Slavery & Emancipation

    Body Servants  "Considered A Great Honor"

The first year  of the Civil War saw large numbers of black body servants accompanying their masters to Confederate military camps. Both officers and enlisted men from slaveholding families took slaves with them when they marched off to war. The body servants were always the most loyal members of the plantations' black households. The bonds of affection between master and servant were usually genuinely strong, the result of a lifetime of close affiliation. Most slaves considered it a great honor to be selected to accompany their masters to war.

The life of a body servant in Rebel camps was generally not very strenuous. Typical responsibilities included cooking, washing clothes, and cleaning quarters. The servants of cavalrymen would also be required to help take care of the horses. Enjoying a great deal of freedom in the camps, the servants often had opportunities to earn money by doing odd jobs for other soldiers. When the soldier was a member of a mess- usually four to six men who cooked and ate together- the servant would do the washing and cleaning for them all, and the other members of the mess would contribute to the slave's maintenance. Many body servants became very adept at foraging, the practice of procuring food from civilian areas surrounding a camp, and they were often used as couriers between the camp and home. A soldier who became sick from the many camp diseases could count on his servant to tend to him, and a sick servant would receive like treatment from his owner.

Though servants generally stayed in the rear during battle, there are many records of servants taking muskets and accompanying their masters to the fight. Servants were known to kill and capture Yankees, and there is at least one recorded instance of a Confederate servant's capturing the servant of a Yankee. After a battle the servant left in the rear would venture out to the battlefield in search of his master. If he found the soldier wounded, he would take him to shelter and medical care; if he found his master dead, the slave would bury him or escort the body back home.

Fascinating Fact:  After the first year or two of war, provisions were so scarce in Rebel armies that it became impractical for any but officers to retain servants.


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