Thursday, April 21, 2011

Circular No. 8, March 1, 1864

While doing some preliminary research on my new area of study - white Kentuckians opposition to black Union army enlistments - I ran across a letter from Kentucky Governor Thomas Bramlette to President Lincoln voicing his opposition and that of the state as a whole.

The first part of the letter reads:
"I see the Provost Marshall General U. S has issued his circular for the enrollment of slaves preparatory for draft. I had hoped that nothing would be done to disturb the confidence and good feeling which was being rapidly established in your Administration of the Government; and that nothing should occur to change a friendly support to an active hostility of your Administration, by those who have already endured much and suffered greatly for their Country. My earnest desire has been to unify the sentiment of my people in harmony with the legitimate measures of the Administration for the suppression of the rebellion. I had hoped for the sympathy and cooperation of the Administration. This hope cannot survive the attempt to inflict this wrong upon us."

Naturally, I was curious about what this circular said, so I referenced The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion - or the O.R. as historians refer to it. On March 1, 1864 the Provost Marshal General's (James B. Fry) Office issued Circular No. 8. It consisted of 6 points:

1. Pursuant to section 24 of the act approved February 24, 1864, amendatory of the act of March 3, 1863, boards of enrollment in districts in which there are any colored persons held to service will without delay proceed to enroll all such persons as are liable to military duty.
2. Enrolling officers will conduct the enrollment in the manner prescribed by existing orders and regulations and such other directions as the acting assistant provost-marshalls-general of the States may give.
3. Enrollment lists will be made upon the printed forms (Nos. 35 and 36), altering the heading to suit, and in the column headed "Former military service" the name of the person to whom service is owed is written.
4. A list, with a recapitulation of the number enrolled, will be made for each sub-district, and as soon as the enrollment of the district is completed these lists will be forwarded to the acting assistant provost-marshal-general for transmission to the Provost-Mashal-General. Copies of the list will be kept in the offices of the district provost-marshal. Those lists by sub-districts will not be consolidated.
5. The provost-marshal will furnish each person to whom the persons owe service a list of those owing service to him who have been enrolled, specifying their names, ages, and date of enrollment.
6. It is made the duty of the acting assistant provost-marshal-general to superintend this enrollment, and to give such orders and directions as may be necessary to make it accurate and complete.

While the other points are largely tedious instructions, the first point obviously is quite significant. It referred directly to the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland and Delaware. While it also referred to some areas where the Union army occupied territory in the Confederacy, in many of those places, by the time this circular was issued, slavery was in fact dead on on its death bed.

Slavery was not dead in Kentucky. The Bluegrass state, along with her sister border states, was not subject to the Emancipation Proclamation, and men, women and children continued to be bought and sold and worked without compensation.

Slaves serving in the Union army was probably the last thing on Kentuckians' minds in 1861 when hostilities started. But, by 1864 Kentuckians knew that if slaves were allowed to enroll in the Union army, that would be the beginning of the end of slavery in the Commonwealth. The end of the practice of slavery meant the loss of millions of dollars in property and production. White Kentuckians also knew that if blacks were allowed to serve in the military it would be a step toward citizenship and social equality...something that they did not want to consider and something they would not have imagined three short year before.

Governor Bramlette continued his letter by stating:
"We offer freely our own Sons for the defence of the Government. You may call out as many as you choose by draft or otherwise and Kentuckians will obey the call without a murmer

Surely this should satisfy the demands of all whose object is the defence and preservation of our government. If you require a soldier we offer you a Kentuckian.-- Will nothing but a Negro satisfy the Administration? What superiority has the slave over the Kentuckian that he should be prefered? I beg you to pause, consider and weigh well the consequences, before you spring a mine the awakened thunders of which may crash upon the ear of the present and coming generations. Kentuckians will obey willingly any law requiring their services in defence of their Government -- for this they hold to be their duty -- but they will not obey a law violative of their Constitutional rights as Citizens, which dishonors them by preferring the slave to the loyal Kentuckian and which takes private property for public use without just compensation, and without any necessity or excuse. Such law can only be enforced by a hard and dangerous constraint .. Kentuckians will sacrifice every thing for for principle -- but principle for nothing."

Bramlette's claim that white Kentuckians would willing serve the Union army if called on apparently does not hold water. It is true that more Kentuckians served in the Union army than in the Confederate army. Historian Anne E. Marshall, in her book Creating a Confederate Kentucky, claims that between 66,000 and 76,000 men served in the Union army while between 25,000 and 40,000 served the Confederacy." But, of those that served in the Union army, 24,000 were African American soldiers. Marshall also contends that, "Of Kentucky's eligible white males, 71 percent chose not to fight at all." African Americans proved more committed, as "40 percent of Kentucky's able bodied African American males served the Union." Only the state of Louisiana sent more blacks to the Union than Kentucky.

In the spring of 1864, to paraphrase a song from one hundred years later, the times, they were a changin', but most white Kentuckians did not want to see or believe it.

For Bramlette's complete letter go to:

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