The Valor of Black Confederates
By: Vernon R. Padgett, Ph.D.
Of the many accounts of heroic black Confederates, here are some that especially stand out:
George Washington Yancey was captured with the Georgia militia, escaped, makes his way through the lines, and returns to his Tennessee infantry unit. Captured again at Missionary Ridge. He escaped a second time from the Federals, and rejoined his unit at Atlanta. He was captured again at Macon and imprisoned. “I was loyal to the Confederate states,” he asserted, and escaped again, spending the rest of the war foraging for the Confederate troops (TCMP No. 206).
"The efforts of Jack, servant of an officer of the Thirteenth Arkansas Regiment, stands out as an act of heroism. Jack fought beside his master during the heat of battle. He fell seriously wounded but refused to be evacuated and continued to fire at the enemy. He later died in a hospital of his wounds sustained in the ranks of the Confederate army" (Memphis Avalanche quoted in December 31, 1861).
Black Confederate Levi Miller, born in Rockbridge County Virginia, was one of thousands of slaves who accompanied their owners to the war as a body servant. After nursing his master back to death from a near-fatal wounding in the Wilderness campaign, Miller was voted by the regiment to be a full-fledged soldier (Jordan, 1995). He served during the remainder of the war, exhibiting bravery in battles in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. His former commander spoke highly of Miller's combat record, giving a riveting account of his performance at Spotsylvania Courthouse. "About 4 p.m., the enemy made a rushing charge," wrote Captain J. E. Anderson. "Levi Miller stood by my side-- and man never fought harder and better than he did-- and when the enemy tried to cross our little breastworks and we clubbed and bayoneted them off, no one used his bayonet with more skill, and effect, than Levi Miller” (Jordan, 1995).
After the war, Levi Miller received a full pension from Virginia as a Confederate veteran. According to the Winchester Evening Star, "The pension was granted without trouble, and he had the distinction of drawing one of the largest amounts of any person in the state." Upon his death in 1921, the Evening Star published a front-page obituary under the headline Levi Miller, Colored War Veteran (Jordan, 1995).
Levin Graham, a free colored man, was employed as a fifer, and attendant to Captain J. Welby Armstrong (2nd Tennessee). He refused to stay in camp when the regiment moved, an obtaining a musket and cartridges, went across the river with us. He fought manfully, and it is known that he killed four of the Yankees, from one of whom he took a Colt's revolver. He fought through the whole battle, and not a single man in our whole army fought better" (New Orleans Daily Crescent, 6 December 1861, cited in Rollins, 1994).
One federal cavalry officer related how he was held under guard by a shotgun-wielding black who kept the weapon trained on the Yankee's head with unwavering concentration. "Here I had come South and was fighting to free this man," the disgusted major wrote in his diary. "If I had made one false move on my horse, he would have shot my head off" (Barrow et al., 2001, p. 43).
Researcher Ervin Jordan (1995) cites a diary that tells of an Afro-Confederate [who] became a local hero after being thrown into jail with nothing but bread and water for three days because of his support of the South and his refusal to work for the Union side ... The old man was made to chop wood with iron ball and chains attached to his arms and legs, but the curses of his jailers were unavailing: He stubbornly vowed to support the South until death.
Barrow, C. K., Segars, J. H., & R.B. Rosenburg, R.B. (Eds.) (2001). Black Confederates, Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna.
Jordan, Jr., Ervin. (1995). Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. University Press of Virginia, 447 pages.
Rollins, Richard, Ed. (1994). Black Southerners in Gray: Essays on Afro-Americans in Confederate Armies. Rank and File Publications, Redondo Beach, California, 172 pages.
Tennessee Colored Man’s Pensions. Nashville Tennessee State Library and Archives.
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