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Thread: Confederate Demographics

  1. #1
    Senior Member Senior Member Dhepee's Avatar
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    Question

    I majored in history in college and I have done a lot of independent reading on the history of the Civil War but I only just thought about tackling this question in depth and I hoped that the org might have some ideas.
    During the American Civil War what percentage of confederate soldiers owned slaves?

    Obviously only a small percentage of the Confederate Army would have owned slaves, as most confederate soldiers were small-scale farmers or local artisans and neither needed nor could afford to own slaves. Most of these small producers in local ecnomies would rent out slaves from larger farms or plantations during the harvest or planting seasons, so they used but did not own the slaves. I am guessing that less than 10% of confederate soldiers owned slaves and that only about 1-2% owned more than 50 slaves. Prosperous middle-class farmers, tradesmen, and merchants might own one or two slaves as domestic help or as field hands, but the vast majority of slave owning was confined to large-scale slave holders who used them both as workers and investment properties.

    I have seen some figures that try to give the percentage but they don't list sources and they are often published by Confederate Remembrance groups or Confederate flag supporters, and they present the statistics in the context that "the south wasn't that bad".
    Run Right at them and board them in the smoke Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey of the HMS Surprise

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    Senior Member Senior Member Red Peasant's Avatar
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    Don't know if this helps you any,

    http://members.aol.com/jfepperson/estimate.html

    where the conclusion seems to be,

    "Based on this range of values, I would say that a decent estimate for the number of men from slave-holding families in the Confederate army would be around 30-35%."
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    Senior Member Senior Member Dhepee's Avatar
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    Thanks Red Peasent #that fills in some really imporant demographic gaps however this article raises another issue Cornell Article, which discusses rates of volunteerism in the both the CSA and USA armies. #Men with more than 20 slaves were exempt from the draft and even those that were not exempt could pay a substitute. #It is probable that anybody who could afford to own between 1 and 19 slaves, could also afford to pay a substitute. #This article also claims that the South had a lower rate of volunteerism than the North. #By extension if the South could not fill its ranks with volunteers it had to do so with draftees, therefore men who were able to avoid the draft either by exemption of payment would make up a lower proportion of the confederate army.

    It looks like I need to find a correlation between the raw demographics of the CSA that Red Peasent provided me with and the rates of draft avoidance and enlistment for slave owners.

    The actual percentage of slave owners who fought on behalf of the confederacy would prove a lot about the nature of the war. #Among other things one of the South's arguments during antebellum was that the Northern upperclasses did not provide for the working and lowerclasses and later during the war Southern propoganda often used the image of the industrial elites forcing the downtrodden factory workers and recent immigrants to fight their war. #If the actual percentage of slave owners who fought in the war was quite low it would demonstrate that the South's aristocracy was just as willing as the North's to let the poor do the fighting. #

    It would also demonstrate that the war was less about slavery, which was an emotional side issue, and more about the shift in power from Southern agricultural dominance to Northern industrial dominance.



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    Senior Member Senior Member Red Peasant's Avatar
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    I'm definitely no authority on this subject Dhepee, though I did US history for my pre-university course which whetted my interest. I just thought you posed an interesting question.

    The Cornell article you linked to is very interesting, but would seem to me, IMHO, to have one weakness. It is extremely selective with its evidence. That is, it bases a lot of its assumptions from just two counties, one from each side. I would suggest there would have to be many more such case histories like those of Augusta and Franklin counties upon which to base any solid conclusions for a more generalised thesis. Does such a body of work exist?

    Good luck with your research.
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    Senior Member Senior Member Dhepee's Avatar
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    Thanks for the help Red Peasent .
    The problem with studying the CSA is that there is no authoritative data set regarding enlistment and conscription, most records are incomplete or inaccurate. Also it is hard to compare census data from the North and the South since they were both so different in terms of population density and in the 1860 census the number of slaves was not accurately counted, since slaves were not counted themselves but rather as 3/5's of a white man for districting purposes. There is also the suspicion that the southern census data was intentionally skewed by the Southern census takers, since it was so close to the start of the war and feelings were running at a high pitch. I also am not sure if it was even completed.
    The Cornell paper is limited in scope but it is useful since it compares two areas that are geographically linked, economically similar, and for which there are enough extant records to do an accurate comparison.
    At best there will be a "best guess" answer but even that, is more informative than a guess made on a limited sample of the available data.
    Run Right at them and board them in the smoke Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey of the HMS Surprise

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    Senior Member Senior Member Red Peasant's Avatar
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    Here are some more statistics from the same source/site I quoted earlier. It is possible to assume, I suppose, that attitudes as well as numbers would probably have differed in different parts of the Confederacy. I was surprised at how widespread slave ownership was, though 88% had fewer than 20, and 50% less than 5. It is also notable how much US wealth was concentrated in the South.

