The Claims of the Negro (September 5, 1864 Richmond Examiner)

by Brett Schulte on October 23, 2012 · 3 comments

As I was copying newspaper articles from the Richmond Examiner from September 1864 for my Siege of Petersburg site, I came across the following interesting article in the September 5, 1864 Richmond Examiner:

The Claims of the Negro.–One Benjamin Ruff, claiming to be a member of the Sixth Virginia cavalry, was committed to the Castle yesterday upon the charge of being a deserter.  Immediately upon his admission he claimed to be a negro, and asked his discharge from the service upon that ground.  The commandant, Captain Richardson, threatened to strike him thirty-nine if he persisted in his assertion that he was a negro.  He did not persist, and the lashes were not struck.  Ruff will have his case investigated, and the difference between black and white will be made apparent.1

This article obviously is at odds with the modern day claims of thousands of Black Confederates.  It immediately raises some questions and provokes a few comments:

  1. Why, if thousands of African-Americans fought in the Confederate army, would a man “claim to be a negro” in order to get out of further service?
  2. Why would an article of this nature appear in a Confederate paper if Blacks serving in the army was not a big deal.  It clearly seems to matter to the paper’s editor as well as his readers.
  3. I was struck by the last sentence and the comment “the difference between black and white will be made apparent.”  The only way Blacks could serve with White units in Confederate armies is if people didn’t think there were differences.

In any event, the claims of Black Confederates continue to be shot down if one simply goes back and reads the newspapers, diaries, and letters of the time.  Confederates of the time would have laughed at the Black Confederates claims made by some modern factions who profess to be honoring their ancestors and who seek to disassociate the Confederate cause from the evil of slavery.  I see these articles from time to time and I thought it interesting to note this for my readers.

My main interest in the Civil War is the study of battles and campaigns, strategy and tactics, though I do have some knowledge of the political and social aspects of the war.  Anyone who reads about the conflict for any period of time cannot end up otherwise.  So consider this a quick drive by note on a claim I’ve always considered ridiculous, and I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled posts such as book reviews and other items.

  1. The Claims of the Negro.” September 5, 1864 Richmond Examiner, p. 1 c. 3

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ned October 23, 2012 at 9:30 am

Interesting. It does indicate that the boundaries of race are sometimes blurred; that individuals were conscripted into services on the assumption they were white but might actually be classified as negro according to the law. I was struck by the assertion that he would be whipped if he continued to claim he was “negro”.

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Chris Coleman October 27, 2012 at 11:22 am

While you–and most historians–are certainly correct that very few Negroes were part of the Confederate Army (willingly at least) still, whenever I stumble across a reference to them, such as the one you comment on, I am always curious as to their motivations. Given they were few and far between, nonetheless, why would any black, free or slave, have volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army. While negligible statistically, there were a few and while insofar as the war itself goes they were not a factor, I always wonder about the psychology behind their actions.

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Ned B. October 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Who says that this individual volunteered? The news article is from late 1864, at which time the Confederacy had been enforcing conscription for over 2 years.

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