The Numbers Don’t Add Up: Just How Many Slave Owners Fought on the Union Side in the Civil War?

Written by Jae Jones

One of the biggest arguments about the displaying of the Confederate Battle Flag is that many people do not understand the reasons fully behind the . Advocates are saying that the Civil War was not about , but it was about the right to secede from the Union.

Most people have heard of Chuck Baldwin, a fundamentalist pastor and columnist, well this is the case that he made recently on his website, along with many others on the fan page of Megyn Kelly of Fox News. As always, Baldwin gave many reasons to back up his conclusion, but a reader questioned one of his facts, and wanted a little more research done into it. The particular fact the reader of Baldwin’s wanted research was: “Slavery was not the pivotal reason for the war because of thousands of slave owners supported the North.” “Do you not realize that when Lincoln signed his (Emancipation) proclamation, there were over 300,000 slaveholders who were fighting in the Union army?” Baldwin wrote. “Check it out.”

So, Baldwin was contacted to provide his source for his research, however, he never did so. One interested fact that was discovered by Politicfact was that Baldwin’s statement was vague and there was not information on which states the slaveholders came from. When the war began, slavery was legal in four Union states. Those were Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky. West Virginia fell somewhere in between because it split off from Virginia in 1863 to join the Union. So, now one can see that there were slaveholders from Union and Confederate states. These people could have fought on the Union side.

According to Politicfact, Baldwin’s numbers could be linked back to an 1889 book that was wrote by Thomas Seaman Townsend. He had a brief passage about the number of West Point graduates who were loyal to the Union. In the navy about one-third of the officers came from slaveholding States, yet remained faithful to the Union; while one-eighth of the Union army, or 300,000 men, were contributed by the Southern States.”

Also, Politicfact reached out to several historians James McPherson at Princeton University, Robert Tinkler at California State University-Chico and Gary Gallagher at the University of Virginia and they all agree on the approximate totals:

White Union soldiers from Confederate states — 75,000-100,000

White Union soldiers from slaveholding Union states — 200,000

So, the numbers show that it is fair to say that 300,000 white men from slaveholding states fought on the Union side. (In addition, as many as 200,000 former became Union soldiers and sailors.) It is believed that the men from the Confederate states came from low slaveholding areas, such as the mountains of Tennessee. But there is no reason to believe that all or even a large  minority of these white soldiers were slave owners themselves. In fact, all three historians said there was no evidence to back up that assertion and plenty of reasons to suggest it does not fit the facts, according to Politicfact. The evidence shows that Baldwin’s information just does not add up. When the census from 1860 was looked at,  a large portion of the young men from slave-owning families across the Deep South and beyond would needed to have broken with their communities and fought for the Union. So, if that had happened, it is hard to see how the Confederacy would have been able to fight at all.

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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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