    "Selected Statistics on Slavery in the United States
    (unless otherwise noted, all data is as of the 1860 census)

    Total number of slaves in the Lower South : 2,312,352 (47% of total population).

    Total number of slaves in the Upper South: 1,208758 (29% of total population).

    Total number of slaves in the Border States: 432,586 (13% of total population).

    Almost one-third of all Southern families owned slaves. In Mississippi and South Carolina it approached one half. The total number of slave owners was 385,000 (including, in Louisiana, some free Negroes). As for the number of slaves owned by each master, 88% held fewer than twenty, and nearly 50% held fewer than five. (A complete table on slave-owning percentages is given at the bottom of this page.)

    For comparison's sake, let it be noted that in the 1950's, only 2% of American families owned corporation stocks equal in value to the 1860 value of a single slave. Thus, slave ownership was much more widespread in the South than corporate investment was in 1950's America.

    On a typical plantation (more than 20 slaves) the capital value of the slaves was greater than the capital value of the land and implements.

    Confederate enlistment data is incomplete because many records were lost when the South collapsed, but it is possible to estimate, very loosely, the number of men in the Confederate army who came from slave-holding families.

    Slavery was profitable, although a large part of the profit was in the increased value of the slaves themselves. With only 30% of the nation's (free) population, the South had 60% of the "wealthiest men." The 1860 per capita income in the South was $3,978; in the North it was $2,040.

    Selected Bibliography

    Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson
    Ordeal by Fire, by James McPherson
    The Confederate Nation, by Emory Thomas
    Civil War Day by Day, by E.B. Long
    Ordeal of the Union (8 vols.) by Allan Nevins
    Reader's Companion to American History, by Eric Foner and John Garrity
    Census data can be appealed to in order to determine the extent of slave ownership in each of the states that allowed it in 1860. The figures given here are the percentage of slave-owning families as a fraction of total free households in the state. The data was taken from a census archive site at the University of Virginia.

    Mississippi: 49%
    South Carolina: 46%
    Georgia: 37%
    Alabama: 35%
    Florida: 34%
    Louisiana: 29%
    Texas: 28%
    North Carolina: 28%
    Virginia: 26%
    Tennessee: 25%
    Kentucky: 23%
    Arkansas: 20%
    Missouri: 13%
    Maryland: 12%
    Delaware: 3%


    In the Lower South (SC, GA, AL, MS, LA, TX, FL -- those states that seceded first), about 36.7% of the white families owned slaves. In the Middle South (VA, NC, TN, AR -- those states that seceded only after Fort Sumter was fired on) the percentage is around 25.3%, and the total for the two combined regions -- which is what most folks think of as the Confederacy -- is 30.8%. In the Border States (DE, MD, KY, MO -- those slave states that did not secede) the percentage of slave-ownership was 15.9%, and the total throughout the slave states was almost exactly 26%."
    Dum spiro spero

    A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices.
    - William James

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    Member Member LordMonarch's Avatar
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    A question... was it true that if one owned more then 10 slaves in the CSA that you didn't have to fight.

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    Senior Member Senior Member Dhepee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (LordMonarch @ Jan. 12 2004,16:32)]A question... was it true that if one owned more then 10 slaves in the CSA that you didn't have to fight.
    According the Cornell article that I cited above it was more than 20.
    Run Right at them and board them in the smoke Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey of the HMS Surprise

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    The Black Senior Member Papewaio's Avatar
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    So if the CSA had won, not only would it kept slaves, a higher proportion of survivors would have been slave masters as they would have not had to go to war.

    That is an example of a social feedback loop.

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