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Letter from John J. Cheatham
May 4, 1861



Consider These Questions


John J. Cheatham, an educated, white male from Georgia, wrote this letter to the Confederate Secretary of War, L. P. Walker. It portrays some of the concerns Southern whites had about slaves during the Civil War.

Athens Ga 4th May 1861

Dear Sir


Some of our people are fearful that when a large portion of our fighting men are taken from the country, that large numbers of our negroes aided by emissaries will ransack portions of the country, kill numbers of our inhabitants, and make their way to the black republicans; There is no doubt but that numbers of them believe that Lincoln's intention is to set them all free. Then, to counteract this idea, and make them assist in whipping the black republicans, which by the by would be the best thing that could be done, could they not be incorporated into our armies, say ten or twenty placed promiscuously in each company? In this way there number would be too small to do our army any injury, whilst they might be made quite efficient in battle, as there are a great many I have no doubt would make good soldiers and would willingly go if they had a chance. They might be valued as you would a horse or other property, and let the government pay for them provided they was killed in battle, and it should be made known to them that if they distinquish themselves by good conduct in battle, they should be rewarded. Could some plan of this sort be thought expedient and be carried out with propriety, it would certainly lessen the dangers at home, and increase our strength in the field, and would I have but little doubt, be responded to by large numbers of our people in all the States. It is however only a suggestion, but one that I have thought might merit your consideration. Very Respectfully your humble Servant

John J. Cheatham

Copyright ©1992 Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom and the Civil War edited by Ira Berlin et al. Reprinted by permission of the New Press. (800) 233-4830


Consider These Questions



1. What does Cheatham report about the fears circulating among his white neighbors?

2. Referring to slaves, Cheatham states "There is no doubt but that numbers of them believe that Lincoln's intention is to set them all free". How does this reflect the opinion white Southerners held towards Lincoln's stance on emancipation?

3. Explain Cheatham's rationale for placing slaves as soldiers, ten or twenty in each company of whites.

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