The Forgotten Confederates
“When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the
South.” quoted from General Robert E. Lee, in 1864.
With all the flack about the Confederate flag lately, I decided to add a little Black Southron history to my site. During my research I was amazed to find there were so many free and owned black men and women who fought for the Confederacy, the South and their home.
What gets me is that all those liberals and hate groups call us racist, and from all my research blacks were treated most unfairly, paid less and went unrespected in the Northern army. While here in the South the majority of the black men who served were paid equal or more than their white counterparts, they were treated with respect and in most writings that I have found, were praised for their role in the War Between the States.
The point that I am trying to get to is that the Confederate flag holds a great history, worthy of respect from whites as well as blacks. All of our ancestors fought and died for the same thing, A Free South!!
The Confederate flag stands for slavery no more than the United States flag that your children pledge allegience to each morning before they begin their studies in our public schools. When is it going to end ? It’s up to us the Southern People.
Slavery was a terrible thing and is to this day a blot on American history as well as Confederate history. Most blacks served because of loyalty to their country or loyalty to an individual; in doing so, they have demonstrated that it is possible to hate the system of slavery and love one’s country.
Thousands of black Southerners found their way into battle beneath the “starry cross” of their own volition, in spite of being officially prohibited by the Confederate government. And, judging from the letters preserved in the Official Records, many more would have joined them had they the opportunity. They became an integral, important part of Southern armies. One scholar has estimated that up to 25% (65,000 out of 261,000) of free Blacks in the South and 15% (600,000 out of 4 million) of slaves sided with the South at one time during the war.
Black Southerners found their way into Confederate armies in three ways. They served as body servants, taking up arms or in other ways demonstrating their support for the war. There were many individuals who enlisted in regular units on their own. finally there were several all-black or predominately-black units in Confederate armies or local defense forces. All three catagories of black Confederates appeared at Gettsyburg.
Not all body servants were slaves owned by whites. Many were free blacks with attachments –economic and otherwise — to the people they served. Such as : Stonewall Jackson’s servant, Jim Lewis, was “inconsolable” at Jackson’s death. He led Jackson’s horse in the funeral procession, then returned to the army and served Colonel “Sandie” Pendleton at Gettsyburg and after, until Pendleton died at Fisher’s Hill in 1864. Robert E. Lee’s cook, William Mack Lee, was a free black who served the General throughout the war and until the General’s death in 1870.
We often imagine the armed forces of the Confederate States of America as all white, but that is far from accurate. To imagine the Confederate armies without black Southerners in their ranks to perpetuate the historical myth of the South as a compartmentalized society. It ignores the real relationship between blacks and whites in the Old South, as well as the role and experiences of a small but significant portion of black Southerners in the Confederacy.
It is estimated that over 65,000 Southern blacks were in the Confederate ranks. Over 13,000 of these, “saw the elephant” also known as meeting the enemy in combat. These Black Confederates included both slave and free.
“It is worthy to assemble facts to put truth in the face of legend.” Stephen Vincent Benet once said, “to investigate impartially, to throw new light on an old problem.” While the names of thousands of prominent and little known white Confederate civilians, soldiers and politicians are written large on the pages of history, ignored are the black men and women without whom the nascent Confederacy could not have mobilized. Black historians have rejected the authenticity of Confederate blacks.
Black Confederate patriotism took many forms : slaves devoted to their owners, free blacks who donated money and labor, blacks who joined the Confederate army and slaves who loyally supervised plantations of absentee-owners.
Some examples of Black Confederates :
In Georgia a group published the following letter in the Savannah Evening News :
To Brigadier General Lawton
Commanding Military District
The undersigned free men of color, residing in the city
of Savannah and county of Chatham, fully impressed
with the feeling of duty we owe to the State of Georgia
as inhabitants thereof, which has for so long a period
extended to ourselves and families its protection, and
has been to us the source of many benefits-beg leave,
respectfully, in this hour of danger, to tender to
yourself our services, to be employed in the defense of
the state, at any place or point, at any time, or any
length of time, and in any service for which you may
consider us best fitted, and in which we can contribute
to the public good.
A group of black musicians in Richmond, calling themselves the “Confederate Ethiopian Serenaders” gave the returns of one of their concerts to help pay for gunboats and munitions.
In Nashville a company of free blacks offered their services to the Confederate government and in June the state legislature authorized Governor Harris to accept into Tennessee service all male persons of color.
In Lynchburg 70 men enlisted to fight for the defense of Virginia soon after it seceded.
In late April, 60 black Virginians carrying a Confederate flag asked to be enlisted.
In Hampton 300 blacks volunteered to serve in artillery batteries.
