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A Georgia Soldier Condemns the Exemption of Slaveholders

In this letter to the editor, a Georgia soldier condemns the so-called "Twenty Negro Law" exempting large slaveholders from service in the Confederate Army. The anonymous soldier articulates the feelings of many poor Southern whites, most of whom owned few or no slaves. Is it just, the soldier asks, "that the men, whom [the Confederate] Congress has exempted, should enjoy ease at home... while [poor men] must fight, bleed, and even die..." for the sake of plantation owners and other large slaveholders?

“Are We Whipped? Must We Give Up?”

Messrs Editors:

I notice in your issue . . . an editorial with the above caption, which contained many good suggestions and some wise council. It is but too true that many are skulking and hiding, hatching excuses to avoid conscription. I will admit for the sake of argument that their reason is as you assign it a fear to contend on the field of battle. But as to the justice of the clause of the Exemption Bill to which you refer, I must say that your ideas of justice and equity are quite different from mine. I cannot for my life see how it is, that because the institution of slavery elevates the social position of the poor man, that therefore the poor should fight the battles of our country, while the rich are allowed to remain at home and to enjoy ease and pleasure. . . . is it just that each conscript, who happens to own ten negroes of certain age should be exempt from military duty?—Why, sir, what say you to the poor white man who has ten children all dependent on him for succor and support? Shall he be exempt? No, you answer, “go fight for the negroes of your neighbor, because it elevates you in society.” . . .

I tell you that the worst enemy our young republic has is the spirit that pervades our land to an alarming extent of extorting from the poor and needy to build up the rich and powerful. . . .

It is easy to be a soldier, to leave home and its endearments, on paper. But when the reality is tested it is something different. I have seen the soldier in the heat of battle and in the monotony of camp. . . . the source of most trouble and anxiety to his mind, is the ill treatment of his family by the very men who are, by the clause referred to, exempt from duty. The soldier can meet the enemy of his country in dreadful battle, but the thought that his family are suffering at the hands of the rich for whom he is fighting, unnerves the strongest arm and sickens the stoutest heart. The men of wealth are erecting new mills, tan-yards, shoe-shops, &c., and are filling them with their sons. This will be done and other means will be resorted to until the army will be composed of poor men exclusively. . . . Sir, I have already heard it argued that the poor man could not be injured by Lincoln’s proclamation. Say they, “it is true, we might lose our negro or two, but what is that to life, to continued exposure, to prolonged absence from wife and children.” If poor men must fight, the rich ought to pay the expenses of the fight. The poor men who are now in the army are patriots. They deem no sacrifice too great to be made; no privation to severe to be borne for liberty. They leave home and friends for country’s sake. Let the appeal be made to their patriotism, to the justice of our cause, but for God’s sake don’t tell the poor soldier who now shivers in a Northern wind while you snooze in a feather bed, that it is just and right that the men, whom Congress has exempted, should enjoy ease at home, amassing untold riches while he must fight, bleed, and even die, for their ten negroes. If we are ever whipped, it will be by violations of our own constitution, infringements of justice and right. When burdens are borne equally, dangers must be also. People’s eyes may be closed by glaring newspaper pleas of necessity and right, but they will at some time be opened. Then, if ever, we will be whipped.

A Soldier.
Jonesboro, Georgia

Source | William E. Gienapp, ed. The Civil War and Reconstruction, A Documentary Collection (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001), 133-134.
Creator | Anonymous
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Anonymous, “A Georgia Soldier Condemns the Exemption of Slaveholders,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 28, 2023,

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