February 20, 1865 – The Confederate House of Representatives approved a measure allowing for the recruitment of slaves into the military.
The bill passed after a long, intense debate. Such a measure had been deemed almost unthinkable a year ago, but with the Confederacy now on the verge of defeat, desperation prompted passage. General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee used his strong influence among southerners to help pass this bill; he had long supported slave recruitment by arguing that blacks could be just as good soldiers as whites.
Proponents asserted that if the Confederacy granted freedom to slaves in exchange for military service, the slaves would tend to return to their southern homes and resume their prior jobs instead of choosing to join the Federals and take homes and jobs assigned by Federal occupiers. Moreover, offering slaves a chance for freedom could negate the Federals’ image as liberators among the world powers, and possibly even open a path toward foreign recognition for the Confederacy.
Slaveholders comprised most of the bill’s opponents. They argued that slave recruitment could lead to the universal abolition of slavery; this would forever end their traditional way of life which they believed was entwined with the Confederate cause itself. However, considering that less than 250,000 people owned slaves, this “way of life” only existed for a significant minority of all southerners. Other opponents doubted the loyalty and ability of slaves as soldiers.
Most southerners acknowledged that slavery was on the path to extinction, regardless of whether the Confederacy gained independence or not. With the war effort growing more desperate by the day, Confederate President Jefferson Davis rendered his opinion to Mobile newspaper editor John Forsyth: “It is now becoming daily more evident to all reflecting persons that we are reduced to choosing whether the negroes shall fight for us or against us…”
The bill went to the Confederate Senate, and the intense debate continued while the Confederacy slowly died.
-  Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 641; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 471-72
-  Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 471-72
-  Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 472
-  Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 641-42