Author: Jaime Amanda Martinez

an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She received a PhD from the University of Virginia in 2008 and is currently revising her dissertation on Confederate slave impressment for future publication
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Slavery during the Civil War

Virginia had the largest population of enslaved African Americans of any state in the Confederacy, and those slaves responded to the American Civil War (1861–1865) in a variety of ways. Some volunteered to assist the Confederate war effort, while many others were forced to support the Confederacy, working on farms and in factories and households throughout Virginia. Thousands escaped to the Union army’s lines, earning their freedom and forcing the United States to develop a uniform policy regarding emancipation. Others remained on their home plantations and farms but took advantage of the war to gain some measure of autonomy for their families. Slaves’ wartime actions most often exhibited their strong desire for freedom, and even those who chose not to escape frequently welcomed the Union army as liberators.

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Black Confederates

Black Confederates is a term often used to describe both enslaved and free African Americans who filled a number of different positions in support of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Most often this assistance was coerced rather than offered voluntarily. Male slaves were either hired out by their owners or impressed to work in various departments of the Confederate army. Free black men were also routinely impressed or otherwise forced to perform manual labor for the army. The government’s use of black labor, whether free or slave, followed patterns established during the antebellum period, when county governments routinely engaged the service of black men to help maintain local roads and other public property. While large numbers of black men thus accompanied every Confederate army on the march or in camp, those men would not have been considered soldiers. Only a few black men were ever accepted into Confederate service as soldiers, and none did any significant fighting. Through most of the war, the Confederate government’s official policies toward black men maintained that those men were laborers, not soldiers; changes to that policy in March 1865 came too late to make any difference to Confederate prospects for victory. Those changes were also accompanied by widespread debate indicating that a significant minority of white Southerners opposed any change to the institution of slavery, even if that change might help bring about a Confederate victory.

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Richmond during the Civil War

Richmond, Virginia, was the capital of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War (1861–1865). It also served as the capital of Virginia, although when the city was about to fall to Union armies in April 1865, the state government, including the governor and General Assembly, moved to Lynchburg for five days. Besides being the political home of the Confederacy, Richmond was a center of rail and industry, military hospitals, and prisoner-of-war camps and prisons, including Belle Isle and Libby Prison. It boasted a diversified economy that included grain milling and iron manufacturing, with the keystone of the local economy being the massive Tredegar ironworks. From the start of war, Confederate citizens flocked to the capital seeking safety and jobs, leading to periodic civil unrest, manifested most notably in the Bread Riot of April 1863. Because of its economic and political importance as well as its location near the United States capital, Richmond became the focus for most of the military campaigns in the war’s Eastern Theater. In a sense, its success—especially in mobilizing, outfitting, and feeding the Confederate armies—predestined it to near-destruction in 1865. Just as ironic, that destruction was largely caused by Confederates, although images of the city’s ruins have become iconic representations of the cost of war.

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