But perhaps the largest demonstration of all came in New Orleans. A mass meeting attended by black residents was held just after the news had arrived from Fort Sumter. They declared themselves resolved and “ready to take up arms at a moments notice and fight shoulder to shoulder with other citizens.” Later one black man said to a commanding General of the State Militia, “our fathers were brought here as slaves because they were captured in war, and in hand to hand fights, too. Pardon me, General, but the only cowardly blood we have got in our veins is the white blood. ”
In late August 1868, General Nathan Bedford Forrest gave an interview to a reporter. Forrest said of the black men who served with him:
..these boys stayed with me…and better Confederates did not live.
Black Confederate Nim Wilkes once said:
I was in every battle General Forrest fought after leaving Columbia…I was mustered out at Gainesville (Alabama,May 1865).
Among the black Southerners who served in Confederate armies were many who served in General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s commands. Both slaves and Free Men of Color served with Forrest’s Escort, his Headquarters and many other units under his command.
General Forrest made his living before the war as a cotton planter, raising livestock, and trading slaves. Like many other slaveowners, he had a paternalistic attitude toward his slaves, one that was compared to humane and benevolent. Within the restrictions imposed by the slaveholding society in which he lived, Forrest managed to treat the black Southerners with whom he came in contact as well as he perhaps could do. Judging by the actions and comments of some of the people he owned, and emancipated, he treated them with a level of respect, respect and human dignity that went significantly beyond the requirements of his profession. Many of the black Southerners he dealt with, in turn, recognized his friendship and returned it many times over, during and long after the war.
There was a large number of black Confederates that attended United Confederate Veterans meetings during the post-war era. This shows that black Confederates were held in high esteem by Confederate veterans because their application had to be approved by the white members. There were 285 black Tennesseans who applied for pensions after the war. The State of Tennessee honored these claims. The Federal government, however, would not acknowledge their service with the Confederacy.
Some black Confederates that served under General Nathan Bedford Forrest:
- Ben Davis, born March 4, 1836 in Fayette, Tennessee. Applied for pension on July 12, 1921, he was living in Memphis at that time. It is assumed that Ben Davis was with Forrest at Gainesville, Alabama in 1865.
- Nim Wilkes, born in Maury County, Tennessee, date unknown. He served as a personal servant for General Forrest and was a teamster. Somewhere between December 1862 and April 1863 Nim Wilkes joined Forrest. In August of 1915 when his pension application was submitted he was living near Crestview, Tennessee.
- Polk Arnold, born in Shelbyville, Bedford County, Tennessee in 1844. He joined the Confederate army in 1863 and served with General Forrest, Captain J.C. Jackson and Captain Boone. He served as a private in General Forrest’s Escort. Arnold was killed at the battle of Harrisburg, Mississippi, July 17, 1864. His widow, Mrs. Caldonia Arnold is listed on his pension application.
- Jones Greer, born in Lincoln County, Tennessee in 1844. He served with General Forrest’s Escort in 1863 or 1864. Greer was a servant for Lt. George Cowan. Lt. Cowan commanded the escort in their last battle of the war. Jones Greer was living in Marshall County, Belfast, Tennessee, at the time he filed for pension. He owned about 10 acres of land that was valued at $250. He had 3 acres of corn valued at $50.00.
- Frank Russell, born in Bedford County, Tennessee. At the time he filed his pension he was living in Williamson County, Franklin, Tennessee in 1921. Frank Russell was one of the few pensioners that had substantial assets. In 1921 he owned 60 acres of land valued at $1,080 and had about $300 in cash.
- Preston Roberts, enlisted at the first call for volunteers in 1861. Roberts’ functioned unofficially as the Quartermaster under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest. It is more than apparent that General Forrest had a great deal of confidence in Roberts. He was in charge of all funds for the food and was in command of 75 cooks. In the post-war era Roberts was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Preston Roberts died in June 1910.
- Alfred Duke, born in Yalobusha County, Mississippi, in 1848. Alfred left for war in 1861 with his owner’s son Wiley Duke. He served with the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry.
- George Hannah,born in Cheatham County, Tennessee, September 10, 1847. He enlisted on December 2, 1861. He served with Captain Sam Mays and General N.B. Forrest in the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry.
- Ned Gregory, born in Lincoln County in 1843. He filed for his pension on June 10, 1921. He was living in Winchester, Franklin County, Tennessee. He entered the Confederate Army in January of 1863 with his owner’s son T.D. Gregory. He remained until April of 1864, when T.D. sent him home to make a crop. He served in the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, Co. C, Forrest’s first regiment.
- Robert Bruce Patton, born in Williamson County, Tennessee on January 4, 1846. Robert Patton served under Lieutenant Sam C. Tulloss. Patton appears to have served as a “free man of color.” His father Jerry Patton, was born a free man. His father lived in Nolensville and rented from Miss Lou Rerrive Owens. He served with the 4th Tennessee Cavalry.
