Wednesday, May 20, 2015


[The Military Destruction of Slavery in Southeast Missouri 1861-1864 & The Rise of the USCT by Bob Schmidt (Camp Pope Publishing, 2015). 8 ½ x 11 paperback, illustrations, maps, index. 376 pp. $25]

Regardless of where one stands on the self-emancipation debate, it remains that slavery died a fast and hard death only in places where Union military boots tread heavily and to a large degree endured where they did not. Where this became most problematic to the Union cause was in the Border States, where the majority of slaveowners claimed loyalty to the U.S. government yet found their human property targeted early and often by federal officers and enlisted men sympathetic to the plight of the enslaved and similarly unsympathetic to any enforcement of the legal and policy protections of the owners.  This was certainly the case in the Missouri Bootheel and forms the subject of Bob Schmidt's The Military Destruction of Slavery in Southeast Missouri 1861-1864 & The Rise of the USCT.

The book is a mixed format narrative, reference guide, and documentary history study. Addressed in it are big issue debates at both federal and Missouri state levels involving the 1st and 2nd Confiscation Acts, immediate vs. gradual emancipation (and whether compensation and/or colonization should be involved), black soldier recruitment, and host of other political and military orders and official policies dealing with enslaved persons and their owners.

After providing the larger picture view, Schmidt then delves much deeper into the local situation in SE Missouri. Military orders and correspondence related to the dispensation of slaves in the region, specifically what to do with those received into army lines through either escape or confiscation, are collected in the book.  The author also compiles a host of documents associated with slaveholder petitions for the return of slaves held by the military. From the perspectives of the owners adequate redress was rare. Even if a positive response from higher authorities were to be obtained, as a practical matter getting the slave back most often proved impossible. Officers on the ground, especially those from free northern states, rarely put much thought toward distinguishing between loyal and rebel slaveowners and effectively barred most from retrieving their human property. Conflicts between loyal Missouri slaveholders and the military increased greatly from mid-1863 onward when recruiting agents more earnestly began enlisting slaves into the army with or without owner permission. Provost records were especially useful resources for fleshing out the details behind these incidents.  The slaves themselves sometimes committed acts of violence (up to and including murder), with arms obtained from Union camps used to forcibly free friends and family.

The book includes information about many of the Union regiments that garrisoned the region at one time or another during the war. Some, like the 5th Missouri, gained reputations for facilitating the separation of slaves from their owners. Bits of unit history as well as select capsule biographies of officers and men that served in these regiments pepper the text, adding an additional element of genealogical interest to the book.

Schmidt also recounts in some detail the small recruitment operations (usually led by a company officer or NCO) that scoured SE Missouri throughout 1864 in search of able bodied slaves. Regulations required that the process be voluntary but there's little doubt some individuals were intimidated into joining the army. Many of the new recruits are profiled in the book using CSRs, pension records, and other sources. Brief unit histories of those regiments filled with significant numbers of ex-slaves (and a few free blacks) from SE Missouri — the 1st through 4th Missouri (redesignated 65th through 68th USCT) and 3rd Arkansas (56th USCT) — are also presented. It's no surprise that loyal slaveholders weren't happy with losing their labor force and the book looks at the cases of six who were arrested, tried, and imprisoned for complaining to the department commander. The convictions were later overturned, but the lengthy legal process surrounding their cases is discussed at great length. More than anything else the treatment of these men signifies in stark terms the exhaustion of all patience for slaveholder concerns by the late war period.

All original text and document reproductions are accompanied by extensive footnotes that evaluate sources, offer additional background information, and suggest further reading options. Direct engagement with the scholarly literature and debates surrounding emancipation is not generally attempted. The reference value of the work is its primary strength, though a more creative method of organizing the material could have been employed.

In addition to the book's large body of supporting documents, photocopied images, drawings, and maps, the appendices contain additional supplementary information such as county demographic data, election results, and the full wording of the Confiscation Acts, the Emancipation Proclamation, and several of the most important General Orders referred to in the main text. In documenting military emancipation in Southeast Missouri at the policy stage and in practice at the local level, Schmidt's study effectively reminds readers of the key role played by Union armed forces in driving slavery toward extinction.

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