That the Confederacy in its waning days frantically turned to the idea of arming slaves has long been known by all close students of the Civil War. Yet the more explosive, if unexamined, issue before the southern people and leaders in this last great crisis was whether or not the South itself should initiate a program of emancipation as part of a plan to recruit black soldiers. Jefferson Davis and other leaders attempted to force the South to face the desperate alternative of sacrificing one of its war aims—the preservation of slavery—in order to achieve the other—an independent southern nation.
In The Gray and the Black, Robert F. Durden reconstructs this intensely passionate debate, letting the participants speak for themselves through journal extracts, newspaper articles, letters, and speeches. These documents and Durden’s perceptive commentary demonstrate with sad finality that, when faced with this ultimate choice, southerners, with certain fascinating exceptions, could not bring themselves to abandon the “peculiar institution.”
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