- Marshall Thompson born April 10, 1852. He was TEN YEARS OLD when he entered the Confederate army. His owner was Captain Arron Thompson who served with the 4th Tennessee Cavalry, Co. A. He stated on his pension application: that he “served with Colonel Starnes and Charles Temple.” Two witnesses stated on the pension: “that they knew him and he was a porter for Colonel Starnes in the Confederate army.”
- Colonel J.W. Starnes was a physician, and one of Forrest’s best officers. Charles Temple was a private in Co.I, 11th Tennessee Cavalry. Company I was a part of the original Douglas’ Tennessee Partisan Ranger Battalion. It is assumed that Marshall served with Private Charles Temple after Colonel Starnes death.
- Hardin Starnes,He was another black Confederate that served with Colonel Starnes. He applied for his pension on March 15, 1929, and stated that he served with Colonel J.W. Starnes until his death in 1863.
- John Terrill, born in 1844 at the old White homestead near Franklin, Tennessee. He was the personal servant and aide to J.B. White. As a boy of sixteen he went to Mississippi and joined General Chalmer’s escort. He later rode with General Forrest. Legend says John Terrill served with J.B. White to the end of the war, and became a Doctor for the black community in the post-war era. Records list “J.B. White” in the 6th Tennessee Cavalry, Co. D. It also appears that John Terrill attended U.C.V. meetings during the post-war era. A man could not attend United Confederate Veterans meetings unless he had served with honor in the war. It was a privilage to attend these meetings.
- Wright Willow, born on December 25, 1836. He served with J.P. Whitlow in Company G, 16th Tennessee Cavalry. He was at the Battle of Fort Pillow and at one time held General Forrest’s horse.
- Lewis Muzzell, born September 17, 1845. He joined General Forrest’s Cavalry on September 18, 1863. He served with Daniel Muzzell, who was a Private in Company E, 20th Tennessee Cavalry. Lewis Muzzell’s pension application was accepted, as were all the men that are covered here. He died on April 8, 1932. His family wanted a Confederate headstone for his grave. Their wish was not granted. The Federal Government would not supply headstones for black Confederates.
- Alex Porter, born in Henry County, Tennessee. He served with General Forrest in Col. Russell’s regiment and was a servant for Captain Killis Clark. He stated on his application that he was with the 20th Tennessee Cavalry, Co. F. He was a member in good standing with the U.C.V., Fitzgerald Kendall Camp #1284. He died in the city of Paris, Henry County, Tennessee on July 8, 1932.
- James Jefferson, He fought in one of the first battles and last battles of the war. He was from Summerfield, Alabama. He went by the nickname “Jim Jeff.” His owner, Dr. Samuel Watkins Vaughn and Jim Jeff arrived as the 1st Battle of Manassas was starting. The 4th Alabama Infantry suffered 305 casualties during the heavy fighting. During the battle a couple of Confederate soldiers were wounded near Dr. Vaughn and Jim Jeff. Dr. Vaughn picked up one of the wounded men’s muskets and joined the 4th Alabama. Jim Jeff grabbed a musket and joined the ranks beside Dr. Vaughn. In time, the Union forces were driven from the field. In the post-war era James Jefferson ran a small grocery store on the Summerfield road. The Vaughns made sure the James Jefferson received a Confederate pension, which they said was an expression of gratitude from the Confederacy.
- Cal Sharp, born September 12, 1841 in Lewis County, Tennessee. He filed for his pension on January 3, 1931. He served under General Forrest until the war ended. He died on January 26, 1935 at the age of 93.
Thus all over the South there were black men who responded to the news of war by making public demonstrations of their support for the Confederacy.
Southern blacks also supported the rebellion in individual ways. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, a black-sponsored ball raised money for soldiers. Richard Kinnard of Petersburg gave $100, and Jordan Chase of Vicksburg, a veteran of the war of 1812, gave a horse for the Confederate cavalry and pledged an additional $500 to the cause. A New Orleans real estate broker also gave $500 to the war effort.
Not all could give money, but even some of the poorest slaves supported the war : an Alabama slave gave a state regiment a bushel of sweet potatoes, possibly all he had to give. The black residents of Helena, S.C., rounded up $90 for soldier relief and in Charleston a little black girl sent “a free offering of 25 cents.” The free black women of Savannah made uniforms for Southern soldiers and among the subscribers of a Confederate loan in Columbus, Georgia, was a free man who contributed $300. The “Ladies Gunboat Fund” in Savannah, which eventually produced the C.S.S. Georgia, had significant black support.
