By Andy Mateja

There was a specially called conference on January 2 1864 for an undisclosed meeting at Gen Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee headquarters consisting of all of this army’s corps and division commanders that took place in Dalton GA.  Gen Pat Cleburne, considered by some as the “Stonewall Jackson” of the Confederate army in the West, was there and presented his special “paper”  …….which was already well received by field officers which many had already signed.

It was considered an Emergency Meeting and was to address the growing military plight of the Confederacy’s shrinking armed forces as they were running out of manpower with no end in sight of the ever growing hardships. The Union army on the other hand was INCREASING in size due to continuing enlistments of foreign immigrants and escaped runaway slaves. It was determined that something MUST be done to avert disaster.

It was becoming obvious to Cleburne that slavery had become a military weakness and truly worthless as organized labor force.  Feeble attempts at conscription for the Rebel field armies was not working. Enlisting slaves was the alternative………if it included guarantee freedom for the slave.   European countries could now be able to support the South and change the focus from freeing slaves to acquiring more territory. In addition, they could deprive Northerners from utilizing slaves in the South as “spies” and future recruits as a new source of manpower for invading Union armies.

The offer of freedom to participating slaves (especially the bravest ones) had to also include their wives and children and also and the legal recognition of marriage. Cleburne was sure slaves would indeed fight under these conditions as there were lots of examples in world history.   Sparta, Santo Domingo and Jamaica were just a few…….  Cleburne believed this proposal to be beneficial and WOULD save the country.

Denouncing the plan include Generals Bates and Patton Anderson. , They believed many of the white Southern troops would oppose arming slaves. Gen. WHT Walker also vehemently opposed Cleburne’s proposal and considered it a traitorous plot. He wanted to send the plan to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond for further scorn and to include each officer’s as to their opinion also to Richmond before he personally left the room.

Corps commander Gen William Hardee had suggested alternative ways to use blacks in army and withdrew the entire proposal before leaving the room as well. Cleburne reluctantly agreed to this in silence.

But word leaked out over the next few days of this extraordinary Top-Level meeting…..including to Richmond.   Some felt it was a revolting proposal and believed that if the army troops found out, it would dissolve in a couple of weeks. Gen Walker wanted to be sure that a copy of the plan was send to Jefferson Davis in Richmond and Cleburne provided it and personally signed it.

 

Without stating who else attended the original meeting.  Gen. Walker tried to get the other officers to sign it on their own and to include whether they approved or disapproved the proposal. Some of the officers were willing to cooperate with Gen.Walker but most were not.

President Davis and the officials in Richmond opposed Cleburne’s proposal and wanted it kept secret at all costs for fear of a negative backlash if their nations’ civilians found out that the Confederate Generals had even entertained the idea of arming the slaves regardless of the reason.

Jefferson Davis returned his copy of this “Slave emancipation proposal” to Cleburne and ordered all the remaining copies to be burned. Ironically, despite slave owner resistance, Davis did enact a similar plan proposed by Gen Robt E Lee in March 1865 after it was too late to have any meaningful effect …….

The “Rising Star” of Patrick Cleburne’s military career was forever extinguished after this unfortunate political experience.  Sadly Cleburne’s own life was cut short a few months month later as one of the tragic casualties during the Battle of Franklin TN……….

By Andy Mateja

There was a specially called conference on January 2 1864 for an undisclosed meeting at Gen Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee headquarters consisting of all of this army’s corps and division commanders that took place in Dalton GA.  Gen Pat Cleburne, considered by some as the “Stonewall Jackson” of the Confederate army in the West, was there and presented his special “paper”  …….which was already well received by field officers which many had already signed.

It was considered an Emergency Meeting and was to address the growing military plight of the Confederacy’s shrinking armed forces as they were running out of manpower with no end in sight of the ever growing hardships. The Union army on the other hand was INCREASING in size due to continuing enlistments of foreign immigrants and escaped runaway slaves. It was determined that something MUST be done to avert disaster.

It was becoming obvious to Cleburne that slavery had become a military weakness and truly worthless as organized labor force.  Feeble attempts at conscription for the Rebel field armies was not working. Enlisting slaves was the alternative………if it included guarantee freedom for the slave.   European countries could now be able to support the South and change the focus from freeing slaves to acquiring more territory. In addition, they could deprive Northerners from utilizing slaves in the South as “spies” and future recruits as a new source of manpower for invading Union armies.

The offer of freedom to participating slaves (especially the bravest ones) had to also include their wives and children and also and the legal recognition of marriage. Cleburne was sure slaves would indeed fight under these conditions as there were lots of examples in world history.   Sparta, Santo Domingo and Jamaica were just a few…….  Cleburne believed this proposal to be beneficial and WOULD save the country.

Denouncing the plan include Generals Bates and Patton Anderson. , They believed many of the white Southern troops would oppose arming slaves. Gen. WHT Walker also vehemently opposed Cleburne’s proposal and considered it a traitorous plot. He wanted to send the plan to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond for further scorn and to include each officer’s as to their opinion also to Richmond before he personally left the room.

Corps commander Gen William Hardee had suggested alternative ways to use blacks in army and withdrew the entire proposal before leaving the room as well. Cleburne reluctantly agreed to this in silence.

But word leaked out over the next few days of this extraordinary Top-Level meeting…..including to Richmond.   Some felt it was a revolting proposal and believed that if the army troops found out, it would dissolve in a couple of weeks. Gen Walker wanted to be sure that a copy of the plan was send to Jefferson Davis in Richmond and Cleburne provided it and personally signed it.

 

Without stating who else attended the original meeting.  Gen. Walker tried to get the other officers to sign it on their own and to include whether they approved or disapproved the proposal. Some of the officers were willing to cooperate with Gen.Walker but most were not.

President Davis and the officials in Richmond opposed Cleburne’s proposal and wanted it kept secret at all costs for fear of a negative backlash if their nations’ civilians found out that the Confederate Generals had even entertained the idea of arming the slaves regardless of the reason.

Jefferson Davis returned his copy of this “Slave emancipation proposal” to Cleburne and ordered all the remaining copies to be burned. Ironically, despite slave owner resistance, Davis did enact a similar plan proposed by Gen Robt E Lee in March 1865 after it was too late to have any meaningful effect …….

The “Rising Star” of Patrick Cleburne’s military career was forever extinguished after this unfortunate political experience.  Sadly Cleburne’s own life was cut short a few months month later as one of the tragic casualties during the Battle of Franklin TN……….

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