters, often exchanging freedom for military service. The inability of the Southern Confederacy to do so until its doom was sealed reveals, perhaps as nothing else, the essence of Southern nationalism. In telling the full story of the Confederacy's failure to mobilize slaves in its defense, Bruce Levine brilliantly reveals the essence of Confederate nationality." —Ira Berlin, author of Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195315868
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/8/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 968,359
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Levine is James G. Randall Professor of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War and The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of Civil War, and is co-author of Who Built America? Working People and the Nation's Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2008


    Confederate Emancipation is an groundbreaking look into how the Confederate government viewed emancipation. Levine proves that it was not only the Union government that was considering freeing some of the slaves. Levine does an excellent job in detailing allof the arguments and reasoning behind the Confederates arguement. I highly recommend this for both the lay person or the serious student.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2008

    The issues from both sides.

    Confederate Emancipation was my favorite book to read out of the selected readings for my history class because it covered emancipation from both the North and South. I never really knew anything about Southern issues of emancipation and rather they were willing or not. It was somewhat hard to follow because Levine jumps from year to year in no particular order. He would start with the year 1864 and then the next page would be discussing something in the year 1862. Besides the date confusion, it really covered both the North and South's opinions on, objections against, and arguments for arming and emancipating slaves. This book represented something not deeply focused on in history classes about the Civil War. As a professor, I would definitely use this book as a required reading for class. It was useful and educational.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2008

    South vs. North

    In this book, Levine did a good job on describing the reasons behind the favor and the opposition of arming the slaves in the Southern states during the Civil War. I recomend this book especially if you want to study the issues of slavery and civil war in more detail. I would use this book if I were a professor because it did a good job of explaining the tension that occured during the civil war and why arming slaves was one of the most debated issues during the war.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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