Subjugating people is more difficult than it looks. We often forget that the slave owners have to feed and clothe the slave. The slave owner has to worry about revolts. The Army that holds a POW has to transport him and feed him, or in some way kill him. We learned from both major world wars that sometimes that is easier than keeping prisoners alive. Recently we have seen a resurgent interest in the story of Spartacus, the Thracian POW of the Roman Army that led a gladiator/slave uprising and over ran a couple of Roman Legions. With that, today we talk about insurrection and in particular how it affected slave owners in the American Civil War.
During the Revolutionary War British Troops would often egress from the battlefield with slaves they intended to free. Holding slaves was abhorrent to the British and they understood that removing slaves would hamper Colonial war production efforts. Oddly George Washington refused to allow slaves to fight for the Revolution. Or perhaps predictably, because he was himself a slave owner. Instead the British made it possible to fight for the King and slaves joined the British by the hundreds.Slaves made it possible for volunteers to fight for the Colonies. Soldiers who were volunteers also had farms and ranches and families to tend to. If the slaves couldn’t do their share of work, the Colonial soldier fell out of the military and went back to his chores. Similarly, the presence of Union forces on Southern soil often-emboldened slaves to join the Union Army or make good their escape under the fog of war. The need for manual labor had tripled with the advent of the war. There were hundreds of slave uprisings during the Civil War, but most of the resistance was passive aggressive, merely manifesting in work stoppages and slow downs. Even a slave once in a while played a card that says the Devil you know may be better than the one you don’t, and perhaps decided not to leave. These were rarities, but one can understand a slave with small children might opt not to escape. Once the Civil War began, 5000 slaves a year tried to escape. By the end of the war, it was 5000 escaped slaves a month. During October 1962, the Confederacy passed the Twenty Negro Law, which exempted anyone managing twenty Negroes or more from military service. Slaves who escaped and were caught were treated with unfettered cruelty: lynchings, whippings and castration were common. That went on for decades. It went on for far too long. None of the brutal reprisals on recaptured slaves or legislative acts made much of a difference in keeping slaves from seeking their freedom. Ironically, in 1864, one slave escaped and burned down the house where he labored: the Confederate White House.