The Role of Slaves in the Confederate States Army

Robert E. Lee took two slaves to war with him as personal servants. Wikimedia

2. Officers used slaves as body servants

Officers reporting for service with the Confederate Army brought with them slaves as their personal servants. Some brought whole retinues, including a personal servant/valet, cooks, laundresses, and seamstresses. Robert E. Lee brought two slaves with him to war, a personal servant named Perry and a cook called Meredith. Years later a man calling himself William Mack Lee claimed to have served as Lee’s personal servant during the war; those claims proved untrue when scholars pointed out that Lee was not present at the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). Mack claimed he had, along with many other claims about the man he called “Marse Robert”, provably false.

The “servants” of senior officers had the freedom of working for pay for other officers in their spare time, and were allowed to keep the money thus earned. Alexander Porter, who led the artillery barrage against Union positions at Gettysburg, allowed his slave/servant Charley to purchase his own uniform with money earned. After the surrender at Appomattox, the newly freed Charley and Alexander parted company. The latter wrote in his diary that he sent the former slave on his way with a $10 gold piece in his pocket. Few of the slaves serving as personal servants attempted to escape over the course of the war, likely because they, like the man they served, had family at home, and no desire to lose touch with them in an uncertain future.