Georgia Slaveholders to the Commander of the 3rd Division of the Confederate District of Georgia

[Liberty County, Ga.  August 1, 1862]

General:  The undersigned Citizens of Liberty County of the Fifteenth District, would respectfully present for your consideration a subject of grave moment, not to themselves only but to their fellow Citizens of the Confederate States, who occupy not only our territory immediately bordering on that of the old United States, but the whole line of our sea coast from Virginia to Texas.  We allude to the escape of our Slaves across the border lines landward, and out to the vessels of the enemy Seaward, & to their being also enticed off by those who having made their escape, return for that purpose, and not unfrequently, attended by the enemy.  The injury inflicted upon the interests of the citizens of the Confederate States by this now constant drain is immense; independent of the forcible seizure of Slaves by the enemy whenever it lies in his power; and to which we now make no allusion, as the indemnity for this loss, will in due time occupy the attention of our Government.–  From ascertained losses on certain parts of our Coast, we may set down as a low estimate, the number of Slaves absconded & enticed off from our Seaboard as 20,000 & their value as from $12 to 15 millions of Dollars, to which loss–may be added the insecurity of the property along our borders & the demoralization of the negroes that remain, which increases with the continuance of the evil & may finally result in perfect disorganization and rebellion.–

The absconding Negroes hold the position of Traitors, since they go over to the enemy & afford him aid & comfort, by revealing the condition of the districts and cities from which they come, & aiding him in erecting fortifications & raising provisions for his support: and now that the United States have allowed their introduction into their Army &, Navy, aiding the enemy by enlisting under his branners & increasing his resources in men, for our annoyance & destruction.  Negroes occupy the position of Spies also, since they are employed in secret expeditions for obtaining information, by transmission of newspapers & by other modes; and act as guides to expeditions on the land & as pilots to their vessels on the waters of our inlets and rivers.–

They have proved of great value, thus far, to the Coast operations of the enemy, & without their assistance, he could not have accomplished as much for our injury & annoyance as he has done; and unless some measures shall be adopted to prevent the escape of the negroes to the enemy, the threat of an Army of trained Africans for the coming fall & winter's campaigns may become a reality.  Meanwhile the counties along the Seaboard will become exhausted of the Slave population, which should be retained as far as possible for the raising of provisions & supplies for our forces on the Coast.–

In the absence of penalties of such a nature as to ensure respect and dread, the temptations which are spread before the negroes are very strong, and when we consider their condition, their ignorance and credulity & love of change, must prove in too many cases decidedly successful.  No effectual check being interposed to their escape, the desire increases among them in proportion to the extent of its successful gratification, & will spread inland until it will draw Negroes from Counties, far in the interior of the State; & Negroes will congregate from every quarter, in the counties immediately bordering on the Sea and become a lawless set of runaways, corrupting the Negroes that remain faithful, depredating on property of all kinds & resorting it may be to deeds of violence; which demonstrates that the whole State is interested in the effort to stop this evil:  & already have Negroes from middle Georgia made their escape to the Seaboard Counties, and through Savannah itself to the enemy.–

After consulting the Laws of the State we can discover none that meet the case & allow of that prompt execution of a befitting penalty, which its urgency demands.  The infliction of capital punishment is now confined to the Superior Court; & any indictment before that Court, would involve incarceration of the Negroes for months with the prospect of postponement of trial–long litigation–large expense & doubtful conviction; and moreover, should the Negroes be caught escaping in any numbers, there would not be room in all our Jails to receive them.  The Civil Law therefore as it now stands cannot come to our protection.

