How did Franklin, Tennessee civilians view blacks fighting in uniform in 1864?

The roughly 2,000 residents of Franklin, Tennessee in 1860 were  predominantly Confederate-leaning in their political ideology, as was most of Williamson County. The Fountain Branch Carter family, including his sons, were no exception.

Capt Tod Carter’s portrait hangs in the Carter family home today.

A letter between Moscow B. Carter and younger brother Capt Tod Carter from March 1864 pulls the curtain back and gives us a very interesting look into the mindset of a typical Franklin family regarding their view of blacks fighting in uniform. It is often stated that the Confederacy widely supported blacks fighting in armed combat for their Cause. Yet such claims are anecdotal at best and mere fancy at worst.

What does the primary evidence show? This letter from Moscow Carter clearly reveals that the typical mindset of Franklin residents in Tennessee (c 1864) was one of complete disgust for blacks taking up arms in combat.

The letter was written March 1st, 1864 by elder brother Moscow B. Carter, who was 39 at the time. He addressed it to his younger brother Tod Carter (age 24) who was a prisoner of war at Johnson’s Island. Tod was a Captain in the 20th Tennessee Infantry and would die on his own farm within months of this letter.

Here is an excerpt:

We have for the first time during the Federal occupancy of this town, a Corps of  “nigger” soldiers, on as I heard a soldier call them the other day, “smoked Yankees” quartered in this vicinity. I think there is but a company yet though. I understand it will be increased to a regiment. Among the citizens there is a general feeling of disgust, and so far as I can understand men’s feelings, the officers and soldiers of the garrison are not a little chagrined at their presence.

The letter clearly reveals the disgust of the Carter family with the Federal army allowing blacks to take up arms. Carter even suggests that the general idea on the part of the community, as a whole, was one of disgust. This is in the Spring of 1864. The context shows that the disgust in question is not primarily because they were fighting for the Yankees. The disgust and chagrin is wider than that for Carter and perhaps for the community he lived in in 1864.

“But these were Federal black soldiers, not Confederate,” one might say. Besides the vacuous lack of primary evidence to support blacks fighting for the Confederacy (in uniform), one can hardly make the case for Southern slaves fighting for the Confederacy – even as late as the Spring of 1864 – when Moscow Carter’s letter reveals a disdain by a Southern/Confederate community for black Federal soldiers.

Had the Confederacy been generally supportive of blacks fighting for their cause in early 1864 one could almost imagine that Carter’s response to the presence of blacks Federal troops would have been something like, “Even though blacks (not Carter’s term) serve in uniform for the Yankees, our blacks (i.e., Confederate) are better and more devoted because …..”  But Carter does not state anything close to that because he clearly had a general disdain and disgust for blacks serving in the formal role as a soldier in arms.

The few blacks (i.e., slaves) that did serve in the Confederate army were mostly ones who accompanied their master into battle but were rarely mustered in like whites were, and given arms to fight. It’s simply a myth and a distortion that large numbers (i.e., tens of thousands) of slaves fought for the Confederacy, and Moscow Carter’s letter in March 1864 to Tod Carter tacitly proves that.

I’ll close with this point. A reply I often get to this discussion is that my view denigrates and dishonors the blacks who took up arms and fought for the Confederacy.  Rubbish.  What truly dishonors the fighting Confederate slave – and the evidence suggests there were very few (as in hundreds probably for the entire Confederacy) – is that tens of thousands of blacks are given “credit” for fighting for the Confederacy, thereby diminishing the authentic role of those who truly did. It’s similar to a soldier saying he fought at Franklin or Gettysburg because his unit was there, but in actuality his unit was on dispatch duty, guarding the railroad seven miles away.  Being near Franklin on November 30th does not equate with “fighting in combat” on the Federal line in front of the Carter House on that terrible day.



2 thoughts on “How did Franklin, Tennessee civilians view blacks fighting in uniform in 1864?

  1. “The roughly 2,000 residents of Franklin, Tennessee in 1860 were predominantly Confederate-leaning in their political ideology, as was most of Williamson County. The Fountain Branch Carter family, including his sons, were no exception.”

    This comes as a surprise to me. My impression was that the population was split (especially in 1860) and that Fountain Branch was a Unionist despite his sons’ devotion to the South. To me, this is a very important fact in understanding the war. Tod Carter was 20 years old in 1860. Fountain was 63 years old. This came from a guide at the Carter House.

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