One of the most uniquesituations during the period of the Civil War in America wasthe involvement of the state of Texas in the Confederacy. Although it was once its own Republic separate from theUnited States of America through annexation, Texas was notentirely unique when it came to the institution of slavery. Justlike in all other southern states, slavery, and the use of slavelabor, was a major factor of the states agricultural economy.
During the years around and through the Civil War, Texasbecame a home for many transient southerners in search ofsanctuary from the almost enviable furthering ofemancipation. Long before the war, Texas had been thestomping ground for runaway slaves enroute to Mexico andin search of freedom. The state of Texas was not only one ofthe new frontier territories toward the west but it becameone of the final places in America were slavery waspracticed. Because of its geography much of Texasremained untouched and unsettled. Many adventurousplantation owners felt it necessary to keep news of the warand emancipation from their slaves as much as a year afterthe end of the war. (Campbell 249) The topic I have chosenfor my research to discuss the history of slavery in Texasduring the years of the Civil War.
How the institution wasaltered because of the Civil War and the process by whichemancipation was handed to black -Texans is the focus ofmy report. I would like to uncover how and why slave laborwas used to both protect the state, the Confederacy and theinstitution that held the future of the American Negro forever. Well before the beginning of the Civil War, Texas and someof its surrounding territories were property of Spain just likeits southern neighbor, Mexico. Soon after realizing theirparticular suppression by Spain, Mexico fought for, and wonits independence from its mother country. Mexico now hadcontrol of their country and the territory of Texas. As moreAmericans moved west and into Texas it became evidentthat there was going to be a continued clash betweenMexico and the white frontiersmen who quickly floodedcertain areas.
The American government wanted to purchasethis valuable land but eventually it was taken by Americanfrontiersmen where it was declared its own realm. Fearful ofthe loss of power if allowed into the Union, Texas expressedin 1836 the right to join the Union under the condition thatTexas would have ” free and unmolested authority over theirslave population”( Goodell P. 278) Unable to come to anagreement with the rest of the United States, Texas becamerecognized as independent from the United States ofAmerica. Although it was separate from the rest of theUnited States politically, Texas was becoming more andmore similar to the rest of the South as Northerners movedinto the state and brought their position of anti-slavery withthem. Worried about the future of slavery in Texas, manyslave owners petitioned the immigration of Northerners andexpressed concern that the state might be overrun by pro-abolitionists.
Texas had a history richly imbedded in slaveryand there was little opposition from many of its originalinhabitants. Before long, continued tension between theNorthern states and the slave states began to strengthen asmore people in the North began to desire that the entirecountry move towards complete emancipation. Manycitizens and leaders in Texas approached the legislature inTexas to provide reasoning as to why Texas should continueto be a slave state. Many of these Texans quoted the bibleas a reference and reasoning as to why it was “right” thatthey continue to use “heathen” and “inferior” blacks as laborfor the superior “white dominant” masters. Like all whites inthe South many in Texas feared slave uprisings and revoltsas word of Northern slave emancipation traveled into theborder areas of Texas.
Lynch mobs hung and killed peoplethey thought were pro- abolitionists who were organizinganti-slavery groups and uprisings. Texans were firm in theirposition that no one was going to destroy their God-givenright to have slaves and keep them. Fearful of the power ofthe North over the Southern states, many states began toconsider the idea of secession as a means of both protectingtheir economy and slave- aided lifestyle. When secessionfrom the Union started, Texas declared its position andjoined the Confederacy after declaring its secession from theUnited States of America. Knowing the peculiarity ofTexas’s situation there was ample room made by the state inthese declarations for it to seceded from the Confederacy ifit realized a better position in the near future. As the warloomed ahead Texas wondered where it would stand whenthe dust cleared.
As Texas embarked into the Civil War eraon the side of the Confederacy, the government of Texassoon realized that it had little to worry about for the timebeing. Protected from Federal forces on three of its sides,Texas needed to prepare for the inevitable assault on itssouthern coast. It is the use of slaves for military purposesthat we see the institution of slavery in Texas altered to fit thestates new situations during the Civil War. Around thebeginning of the Civil War statistics that I have read statethat the slave population of Texas was between 150,000 t0250,00 black men, women and children. This number couldnot include the thousands of “refugees” living in Texas whowere escaping southern masters and in many cases goingalong with their masters to start up plantations in Texas afterthey abandoned their old ones in other southern states.
Mostof these refugees were from Arkansas and Louisiana eventhough some were from the North before abolition. Althoughthe majority of these non- refugee blacks were not affectedby the Civil war, many slaves in the areas around thesouthern coast were. The most important port in Texas waslocated in the south- eastern coastal city of Galveston. Notonly was it Texas’s major port, but unfortunately it was theUnions major target resulting in a Federal Naval assaultduring the first year of the Civil War.
Knowing theimportance of Galveston to Texas, Federal troops in 1862took the port and surrounding areas thus making it one ofonly a handful of Union victories in the Lone Star state. Fearful of losing their “property”, many slave owners in theareas surrounding Galveston, fled the area into the North ofTexas to avoid any clash with Union troops. Although theport was recaptured within a few short months, the result ofthe Unions temporary seizure gave many military leaders allthe excuse they needed to try to enlist the aid of slave laborto build fortifications and help in other military relatedprojects. Generals began to insist that they be allowed togather slave labor for the protection of Texas. Knowing thatmore labor was needed to protect Texas, General PaulHerbert ordered that the military go into the unaffectedinterior of Texas and gather slaves for the purpose of thewar effort.
