Quotations on Black Confederates

Numerous Afro-Virginians, free blacks and slaves, were genuine Southern loyalists, not as a consequence of white pressure but due to their 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 historians’ censorship.

Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.

There are at the present moment, many colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants, and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the traitors and rebels.

Fredrick Douglass

To the majority of the Negroes, as to all the South, the invading armies of the Union seemed to be ruthlessly attacking independent States, invading the beloved homeland and trampling upon all that these men held dear.

Charles H. Wesley

There are numerous accounts of black participation in the battle of First Manassas in the summer of 1861. Black combatants shot, killed, and captured Union troops. Loyal slaves were said to have fought with outstanding bravery alongside their masters. These reports also provide testimony to the fidelity of black Rebels in combat. One black soldier was moving about the field when ordered to surender by a Union officer. The Rebel replied, “No sir, you are my prisoner,” while drawing a pistol and shooting the officer dead. He then secured the officer’s sidearm and after the battle boasted loudly of having quieted at least one of “the stinkin’ Yankees who cam here `specting to whip us Southerners.” Another black Confederate who stood behind a tree allowed two Union soldiers to pass before shooting one in the shoulders, clubbing him with a pistol, while demanding the other to surrender. Both prisoners were marched into Confederate lines. An Alabama officer’s servant marched a Zouave into camp proclaiming, “Massa, here one of dese devils who been shooting at us, Suh.”

Charles W. Harper

I have no doubt that if Congress would authorize their [the black Southerners’] reception into service, and empower the President to call upon individuals of States for such as they are willing to contribute, with the condition of emancipation to all enrolled, a sufficient number would be forthcoming to enable us to try the experiment [of determining whether the slaves would make good soldiers]. If it proved successful, most of the objections to the measure would disappear, and if individuals still remained unwilling to send their negroes to the army, the force of public opinion in the States would soon bring about such legislation as would remove all obstacles. I think the matter should be left, as far as possible, to the people and the States, which alone can legislate as the necessities of this particular service may require.

Gen. Robert E. Lee

One 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.”

Wayne R. Austman

For more than two years, Negroes had been extensively employed in belligerent operations by the Confederacy. They had been embodied and drilled as rebel soldiers and had paraded with white troops at a time when this would not have been tolerated in the armies of the Union.

Horace Greeley

Some Negroes, however, soon became disillusioned because of the hardships they experienced during the early months of their freedom. Nine hundred freedmen assembled at Mobile on August 13, 1865, and by a vote of seven hundred to two hundred declared that the realities of freedom “were far from being so flattering as their imagination had painted it; that the prejudices of color were not confined to the South, but stronger and more marked on the part of the strangers from the North.”

Robert D. Reid

Former mayor John Dodson . . . presented them with a Confederate flag, assuring them that when they returned they would “reap a rich reward of praise, and merit, from a thankful people.” Charles Tinsley, a bricklayer and a “corner workman,” acted as spokesman for the Negroes. His remarks in acceptance of the flag were brief: “We are willing to aid Virginia’s cause to the utmost of our ability. . . . There is not an unwilling heart among us, not a hand but will tell in the work before us; and we promise unhesitating obedience to all orders that may be given us.”

Benjamin Quarles

Nor were runaways the only bondsmen who aided the Union war effort. Slaves who lacked opportunity to escape nonetheless found ways of contributing to Confederate defeat. At great peril to themselves, some slaves, concealed, fed, and directed runaways or escaped Federal prisoners of war on the journey to freedom. Others sabotaged farm and labor equipment or assumed an uncooperative attitude with owners and overseers, to slow down work and promote widespread insecurity among whites at home. In time such deeds paid great dividends, as Confederate troops deserted ranks to look after the welfare of loved ones at home.

Joseph T. Glattaar

Tennessee in June 1861 became the first in the South to legislate the use of free black soldiers. The governor was authorized to enroll those between the ages of fifteen and fifty, to be paid $18 a month and the same rations and clothing as white soldiers; the black men appeared in two black regiments in Memphis by September.

Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.

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. The American dream in the antebellum South was just as powerful for free blacks as whites and it included the use of slaves for self-improvement. They bought and sold slaves for profit and exploited their labor just like their white counterparts.

Richard Rollins

After their capture one group of white Virginia slave owners and Afro-Virginians were asked if they would take the oath of allegiance to the United States in exchange for their freedom. One free negro indignantly replied: “I can’t take no such oaf as dat. I’m a secesh nigger.” A slave from this same group, upon learning that his master had refused, proudly exclaimed, “I can’t take no oath dat Massa won’t take.” A second slave agreed: “I ain’t going out here on no dishonorable terms.” On another occasion a captured Virginia planter took the oath, but slave remained faithful to the Confederacy and refused. This slave returned to Virginia by a flag of truce boat and expressed disgust at his owner’s disloyalty: “Massa had no principles.” Confederate prisoners of war paid tribute to the loyalty, ingenuity, and diligence of “kind-hearted” blacks who attended to their needs and considered them fellow Southerners.

Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.

Wednesday, September 10: At 4 o’clock this morning the Rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson’s force taking the advance. The movement continued until 8 o’clock P.M., occupying 16 hours. The most liberal calculation could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in the number. . . . They had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., and they were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy army. They were seen riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissons, in ambulances, with the staff of generals and promiscuously mixed up with all the Rebel horde.

Capt. Isaac Heysinger

Forrest said of the black men who served with him, and this seems to be a direct quote:

These boys stayed with me, drove my teams and better Confederates did not live. . . . Those [black Southerners] among us during the war behaved in such a manner that I shall always respect them for it. . . . I have always felt kind towards them and always treated them kindly.

Thomas Y. Cartwright

The public support and activities of Afro-Confederates, a minority within a minority, received considerable prominence. A Charlottesville newspaper reported an interview with Hames Ward, a slave who fled “Yankeedom” to warn his fellow slaves of abuse and racism in Union army camps and of blacks being forced to front lines during battles. He preferred being the slave of “the meanest masters in the South” than a free black man in the North: “If this is freedom, give me slavery forever.”

Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.

Much is said about the slaves coming into Federal lines, and many complaints are made because they are not promptly given up. Are they not in the Confederate lines, and are they not used to build fortifications and do the work of rebels, and in many instances used to man rebel guns, and fight against the Union?

The Liberator, July 18, 1862

Well-to-do Creole Negroes . . . carried themselves with a military bearing; as they informed a commanding general on a later occasion, they came of a fighting race: “Our fathers were brought here as slaves bacause 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.”

Benjamin Quarles

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