Monuments honor the Blacks who wore gray
Agnes Corbett always knew that her hometown of Camden had once had its share of Confederate soldiers. What she didn’t know was that some of them were Black.
Corbett, the director of the Camden Archives, learned about the town’s Black veterans when her organization decided to survey local cemeteries and document the names of everyone who fought in the Civil War.
When she learned of a tombstone at a Black church that had a Confederate States of America seal on it, she was amazed.
“That is a part of our history that has not been brought to the surface. Nobody has researched it,” Corbett said. “We didn’t even know about it until we did the survey.”
Memorials to Blacks who served in the Confederacy are rare, but not unheard of. Though the debate rages on about the Confederate battle flag atop the statehouse in Columbia and the Confederate monument in Walterboro, many people haven’t learned about the role that southern Blacks played in the Civil War.
At least two Black Confederate monuments exist in South Carolina, and several others can be found in other states.
One monument in Darlington is dedicated to Henry Dad Brown, a drummer for the Confederate troops who, according to Darlington resident and historian Horace Rudisell, was not allowed to carry a firearm because of his race.
Brown was able to draw a Confederate pension after the war, however, and was said to be highly respected in town because he had served. The monumnent was erected shortly after Brown’s death in 1907.
Rudisell said that the monument used to be kept up by a local Black teacher until the county offered to maintain it.
Darlington County also had 10 to 12 other Black men who were body servants, or valets, to soldiers and who also drew CSA pensions. The Darlington Historical society is trying to determine the burial sites of those men so they can erect a monument honoring them.
Another Black Confederate monument was erected in 1895 in Fort Mill. That monument is dedicated to the Confederate slaves who helped protect and defend the women and children left alone during the war.
The granite obelisk has carvings of Blacks on its sides along with the names of roughly 15 slaves. Two other monuments, one dedicated to the women and children and a third for the Catawba Indians who fought for the Confederacy, stand on the same site.
William J. Bradford, the unofficial but widely respected town historian and former editor of the Fort Mill Times, said that even locally it has been underappreciated. Since the monument belongs to the people of Fort Mill and not the county, funds aren’t available to keep it in top condition.
“We have always felt that it should receive more attention than it has,” Bradford said. “It hasn’t been vandalized, but it hasn’t been kept up. None of them have been preserved as they should have been.”
A monument that honors a Black Confederate soldier killed in battle also exists in Canton, Miss.
Efforts to bring to light the Black’s role in the Civil War continue – and from some unlikely sources. Several chapters of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans are trying to identify Blacks who fought in the war. Terrell’s Texas Calvalry 34th Regiment, a Confederate reenactment group with members in several states, is raising funds for a monument to Confederate soldiers of color. They plan to erect the monument in Richmond, Va., where the White House of the Confederacy still stands.
According to John Danylchuck, captain of a 34th Texas Calvary unit in Killeen, Texas, some reenactors have trouble believing that there were Black and Hispanic soldiers in the Confederate Army.
Danylchuck recalled one incident in which his unit was asked to reenact a battle for a television miniseries. After he and two other men – one of whom was Black – went to meet with the casting director, Danylchuck got a strange phone call.
“(The director) said, `Yeah, we’d like to have all you guys – but not the Black guy,’ ” Danylchuck recalled.
When asked if he knew why that happened, he said, “I know why. They don’t want to see Black people wearing gray.”
Many historians agree that Blacks did play a role in the Confederate army. According to the Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Site, 36 Black Confederates were among those who surrendered to the Union army at Appomatox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865. Most were teamsters, guards, cooks or musicians.
Historians estimate the total number of Black men who sided with the Confederates either as laborers or soldiers range anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000.
James Eaton, a professor at Florida A & M University who studies Black Confederates, explained why those men might have joined the cause. He said that one reason many of them did so because they were afraid their lives would be more difficult if they didn’t.
“Some of them were promised their freedom if they fought. Others went out of loyalty for their masters, and stayed with them in times of trouble,” Eaton said.
“Black men did fight on both sides,” he continued. “There’s been a whole lot of credible work done about the side of the Union, but we have not given any scholarly research to the Confederate side.”