One of the most unique
situations during the period of the Civil War in America was
the involvement of the state of Texas in the Confederacy.

Although it was once its own Republic separate from the
United States of America through annexation, Texas was not
entirely unique when it came to the institution of slavery. Just
like in all other southern states, slavery, and the use of slave
labor, was a major factor of the states agricultural economy.

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During the years around and through the Civil War, Texas
became a home for many transient southerners in search of
sanctuary from the almost enviable furthering of
emancipation. Long before the war, Texas had been the
stomping ground for runaway slaves enroute to Mexico and
in search of freedom. The state of Texas was not only one of
the new frontier territories toward the west but it became
one of the final places in America were slavery was
practiced. Because of its geography much of Texas
remained untouched and unsettled. Many adventurous
plantation owners felt it necessary to keep news of the war
and emancipation from their slaves as much as a year after
the end of the war.(Campbell 249) The topic I have chosen
for my research to discuss the history of slavery in Texas
during the years of the Civil War. How the institution was
altered because of the Civil War and the process by which
emancipation was handed to black -Texans is the focus of
my report. I would like to uncover how and why slave labor
was used to both protect the state, the Confederacy and the
institution that held the future of the American Negro forever.

Well before the beginning of the Civil War, Texas and some
of its surrounding territories were property of Spain just like
its southern neighbor, Mexico. Soon after realizing their
particular suppression by Spain, Mexico fought for, and won
its independence from its mother country. Mexico now had
control of their country and the territory of Texas. As more
Americans moved west and into Texas it became evident
that there was going to be a continued clash between
Mexico and the white frontiersmen who quickly flooded
certain areas. The American government wanted to purchase
this valuable land but eventually it was taken by American
frontiersmen where it was declared its own realm. Fearful of
the loss of power if allowed into the Union, Texas expressed
in 1836 the right to join the Union under the condition that
Texas would have ” free and unmolested authority over their
slave population”( Goodell P.278) Unable to come to an
agreement with the rest of the United States, Texas became
recognized as independent from the United States of
America. Although it was separate from the rest of the
United States politically, Texas was becoming more and
more similar to the rest of the South as Northerners moved
into the state and brought their position of anti-slavery with
them. Worried about the future of slavery in Texas, many
slave owners petitioned the immigration of Northerners and
expressed concern that the state might be overrun by pro-
abolitionists. Texas had a history richly imbedded in slavery
and there was little opposition from many of its original
inhabitants. Before long, continued tension between the
Northern states and the slave states began to strengthen as
more people in the North began to desire that the entire
country move towards complete emancipation. Many
citizens and leaders in Texas approached the legislature in
Texas to provide reasoning as to why Texas should continue
to be a slave state. Many of these Texans quoted the bible
as a reference and reasoning as to why it was “right” that
they continue to use “heathen” and “inferior” blacks as labor
for the superior “white dominant” masters. Like all whites in
the South many in Texas feared slave uprisings and revolts
as word of Northern slave emancipation traveled into the
border areas of Texas. Lynch mobs hung and killed people
they thought were pro- abolitionists who were organizing
anti-slavery groups and uprisings. Texans were firm in their
position that no one was going to destroy their God-given
right to have slaves and keep them. Fearful of the power of
the North over the Southern states, many states began to
consider the idea of secession as a means of both protecting
their economy and slave- aided lifestyle. When secession
from the Union started, Texas declared its position and
joined the Confederacy after declaring its secession from the
United States of America. Knowing the peculiarity of
Texas’s situation there was ample room made by the state in
these declarations for it to seceded from the Confederacy if
it realized a better position in the near future. As the war
loomed ahead Texas wondered where it would stand when
the dust cleared. As Texas embarked into the Civil War era
on the side of the Confederacy, the government of Texas
soon realized that it had little to worry about for the time
being. Protected from Federal forces on three of its sides,
Texas needed to prepare for the inevitable assault on its
southern coast. It is the use of slaves for military purposes
that we see the institution of slavery in Texas altered to fit the
states new situations during the Civil War. Around the
beginning of the Civil War statistics that I have read state
that the slave population of Texas was between 150,000 t0
250,00 black men, women and children. This number could
not include the thousands of “refugees” living in Texas who
were escaping southern masters and in many cases going
along with their masters to start up plantations in Texas after
they abandoned their old ones in other southern states. Most
of these refugees were from Arkansas and Louisiana even
though some were from the North before abolition. Although
the majority of these non- refugee blacks were not affected
by the Civil war, many slaves in the areas around the
southern coast were. The most important port in Texas was
located in the south- eastern coastal city of Galveston. Not
only was it Texas’s major port, but unfortunately it was the
Unions major target resulting in a Federal Naval assault
during the first year of the Civil War. Knowing the
importance of Galveston to Texas, Federal troops in 1862
took the port and surrounding areas thus making it one of
only a handful of Union victories in the Lone Star state.

