Was Patrick Cleburne the Exception?


Most Civil War historians give Patrick Cleburne credit for being ahead of his time. Some will even say that he was not a supporter of slavery.

“It is our most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.”

Historians will reference Cleburne’s statement buttressing his argument for enlisting slaves in the Confederate Army and say “but”. Followed by something like he was a minority and that his proposal was the exception in the great and evil slavocracy that was the Confederacy. An objective person with some knowledge of history rejects this characterization because he knows enlisting blacks in the Union Army was also controversial.

It is also not clear what support there would have been outside the army. If given a choice between losing the war and freeing slaves who fought, how would the public have reacted? We know many were appalled at the notion. We also know that the loudest voices do not necessarily reflect the majority or even a significant minority.

The other thing the historians miss is how someone like Cleburne fights and gives his life for the Southern cause, yet he is at most ambivalent about slavery. He might have even been opposed to it. Was he a fluke? Or were their other Southerners with the same view who were also willing to sacrifice it all for independence.

I recognize that many who read this might exclaim that “this guy will look for any reason to say the war was not about slavery”. I admit it sounds tenuous until you consider one thing. There was no polling. We don’t know that much about what the public thought at large. There are letters and diaries and many of them do support that the war was about other things. Yet, we know the most about what famous people said and we tend to remember the loudest and most outrageous.



Garrick Sapp at Trudge to Truth

Career consultant turned substitute teacher and writer. I enjoy the outdoors and poker. www.trudgetotruth.com