Three of the South’s Black Enlistment Laws During The Civil War

0 Posted by - July 21, 2022 - CIVIL WAR, Military, POLITICS

Depending on the time during the Civil War, Black soldiers were either off the table or a last hope. Regardless of the period, concerns lingered about drafting and arming Black troops–for obvious reasons.  Here are three laws passed in the Confederacy in regards to the enlistment of Black men in the Confederate army.



The “Twenty Negro Law” or “Twenty Slave Law” was passed by the Confederate Congress after the start of conflict. It was a part of its overall Conscription Act and saw several revisions.

The law exempted one White man (particularly owner or overseer) for every 20 slaves on a plantation or on two plantations within a number of miles. It was aimed at protecting economic power in the region by ensuring that owners and their children avoided military service.

Since an owner’s children were counted as “overseers,” a particularly large plantation could avoid service under the law.

Needless to say, the law didn’t go over well with White men who didn’t own slaves or had small plantations. Congress tweaked the law over a period of six months adding age restrictions. It would become very specific before be dropped overall.

Now  amended, the only people omitted from conscription were those who counted as overseers in April 1862. The replacement narrowed those exempt from service and added a $500 fee to process the exemption application.

With the Civil War getting dismal for the South by 1864, the number was dropped to 15 slaves. There was also provisions for business agreements between plantations and the Confederate government.



In May 1863, a law was passed which made it so that White Union commanders or soldiers were imprisoned or killed. Often times they were imprisoned. Meanwhile, Black Union soldiers were either killed or sent back to their owners as they were considered runaways.

While that was the law, the Confederacy needed laborers and operated on a “state’s rights” format. This meant that the states decided its own military policy. Some states gave Black people salaries to work as musicians and entertainers in camps. Other pulled slaves as military laborers. In the case of Alabama, mixed Creoles were admitted into the military in late 1862.

Eventually, the Confederacy would hurt for manpower overall as the Civil War neared its end.



On March 13, 1865 with the Confederacy suffering losses and the tag team of General William T. Sherman and General Ulysses S. Grant ripping through the South, Confederate president Jefferson Davis signed General Order 14 into effect.

The order made it so that Black men could be armed and conscripted as soldiers for the Confederate cause. This came years after the Union did the same and brought in some 200,000 Black men. Unfortunately, the decision came far too late. By the start of April, the Confederacy had lost the Civil War and packed it in by May.



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