Fearful of losing their “property”, many slave owners in the
areas surrounding Galveston, fled the area into the North of
Texas to avoid any clash with Union troops. Although the
port was recaptured within a few short months, the result of
the Unions temporary seizure gave many military leaders all
the excuse they needed to try to enlist the aid of slave labor
to build fortifications and help in other military related
projects. Generals began to insist that they be allowed to
gather slave labor for the protection of Texas. Knowing that
more labor was needed to protect Texas, General Paul
Herbert ordered that the military go into the unaffected
interior of Texas and gather slaves for the purpose of the
war effort.(Campbell p.234) It was this initial order that
eventually led to the impression of slaves by the military. Due
to the lack of response by slave owners in the interior, few
slaves were acquired on loan to the Texas military. Angered
and furthered by the lack of response of slave owners to
give up their workers, the Confederate Congress in March
1863 authorized the impressment of slaves by the Texas and
Confederate military under the grounds that slaves were
personal property and that all personal property deemed
helpfull to the war effort be made available to the military for
purposes in war times.(Campbell 234) These men were paid
for their services. Or shall it be said, there owners, were
compensated with cash and insurance that their slaves would
be returned in less than two months. As slave owners saw
more of their slaves being lent to the government many
feared that they would not be fully reimbursed for their labor
loses. Many slave owners felt that there slaves were going to
mistreated and misused based on the fact that they were
being taken to do the most extremes of military labor outside
of actual combat as did some former slaves in the North.

The general distrust of the slave owners of the military also
led them to worry that there slaves might be killed, lost, or
escape if Union forces invaded Texas. Despite their worries
most of the slave laborers in the military were under the
watchful eyes of generals who knew their importance to the
protection of Texas was more than just simple labor. One of
the most important military leaders in Texas was general
John Magruder. Being one of the original military leaders to
call for slave impressment, Magruder wanted Texas to allow
the impressment of more slaves for the war effort.

Concluding that the slave holders were not properly
accounting for their labor force and refusing to provide
slaves, Magruder demanded that he be allowed to impress
slaves in amounts greater than before. Magruder’s actions
caused some of the biggest disruptions in the institution of
slavery in Texas during the Civil War. As Magruder became
more insecure about the strength of the Confederacy he
assumed that more fortifications would be needed if the state
of Texas was to remain virtually unscathed by Union forces.

Eventually near the end of the war the Confederate
Congress agreed to meet Magruder halfway by allowing the
employment of a large number of slaves that were to be paid
the same wages as privates in the Confederate
Army.(Campbell 238) As more slaves were being taken into
the military for labor, refugees were arriving by the hundreds
from war ravaged southern states. Trying to escape the
inevitable fact that they were going to lose their slaves,
plantation owners steamed towards the seclusion of Texas in
hopes that slavery would continue there. ” Jus’ before
freedom come, de new overseer am ‘structed to take us to
Texas and takes us to Kaufman county and we is refugees
dere,” recounts former slave and refugee Fred Brown
concerning his removal from Louisiana. Even though all these
new slaves were coming in, not too many problems arose
from such an increase of slaves in relation to the extremely
low influx of whites on average. Many of these “refugees” in
Texas were put on new plantations and or hired out to
families who could not have afforded a slave before at a
higher rate. With all these new slaves, many whites found
attaining a slave a bit easier and hired them from their
owners resulting in a better than average sum for the owner.

Other refugees upon hearing about Mexico’s anti- slavery
position fled across the border were they planned to start life
over away from all white men whether they be Southern or
Northern. When the war finally came to an end, the people
of Texas were read the General Order number three which
stated that “all slaves are free” and now have the same rights
as their former owners.( Campbell p.249) What was also
stated in the order was that “freemen”(former slaves) are
advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work
for wages”. This statement leads us into the post Civil War
era as the former slave in Texas and across the southern
states searched for his and her new identity under the title of
“freemen”. Although they were now officially free, many
slaves in Texas felt the need to stay on as laborers on the
plantations, in the houses, and in the fields. Seizing the idea
of newfound freedom, some slaves traveled back into the
South from Texas and into the North in search of family and
opportunity. Some went running to Mexico and even farther
west into Indian country embracing the white man’s dream of
western expansion. Realizing little hope off the plantations
where they had worked all of their lives, most of the slaves
stayed with their old masters and enjoyed all of their new
freedoms while remaining idle(in movement not labor) on the
plantations for wages and less harsh working conditions.

More than happy to be free, many slaves embraced the idea
of continuing on with their former masters mainly because of
fear of what might happen to them as they left the plantation.

Without hardly any education or the experience of being on
their own, former slaves knew that they would have to
express their newfound freedom as much as possible without
threatening the relationships with their new “employers”. A
few former slaves reached the point a couples of decades
after the war were they could be self sufficient and owned
land. The slave in Texas throughout the war did not face the
threat of being set free after battle into an area of almost
uncaring wartime confusion. Because of their seclusion,
slaves and refugees in Texas lived in a world almost
completely unchanged by wartime activates. Although
thousands of slaves were impressed for wartime use only a
few lost their lives while fortifying and working along the
front lines of southern Texas. As for the vast majority of
slaves who were not impressed they went along with their
normal production during the Civil War as if freedom was
the last thing they expected in the next few years. Some
slaves in Texas did not even know about the war until it had
been over for months, some revolted long before. As the
armies of Texas argued over whether it should send its
troops to other states to fight, the institution of slavery went
full steam ahead. After the end of the war many blacks
began to realize the hatred that faced them and how many
whites in Texas would do anything in order to ensure that
they(whites) would always be the ruling class. Opportunity
did not come easy to blacks, but prejudice did. Almost until
the very end of the Civil War, Texans seemed to be denying
the fact that an end coming to their precious “right” to own
and oppress their “inferior” and “heathen” God-given
servants. Courtesy of chew (1995) University of Maryland
Category: History