Black In Gray

by Steve Cole

The following article presents more data on a recent BBS thread on blacks in the Confederacy. My purpose is to present these facts, which is based on a recently published book, “Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia”, by Erwin L. Jordan, Jr. Please do not attack these facts as being mine; I am only conveying the information.

The following article was copied from “Tri-State Defender; the Mid-South’s Alternative Newspaper”, dated August 12-16, 1995, entitled “The Black and the Gray”. And, note, this is a Black newspaper.

{My comments are in brackets. For brevity, I’ve edited out some wordy sentences.}


“The Black and the Gray”
by Reginold Bundy.

On December 22, 1862, 1861, 700 armed Black graycoats attacked New York soldiers near New Market Bridge, VA; on February 9, 1862, 3,000 well-trained Black graycoats formed the ‘1st Native Guard’ and the State of Tennessee became the first southern state to legislate the use of free Blacks as soldiers in June, 1881{maybe typo-1861?}, and authorized the same rate of pay as for Whites {also, I am assuming this refers to CSA soldiers and not USA}.

These surprising facts and others, apparently lost somewhere within the cradle of history, reveal another side to the African-American struggle that has never been publicly explored before–Blacks fighting on the side of the pro-slavery Confederacy.

But the facts are true, says Erwin L. Jordan, Jr., author of “Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia”, [1995, University Press of Virginia, $18.95], a historical look at the tens of thousands of African-Americans who fought on the side of the South–many in combat roles.

For example, Jordan’s research reveals that as early as June, 1861 near Vienna, VA, a body of 150 armed hand-picked Blacks attacked Union soldiers, or that following the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, seven Blacks were among hordes of war prisoners “in Confederate uniforms fully armed as soldiers”, or that after the Battle of Seven Pines in June, 1862, Union soldiers claimed two Black rebel regiments not only fought but had showed no mercy to Yankee dead or wounded. {How do you show mercy to dead soldiers?}

Historical notations of Black involvement in the Civil War has always mentioned the Union as the catalyst. More than 180,000 Black soldiers reportedly fought gallantly for the North, and one Black regiment was recently honored in the movie “Glory” {skip some movie details}. But no glory has been beset on the more than 100,000 Black Confederate soldiers who Jordan says played a key role in prolonging the war for the South.

Visiting many of the historical battle grounds, Africa-Americans often feel like outsiders, or even intruders, when in fact, they may have been significant on both sides. Yet, little enough has been mentioned regarding Black involvement with the Union Army, and nothing has been mentioned about the existence of Black Confederate troops {more repetition}.

He writes in his book that African-Americans drove wagons, worked as cooks and body servants for front line troops, worked in factories, built fortifications, played in regimental bands, tooted bugles, carried weapons and ammunition to military outfits, and were enlisted as regular fighting troops.

The practice of using slaves to fight was strictly forbidden by the Confederate government in Richmond, but these were free Black men, Jordan writes, men who were not mandated to risk their lives, but men who volunteered their services.

The absence of historical fact regarding Black Confederate troops and their active participation in the Civil War may not be the crowning heritage many African-Americans would want to know, but neither was it a prominent part of the South’s officially recorded history of the war.

National Park Service historian Ed Bearrs {is quoted as saying}, “I don’t want to call it a conspiracy-to ignore the role of Blacks both above and below the Mason-Dixon line, but it was definitely a tendency that began around 1910.”

Jordan calls it a “cover-up” which began as early as 1865, just after General Lee surrendered. “During my research, I came across instances where Black men stated they were soldiers, but you can plainly see where ‘soldier’ is crossed out and ‘body servant’ inserted, or teamster, on pension applications,” he says.

“Former Confederates were not comfortable with the idea of Blacks as soldiers. The customs of that time wouldn’t allow it. They (Black soldiers) were told, “You’re going to have to say you were a body servant.”

Jordan estimates that in Virginia alone, one-quarter of the state’s 59,000 free Blacks remained loyal to the South, along with about 10% of the 490,000 slaves. He surmises that the circumstances were similar in the other 10 Confederate states, which had about 3.5 million slaves {total}.

Since publication of the book, Jordan has agonized over whether he should have written it in the first place. He has been criticized by friends, Black organizations and their leadership.

“I’ve been told that Civil War history is White folk’s history, by people upset that I’m a Black man dealing with an evil empire,” he contends. “The war for a lot of people hasn’t ended — Black and White. It’s still with us today.”

But the Civil War was a passion of Jordon’s since he was a child when he saw a photo of a Black Confederate soldier. Now, 40, he has fulfilled that passion by discovering the errors of historical events that excluded African-Americans.

{omit} In the early 1990’s book entitled “Black Southerners in Gray; essays on Afro-Americans in Confederate Armies”, the author {who?} reveals the story of Silas Chandler, a childhood playmate and body servant to Lt. Andrew Chandler of the Mississippi brigade. The two returned to Mississippi after the war and Silas received a pension from the state.

The idea that Blacks willingly served the south during it’s War for Southern Independence isn’t all that surprising to a number of Black intellectuals who expressed surprise that more Black literature isn’t available on the subject.

Roland Young, a historian and genealogist in Stanley, NC, says the news is a paradox, but concedes he isn’t surprised that Blacks served and even fought for the South. “Students of {black} history should have been able to predict {….} that some, if not most, Black southerners would support their country,” he says. “…demonstrating it’s possible to hate the system of slavery and love one’s country.”

“A large number of Blacks who served the Confederacy were free, not slaves. Some were in the regular army. Blacks were recruited the same way Whites were, with appeals to patriotism. This may be embarrassing to some, but it’s a historical fact. Motivations may have varied,” he says, “but many stayed loyal in the expectation the South would win. Some Black property and slave owners deemed their way of life threatened and wanted Whites to see them as patriots. Some considered the South their country.”

But Ken Burns, {notoriously} noted for his epic 1990 TV series, says Southern Blacks had no choice but to help the Confederacy. “The people of Richmond saw an amazing sight–a Confederate battalion made up of Black hospital orderlies and convalescent Whites marching up Main Street to the tune of Dixie. Of course, there were going to be Blacks out of political smarts who are going to stay with the Confederacy. The punishments of their families would have been too severe to risk going North.”

The root causes why Blacks sided with the Confederacy may be an emerging debate{and he adds similar to 1940’s}. Most Blacks today cling to the theory that the Civil War wasn’t a human rights issue at all, but rather an economic issue fostered by cheap labor and unfair competition. {Did I read this in a Black newspaper?!?} And Jordan believes the human rights aspect hasn’t yet been resolved. In fact, he says, America is currently experiencing a revival of race hate. “Race hate is again becoming en-vogue. But maybe my book will help ease tensions.”

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