(Campbell p. 234) It was this initial order thateventually led to the impression of slaves by the military. Dueto the lack of response by slave owners in the interior, fewslaves were acquired on loan to the Texas military. Angeredand furthered by the lack of response of slave owners togive up their workers, the Confederate Congress in March1863 authorized the impressment of slaves by the Texas andConfederate military under the grounds that slaves werepersonal property and that all personal property deemedhelpfull to the war effort be made available to the military forpurposes in war times.
(Campbell 234) These men were paidfor their services. Or shall it be said, there owners, werecompensated with cash and insurance that their slaves wouldbe returned in less than two months. As slave owners sawmore of their slaves being lent to the government manyfeared that they would not be fully reimbursed for their laborloses. Many slave owners felt that there slaves were going tomistreated and misused based on the fact that they werebeing taken to do the most extremes of military labor outsideof actual combat as did some former slaves in the North. The general distrust of the slave owners of the military alsoled them to worry that there slaves might be killed, lost, orescape if Union forces invaded Texas. Despite their worriesmost of the slave laborers in the military were under thewatchful eyes of generals who knew their importance to theprotection of Texas was more than just simple labor.
One ofthe most important military leaders in Texas was generalJohn Magruder. Being one of the original military leaders tocall for slave impressment, Magruder wanted Texas to allowthe impressment of more slaves for the war effort. Concluding that the slave holders were not properlyaccounting for their labor force and refusing to provideslaves, Magruder demanded that he be allowed to impressslaves in amounts greater than before. Magruder’s actionscaused some of the biggest disruptions in the institution ofslavery in Texas during the Civil War.
As Magruder becamemore insecure about the strength of the Confederacy heassumed that more fortifications would be needed if the stateof Texas was to remain virtually unscathed by Union forces. Eventually near the end of the war the ConfederateCongress agreed to meet Magruder halfway by allowing theemployment of a large number of slaves that were to be paidthe same wages as privates in the ConfederateArmy. (Campbell 238) As more slaves were being taken intothe military for labor, refugees were arriving by the hundredsfrom war ravaged southern states. Trying to escape theinevitable fact that they were going to lose their slaves,plantation owners steamed towards the seclusion of Texas inhopes that slavery would continue there. ” Jus’ beforefreedom come, de new overseer am ‘structed to take us toTexas and takes us to Kaufman county and we is refugeesdere,” recounts former slave and refugee Fred Brownconcerning his removal from Louisiana. Even though all thesenew slaves were coming in, not too many problems arosefrom such an increase of slaves in relation to the extremelylow influx of whites on average.
Many of these “refugees” inTexas were put on new plantations and or hired out tofamilies who could not have afforded a slave before at ahigher rate. With all these new slaves, many whites foundattaining a slave a bit easier and hired them from theirowners resulting in a better than average sum for the owner. Other refugees upon hearing about Mexico’s anti- slaveryposition fled across the border were they planned to start lifeover away from all white men whether they be Southern orNorthern. When the war finally came to an end, the peopleof Texas were read the General Order number three whichstated that “all slaves are free” and now have the same rightsas their former owners.
( Campbell p. 249) What was alsostated in the order was that “freemen”(former slaves) areadvised to remain quietly at their present homes and workfor wages”. This statement leads us into the post Civil Warera as the former slave in Texas and across the southernstates searched for his and her new identity under the title of”freemen”. Although they were now officially free, manyslaves in Texas felt the need to stay on as laborers on theplantations, in the houses, and in the fields. Seizing the ideaof newfound freedom, some slaves traveled back into theSouth from Texas and into the North in search of family andopportunity. Some went running to Mexico and even fartherwest into Indian country embracing the white man’s dream ofwestern expansion.
Realizing little hope off the plantationswhere they had worked all of their lives, most of the slavesstayed with their old masters and enjoyed all of their newfreedoms while remaining idle(in movement not labor) on theplantations for wages and less harsh working conditions. More than happy to be free, many slaves embraced the ideaof continuing on with their former masters mainly because offear of what might happen to them as they left the plantation. Without hardly any education or the experience of being ontheir own, former slaves knew that they would have toexpress their newfound freedom as much as possible withoutthreatening the relationships with their new “employers”. Afew former slaves reached the point a couples of decadesafter the war were they could be self sufficient and ownedland. The slave in Texas throughout the war did not face thethreat of being set free after battle into an area of almostuncaring wartime confusion. Because of their seclusion,slaves and refugees in Texas lived in a world almostcompletely unchanged by wartime activates.
Althoughthousands of slaves were impressed for wartime use only afew lost their lives while fortifying and working along thefront lines of southern Texas. As for the vast majority ofslaves who were not impressed they went along with theirnormal production during the Civil War as if freedom wasthe last thing they expected in the next few years. Someslaves in Texas did not even know about the war until it hadbeen over for months, some revolted long before. As thearmies of Texas argued over whether it should send itstroops to other states to fight, the institution of slavery wentfull steam ahead. After the end of the war many blacksbegan to realize the hatred that faced them and how manywhites in Texas would do anything in order to ensure thatthey(whites) would always be the ruling class. Opportunitydid not come easy to blacks, but prejudice did.
Almost untilthe very end of the Civil War, Texans seemed to be denyingthe fact that an end coming to their precious “right” to ownand oppress their “inferior” and “heathen” God-givenservants. Courtesy of chew (1995) University of MarylandCategory: History