Marker honoring black Confederate Army veterans coming to Union County

By Adam Bell
Posted: Friday, Aug. 03, 2012

MONROE – Union County officials finalized plans Thursday for a granite marker that will commemorate local slaves who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

The new marker is believed to be one of the only ones of its kind in the country. It honors 10 black men, nine of whom were slaves, who received small state pensions for their Civil War service near the end of their lives.

The controversial marker will go in the brick walkway at the Old County Courthouse in Monroe in front of the century-old Civil War monument.

The Union County Historic Preservation Commission had approved a “certificate of appropriateness” for the marker in June, subject to review of the final proposed wording and size of the marker. The board unanimously approved the plan Thursday, after opting for wording that noted that pensioner Jeff Sanders was a “free person of color.”

Because the county owns the courthouse site, it had formally sought approval of the certificate. But plans on how to honor the men were driven for several years by area residents led by Tony Way, an amateur historian and Sons of Confederate Veterans member.

Some in the community objected to the plan, saying it was inconsistent with other monuments at the 1886 courthouse honoring people who died during various conflicts. The 1910 Civil War monument just lists soldiers’ regiments.

But Way and others, including some descendants of the 10 men, said the marker was a rare chance to honor men whose service had been all but ignored over the centuries. The timing coincides with national commemorations of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary.

The 48-inch by 29-inch marker reads: “In Memory of Union County’s Confederate Pensioners of Color,” then lists their names: Wilson Ashcraft; Ned Byrd; Wary Clyburn; Wyatt Cunningham; George Cureton; Hamp Cuthbertson; Mose Fraser; Lewis McGill; Aaron Perry; and Jeff Sanders.

And it includes this wording: “In Honor Of Courage & Service By All African Americans During The War Between The States (1861-65).”

Virtually no black men fought in battle for the Confederacy, historians maintain. It’s also impossible to tell how many slaves were forced into service or agreed to follow their owners into battle.

During the Civil War, slaves provided logistics and support, including cooking, digging ditches, building latrines and working in armories.

In their pension applications, all 10 men were described as “body servants” or bodyguards. They received small pensions about half a century after their white counterparts.

No taxpayer funds will be used for the marker, although the county will oversee its installation. Proponents of the marker recently created a committee to support the project.

The Union County Pensioners Monument Fund Committee hopes to raise a couple thousand dollars for the marker, and another couple thousand dollars for a dedication ceremony, said Way, its president. The group already has raised about $835.

The ceremony is tentatively set for Dec. 8, Way said, and he is checking whether he can arrange for cannons to be part of the event.

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