The number of affluent free blacks in the South grew dramatically in the 1850s, a decade of unprecedented prosperity and continuous economic expansion in the South. In Charleston, 75 whites rented homes from blacks. By 1860, there were 26 free black residents of Nashville who, with no property in 1850, had managed to accumulate net assets of $1,000. They became successful as plantation owners as well as farmers, artisans and skilled craftsmen. By 1860 in Charleston alone they owned $500,000 in property. Perhaps the group that had the strongest vested interest in seeing the South victorious were the black slaveowners. In 1830 approximately 1,556 black slaveowners in the deep South owned 7,188 slaves. About 25% of all free blacks owned slaves. A few of these were men who purchased their family members to protect or free them, but most were people who saw slavery as the best way to economic wealth and independence for themselves.
News of South Carolina’s secession from the Union reached the Crescent City on December 21, 1860, and it resulted in several raucous celebrations over the next several days. In this atmosphere, a number of free blacks sent a letter to the editor of the Daily Delta expressing their support for their native state. The letter stated :
… the free men of colored population (native)…love their home, their property, their own slaves, and they are dearly attached to their native land, and they recognize no other country than Louisiana, and care for no other than Louisiana, and they are ready to shed their blood for her defense. They have no sympathy for Abolitionism; no love for the North, but they have plently for Louisiana; and let the hour come, and they will be worthy sons of Louisiana. They will fight for her in 1861 as they fought in 1814 – 15….
The Richmond Howitzers were partly manned by black soldiers. They saw action at 1st Manassas, in addition two black regiments, one free and one slave participated in the battle on behalf of the South.
A black Confederate, George ?, when captured by Federals was bribed to desert to the other side. He defiantly spoke, “Sir, you want me to desert, and I ain’t no deserter. Down South, deserters disgrace their families and I am never going to do that.”
An unidentified black Winchester resident became a local hero after being jailed and allowed only bread and water because of his support of the South and refusal to work for the Union. The old man was forced to chop wood with an iron ball and chains attached to his arms and legs, but stubbornly vowed to support the Confederacy to his last breath. A Charlottesville newspaper reprinted an interview with James Ward, a slave who fled “Yankeedom” but returned with warnings to his fellow slaves of abuse and racism in Union army camps. He declared he would rather be the slave of “the meanest masters in the South” than to be a free black man in the North : “If this is freedom, give me slavery forever.”
Spostylvania County free blacks placed themselves and their property at Virginia’s disposal in August of 1861, and a black Fairfax County farmer sold twenty-eight acres of his 150-acre farm and donated the money to the state’s defense. A Winchester newspaper gleefully reported the outcome when Union raiders carried off nine slaves belonging to a local slaveowner. In Maryland the slaves were offered freedom or return to their owners; they unanimously stated a preference for the Old Dominion, their wives and children and claimed devotion to their masters. Flabbergasted, Unionists “set them on Virginia shore again and the blacks are now home contented and happy, fearing nothing.” After two weeks of freedom in Pennsylvania, four Clarke County slaves, disgusted with the North, demanded to be returned to Virginia but were instead sold. Confederate Virginia was a biracial society intertwined with black and white influences. As a minority within a minority, pro-Confederate blacks have received little scholarly research. Numerous Afro-Virginians, free blacks and slaves, were genuine Southern loyalists, not as a consequence of white pressure but due to their own preferences. They are the Civil War’s forgotten people, yet their existence was more widespread than American history has recorded. Their bones rest in unhonored glory in Southern soil, shrouded by falsehoods, indifference and historian’s censorship.
Not only did Jefferson Davis envision black Confederate veterans receiving bounty lands for their service, there would have been no future for slavery after the goal of 300,000 armed black CSA veterans came home after the war.
Free black musicians, cooks, soldiers and teamsters earned the same pay as white Confederate soldiers.At the Confederate Buffalo Forge in Rockbridge County, Virginia, skilled black workers earned on average three times the wages of white Confederate soldiers and more than most Confederate army officers. ($350 – $600 a year). This was not the case however in the Union army where blacks did not receive equal pay. White soldiers in the Union army received $13 a month and black soldiers received $10 a month, of which $3 was taken for clothing and one ration. They were also given inferior weapons and materials.
Indeed, black Southerners who served the Confederacy have been out of favor with historians, social scientists and other scholars for 150 years. Yet when the Army of Northern Virginia marched into Pennsylvania in 1863, or the Army of Tennessee retreated to Atlanta in 1864, they were not all-white armies, as we have come to imagine them. Instead, thousands of black Southerners marched with them, as servants, nurses, surgeons, assistants, laborers, drivers and even a few in combat roles. Thousands now lie beneath Southern soil in unmarked graves, with no marker for their final resting sites and no Confederate flags to fly above their headstones on Confederate Memorial Day. Why have their experiences been forgotten ? Perhaps one small reason is that during the post-war era the Federal government refused to furnish grave markers for black Confederates. The Federal government would only furnish grave markers for Union, Confederate and black Union soldiers.