BEAUREGARD, P.G.T. Letter signed ("G. T. Beauregard"), to Zebulon B. Vance (1830-1894), Weldon, N.C., 23 April 1864. 1 page, 4to, expertly matted and framed with photograph of Beauregard.
"THE NEGROES CAPTURED IN ARMS IN THE SERVICE OF THE ENEMY...WILL BE TURNED OVER TO THE STATE AUTHORITIES TO BE DEALT WITH ACCORDING TO THE LAWS..."
A fascinating and historically important letter about the treatment of captured black soldiers after the battle of Plymouth, North Carolina, on 20 April 1864. Controversy has swirled ever since this battle over whether or not black Union troops were massacred after rebels seized the town. Here, just three days after the battle, Beauregard writes to the Governor of North Carolina: "Pursuant to instructions from the War Department, I have the honor to advise you that the Negroes captured in arms in the service of the enemy a few days since at Plymouth, No. Carolina will be turned over to the State authorities, to be dealt with according to the Laws made & provided in such cases, and will be sent you under guard to Raleigh, immediately upon their arrival at this point."
The "War department" instructions to which Beauregard refers is a letter to Gov. Vance, dated 21 April 1864, from Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg, who wrote: "The President directs that the Negroes captured by our forces be turned over to you for the present, and...if...any of them belong to citizens of North Carolina, you will cause them to be restored to their respective owners." Bragg went on to say that in order to avoid "all possible complications with the military authorities of the United States" that the matter be "kept out of the newspapers, and in every available way to shun its obtaining any publicity." (quoted in Jordan and Thomas, "Massacre at Plymouth," in Black Flag Over Dixie, ed. G.J.W. Urwin,182).
Benjamin Butler, the Union commander in this theatre, but who was not on the scene, alleged that a massacre of as many as 400-600 black soldiers and civilians took place at Plymouth. The grisly example of the Fort Pillow massacre on 12 April lend plausibility to these allegations. Also, there are numerous eye-witness accounts from Plymouth of large-scale shootings and the murder of black prisoners--although many of these accounts come from long-after the war. A careful analysis of the evidence by historians W.T. Jordan and G.W. Thomas concludes that Confederate troops did murder black soldiers and sailors, perhaps as many as 50 or 60. But it is not true that all blacks found in uniform were killed. Most of the black prisoners mentioned in this letter were ultimately used as conscript laborers for the Confederate army. Another telegram Beauregard sent to Gov. Vance on 23 April suggests that some may have been returned to slavery: "I will have delivered to you [at Raleigh] the negro prisoners captured at Plymouth & with your consent send the slaves captured to Wilmington" (quoted in "Massacre at Plymouth," 184); although whether the "slaves" included captured soldiers, or Plymouth civilians who had run away from their masters, is unclear.