Blacks also fought for Confederacy in Civil War
By GENE SMITH
Blacks in butternut descended on the Kansas Capitol on Friday to strike a blow for historical correctness.
The half-dozen pioneers’ purpose was simple: To show that black soldiers not only fought for the Union but also for the Confederacy during the War Between the States.
“I don’t care if I’m being politically correct or not,” declared Randy Rhoten, lined up alongside Logan Scroggins and similarly clad in a simple straw hat, coarse shirt, gray wool trousers and rough brogans. He shifted his slung musket to a more comfortable position and added, “Three of my ancestors were old buffalo soldiers.”
C.E. “Sonny” Scroggins, Logan Scroggins’ brother and organizer of the event, clung to his Union army outfit and to his post alongside Abraham Lincoln’s right leg, his the only blue uniform in the assemblage. Musket, cigar and Union flag completed his ensemble.
Staged on the 135th anniversary of Confederate guerrilla William C. Quantrill’s devastating raid on Lawrence, Scroggins intended the event to mark the release of a commemorative envelope he designed honoring black Confederate soldiers — but in fact it went far beyond that.
One man in the small late-morning audience recalled that even Quantrill had a black scout whom he used for advance intelligence on planned targets.
Jesse R. Estes, a retired Army first sergeant from Wamego, looked at the little knot of Civil War re-enactors at the base of the Lincoln statue and said, “My great grandfather, 2nd Lt. Joseph P. Estes, commanded colored troops in the Caldwell County, North Carolina, Home Guard regiment. They took over from the sheriff. They were the law and order in the county during the war.”
He mentioned a book later written by a Union captain who escaped from a Confederate prison and was caught by Estes, who took him to federal lines and turned him loose.
“They didn’t have anything to feed him anyway,” said the modern-day Estes.
Of his family he jokes, “They got whipped soundly at Gettysburg, lost the family fortune and came to Kansas, and now I don’t have any money.”
A former Manhattan social worker, Estes says, “Our slaves came to Kansas with us, running away from Reconstruction. They’re buried out here on McDowell Creek, south of Junction City.”
The popular view today is that the Confederacy fielded a lily-white army to defend slavery — but in fact nothing could be farther from the truth, stressed several of the descendants and rebel re-enactors at Friday’s ceremony.
Not only were the butternut ranks strongly salted with blacks — both free and slave — for much of the conflict, many other minorities also were strongly represented: Indians, Mexicans, even Chinese.
Had the war been about slavery, “The war would’ve been over in four weeks, not four years,” declared Ed Deason, Oklahoma City, commander of the Trans-Mississippi region of the 250,000-strong Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Deason, principal speaker at the event, noted that in 1862, free blacks formed three companies of volunteer militia in Tennessee and provided their own military equipment.
“They wanted to stay together,” but instead were parceled out among existing units — making their subsequent battle record difficult to track, he said.
That same year, Deason said, black slave owners in Charleston, S.C., paid $12,000 in taxes on their slaves. And finally in 1864, a black caucus of delegates from both North and South met in Philadelphia, “I would like to think (in an) attempt to stop the bloodshed,” though so far he has failed to discover an agenda for the meeting.
It is time, he concluded, to give proper recognition “to those men of color” who fought alongside their white neighbors for the principles they all believed in.
And, Deason predicted, this may be the beginning of a new era of historical — not political — correctness.
Dr. Emerson Emery, a Dallas physician and great-grandson of a Confederate captain in the 17th Texas Cavalry, read a poem he wrote originally for delivery at the July 18 unveiling of a memorial in Washington, D.C., to the 208,943 U.S. Colored Troops and their 7,000 white officers who served the Union.
Part of the money raised from the sale of the commemorative envelopes ($2 each; $5 with special cancellation) will go to provide headstones for 116 Union soldiers of the 1st Regiment, Kansas Colored Infantry killed at the April 16, 1864, Battle of Poison Springs in southwestern Arkansas and buried in an unmarked common grave.
Copyright 1998 The Topeka Capital-Journal