24 October 1864: “The arming of a portion of negroes and making a regular military organization of them. “

Item Description: William Porcher Miles consulted Robert E. Lee regarding the use of slaves as soldiers in the Confederate Army, as well as the organization of the army. He represented Charleston, S.C. in the Confederate congress.

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Item Citation: From Folder 52, in the William Porcher Miles Papers #508, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item Transcription: 

Richmond. Oct. 24, 1864

Genl. Robert E. Lee, 

Dear Sir, 

Congress meets the 7th of next month and the increase of our army and the improvement of its organization, discipline and efficiency are questions which will immediately and largely occupy our time and attention. As Chairman of the Military Committee of the House. I would be very glad to have your opinion on various points. I am aware that any suggestions or recommendations which you might desire legislation upon would officially, be addressed to the War Department, but I have thought a free interchange of views and opinions on Army Matters (so far as they may depend upon or the affected by the action of Congress) and the eliciting of your opinioned teaching sundry mooted points, would be of the greatest service to my Committee. I state the simple truth when I say, as our experience on several occasions has abundantly proved, that in engaging any measure upon the House the strongest argument we can offer in its support is that “Gen. R. Lee thinks it very desirable.” 

I would like to have your opinion on the three following points particularly.

1st The arming of a portion of negroes and making a regular military organization of them. 

2nd The dispersing altogether with the principle of promotion by seniority for and during the war, and promoting to all ranks for merit and capacity alone. Seniority to decide only where other things are equal. 

3rd The reorganization of the Cavalry on the basis of the Government and not the privates owning the horses, and (a point hardly however requiring legislation) the supplying this important arm of the service with more efficient weapons. There are other matters such as, “Consolidation of Regiments.” Artillery organization de upon which there are very opposite views entertained and upon which it is not unlikely we may be called upon to act, but the three points above indicated will certainly be brought forward at an early day of the session.  Should you not feel disposed. Formally to express yourself upon all, or any of these matters. I should still be greatly obliged to you for any news which you might think proper to communicate to me, under such restrictions, (as to quoting you as authority in the premises), as might be most agreeable to yourself.

The time has come which we must all work together frankly, heartily and harmoniously to insure the success of the great- cause in which we are all engaged and in everything affecting the interests of the army all eyes naturally turn to you with anxious inquiry and earnest-confidence should you prefer communicating with me personally I shall be happy to wait upon you at any time that you will indicate. 

Very Respectfully, 

(signed) Wm. Porcher Miles

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One Response to 24 October 1864: “The arming of a portion of negroes and making a regular military organization of them. “

  1. Buck Lawler says:

    I believe Miles’ letter to General Lee has several transcription errors, specifically two obvious ones: In the next to last paragraph, the phrase “greatly obliged to you for any news” should say “views” not “news”. Second, in the last paragraph, the phrase “eyes naturally turn to you with anxious injury” should say “inquiry” not “injury”.