Black Slave Uprising August 1863
Sifting through the mails acquired during a militia raid in the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canals; a rather fascinating yet somewhat alarming piece of intelligence found its way into Governor Zebulon B. Vance's office in Raleigh, North Carolina. A letter dated May 12, 1863, signed by an operative from Washington City, Augustus S. Montgomery, and addressed to Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Department of North Carolina, proposed a general Negro insurrection within the seceded states to be launched on a target date of August 1, 1863.
The news prompted the governor to write President Davis on May 21st, of what he termed a damnable scheme; recommending that the government take note of its contents and suggested the necessity for increased diligence in the protection of the railroads, bridges and telegraph lines throughout the region.
Several copies, were, as carefully as possible being distributed to all the military departments in the seceded states believing the spring and most of the summer sufficient time to spread the word that all who concur with the operation may act in concert on the projected date. The slaves were to arm themselves as best they could with any and every kind of weapon cautious not to take any blood unless on the defensive; later taking to the woods and swamps or the mountains where the guerilla bands were capable of reemerging as occasion may offer for provisioning and further destruction.
The military department commanders were instructed to choose a select few trusted contrabands, informing them of the plan and launch date, dispatching them back beyond the enemy lines and throughout the countryside spreading the word to others who would rise up. By the prescribed date, it was hoped that hundred of thousands of slaves would be prepared to revolt striking at these vital military assets. Each of the department's corps and divisional commanders entrusted to have the information shared would likewise endorse the Montgomery Letter, "Approved" fixing the next sequential number at the bottom of the sheet. The final endorsement would indicate the number of officers ready to move on the plan without any one officer knowing the names of the other. The last officer in any particular department to see the letter was to address it back to Montgomery in Washington City.
From his headquarters, General Robert E. Lee having read the news sent his advice the Secretary of War, James Seddon, and commended the governor for keeping news of the diabolical project confidential and further advised the State and military authorities to be informed secretly. There had been no indication as to who Augustus S. Montgomery was, but his inference of reporting the plan in the works being carried out suggested perhaps a War Department operative.
President Davis returned a note of appreciation to the governor's office informing him that the Secretary of War would be issuing a warning to each commander of the armies, however the undertaking of such a scheme seemed unlikely to be successfully coordinated. None the less, from the War Department in Richmond, published July 18, 1863 came Mr. Seddon's warning issued to the governor's of Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Alabama.
By mid July, no less than eighteen general officers had endorsed the proposal. Word had been discovered early enough where prosecution of the idea became too risky to go through with. Operations at the government level such as these required the utmost secrecy in their execution. To insight such with open approval would have raised another nasty eyebrow from world opinion on the prosecution of the war. The Federal Government had recognized the Confederacy as simply a collection of rebellious states. In doing so, with or without the war, the slave issue until amended in the Constitution was still protected by it. Therefore as the central government openly recognized the rebellion as an illegal act; likewise federally sanctioned slave insurrections were dangerous to the law and order the Lincoln administration swore to defend.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com