Can we find protection under Military Law?  This is the question we submit to the General in Command–  Under Military Law the severest penalties are prescribed for furnishing the enemy with aid & comfort, & for acting as Spies and Traitors; all which the Negroes can do as effectually as white men, as facts prove and as we have already suggested.  There can be but little doubt, that if Negroes are detected in the act of exciting their fellow slaves to escape; or of taking them off; or of returning after having gone to the enemy, to induce & aid others to escape:–they may in each of these cases be summarily punished under military authority.  But may not the case of Negroes taken in the act of absconding, singly, (or in families) or in parties, without being directly incited so to do by one or more others, be also summarily dealt with by Military Authority?–  Were our white population to act in the same way, would it not be necessary to make a summary example of them, in order to cure the evil or put it under some salutary control?  If it be argued, that in case of the Negroes, it would be hard to meet out a similar punishment under similar circumstances, because of their ignorance pliability, credulity, desire of change, the absence of the political ties of allegiance & the peculiar status of the Race;–it may be replied–that the Negroes, constitute a part of the Body politic, in fact; and should be made to know their duty; that they are perfectly aware that the Act which they commit is one of rebellion against the power & authority of their owners & the Government under which they live; they are perfectly aware that they go over to the protection & aid of the enemy who are on the Coast for the purpose of killing their owners & of destroying their property; & they know further, that if they themselves are found with the enemy that they will be treated as the enemy–namely shot & destroyed:–  To apprehend such transgressors, to confine & punish them privately by owners or publicly by the Citizens of the County by confinement and whipping & then return them to the plantations will not abate the evil; for the disaffected will not thereby be reformed, but will remain a leaven of corruption in the mass & stand ready to make any other attempts that may promise success.  It is indeed a monstrous evil that we suffer.–  Our Negroes our property–the agracultural class of the Confederacy, upon whose order & continuance so much depends, may go off, (inflicting a great pecuniary loss both private & public) to the enemy–convey any amount of valuable information–and aid him by building his fortifications: by raising supplies for his armies–by enlisting as Soldiers–by acting as Spies & as guides & pilots on his expiditions on land & water & bringing in the foe upon us to kill & devastate; and yet if we catch them in the act of going to the enemy we are powerless for the infliction of any punishment adequate to their crime & adequate to fill them with salutary fear of its commission!  Surely some remedy should be applied & that speedily for the protection of the Country, aside from all other considerations.  A few executions of leading transgressors among them by hanging or shooting would dissipate the ignorance which may be supposed to possess their minds and which may be pleaded in arrest of judgement.–

We do not pray the General in Command to issue any order for the government of the Citizens in the matter, which of course is no part of his duty; but the promulgation of an order to the military for the execution of ring-leaders who are detected in stirring up the people to escape–for the execution of all who return having once escaped & for the execution of all who are caught in the act of escaping; will speedily be known & understood by the entire slave population, and will do away with all excuses of ignorance, & go very far towards an entire arrest of the evil. While it will enable the Citizens to act efficiently in there own sphere–whenever circumstances–require them to act at all–  In an adjoining County which has lost some 200 since the shooting of two detected in the act of escaping not another attempt has been made & it has been several weeks since the two were shot.–

As Law abiding men we do not desire Committees of Vigalence, clothed with plenary powers; nor meetings of the body of our Citazens, to take the Law into their own hands, however justifiable it may be under the peculiar circumstances, & therefore in the failure of the Civil Courts to meet the emergency, we refer the Subject to the General in Command, believing that he has the power to issue the necessary order to the forces under him, covering the whole ground, and knowing that by so doing he will recieve the commendation and cordial support of the intelligent & Law abiding citizens inhabiting the military department over which he presides.  All which is Respectfully submited by Your friends & fellow citizens.–

R. Q. Mallard.
T. W. Fleming.
E. Stacy

R. Q. Mallard et al. to Brigadier General Mercer, [1 Aug. 1862], enclosed in Brig. Genl. H. W. Mercer to Hon. Geo. W. Randolph, 5 Aug. 1862, M-1867 1862, Letters Received, series 5, Secretary of War, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109, National Archives. Alongside the signatures appears the designation “Committee of citizens of 15 Dis. Lib County.” In his covering letter to the Confederate Secretary of War, General Hugh W. Mercer, commander of the 3rd Division of the Confederate District of Georgia, sympathized with the planters' plight and predicted that the “evil & danger alluded to may grow into frightful proportions, unless checked,” but he argued that “the responsibility of life & death, so liable to be abused, is obviously too great to be entrusted to the hands of every officer, whose duties may bring him face to face with this question.” Mercer recommended that the Confederate Congress act on the matter.

Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 795–98, and in Free at Last, pp. 61–66.