Black Confederate Soldiers
There are a lot of folks up North that want to take away the service and heritage of those black slaves, former slaves and free blacks who took up arms against the Northern aggressors to protect their homes, their families and their possessions, and yes, in many cases, those of their masters. But let me make absolutely clear, having gone in to war at the side of a master does not in any way detract from the service. These men were heroes. In many instances, saving their masters lives, and those of other whites and blacks that they were serving with.
Union Soldiers letters to their homes regarding negro sharpshooters make clear that arms bearing blacks were fighting VALIANTLY for the South: “a rebel negro rifleman, who, through his skill as a marksman, had done more injury to our men than any dozen of his white compeers, in the attempted labor of trimming off the complement of Union sharp-shooters.” and also Union soldier Abraham Kending mentions that on June 16, 1862, on James Island “in that fight there was eight negroes stationed behind an old chimney and they did pick off our men Savagely and no mistake, and no one can say but what they fought and stood their ground well, as there was but two of their numbers left to recount the doings of the day, the other six being killed dead on the spot.”
“I can assure you, of a certainty, that the rebels have negro soldiers in their army. One of their best sharp shooters, and the boldest of them all here, is a negro. He dug himself a rifle-pit last night just across the river, and has been annoying our pickets opposite him very much today. You can see him plain enough with the naked eye occasionally, to make sure that he is a “woolyhead, and with a spyglass there is no mistaking him.” – Letter from James G. Brice, Reported in the Winchester (Indiana) Journal Friday May 1, 1863.
According to records at the National Archives, a man named Austin Dix, a “freed black; drummer,” served in Companies F and S from June of 1861 until his discharge from the Eighteenth Virginia Infantry, C.S.A., on August 31, 1863. According to the article, during the First Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861, Dick “deserted his drum, and with musket in hand, followed the regiment throughout the battle. Several days after the battle, while strolling through the woods, he discovered the hiding place of what he thought a Yankee, and, on reporting it, went down with several of the regiment and captured three of the creatures—one of them Col. Wood, of the Fourteenth Brooklyn.”
Frederick Douglass wrote to Lincoln in 1861 regarding black soldiers: “It is now pretty well established that 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,” he wrote in July 1861. Slaveholders “accept the aid of the black man,” he said. “Why should a good cause be less wisely conducted?” He also wrote that he saw “one regiment of 700 black men from Georgia, 1000 [men] from South Carolina, and about 1000 men with him from Virginia, destined for Manassas when he ran away.”
William Henry Johnson, a free black from Connecticut who fought as an independent soldier with the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry wrote: “We were defeated, routed and driven from the field. … It was not alone the white man’s victory, for it was won by slaves. Yes, the Confederates had three regiments of blacks in the field, and they maneuvered like veterans, and beat the Union men back. This is not guessing, but it is a fact.”
One H. Louis Rey (black man) served as Captain of the First Native Guard, Louisiana Militia. These free black men formed a state militia group to defend their home against Northern invasion. There were several groups of Native Guards that formed the main group with names such as the “Meschaebe Native Guards”, the “Beauregard Native Guards”, and the “Young Creole Guards”. Jordan B. Noble likewise was a free black man, who joined up at the age of 62 to defend his home from invasion. He joined up with the “Plauche Guard” of New Orleans.
Private Louis Napoleon Nelson (black man) of the 7th CSA Tennessee cavalry company M , which fought at Harrisburg, was a chaplain at age 18 for his regiment at the battle of Harrisburg. He could not read or write but amazingly memorized the entire King James Bible. At Tupelo and other battles, he led services for soldiers before they went into battle and when the battle started and casualties began piling up, PVT Nelson helped many wounded in their last hours here on earth. PVT Nelson would survive the war and surrendered with General Forrest at Gainesville Alabama on May 9, 1865. When Private Nelson died in 1934 his casket was honored by the largest funeral procession ever in his home county in Tennessee . The church bell tolled 88 times for his life when he was buried.
One Levin Graham (black man) served as a fifer and personal attendant to Captain Armstrong. He was instructed to remain behind when a battle broke out, but refused. He obtained a musket and cartridges, and crossed the river with his regiment. He is known to have killed four Yankees in that skirmish, and from one, obtained his own Colt revolver. He lasted through the entire war, and a member of his regiment stated: “Not a single man in our whole army fought better.”.
This, from official Georgia military records, Confederate correspondence, orders and returns relating to operations: Camp Forty-Ninth Georgia Regiment, near Petersburg, March 15, 1865. Col. W.H. Taylor, assistant adjutant-general. “When in former years, for pecuniary purposes, we did not consider it disgraceful to labor with negroes in the field or at the same work bench, we certainly will not look upon it in any other light at this time, when an end so glorious as our independence is to be achieved.”
General Hookers army, 2nd United States Cavalry under Lieutenant Thompsan reported that on the South bank of the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg, they encountered upwards of 50 negro calvarymen doing picket duty in uniform, armed with full accouterments. They report that the negros were evenly interspersed with whites in this duty. This report was corroborated by Lieutenant Noyes of the same regiment.
Preston Roberts, a Quartermaster for General Forrest. Preston entered the Confederate army with his “master” but that man wound up being court marshaled. Preston stayed and worked his way up to be Quartermaster. Preston was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor by the TN Division United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905.
The MacDuffie Progress of Thompson Georgia interviewed one Richmond Mitchell, a black Confederate Veteran on January 24, 1913. He had this to say: “I’m 83 years old and not quite so spry as when me and master Bob Mitchell followed General Lee and fought the Yankees, but I’m still able to get about. Thank the Lord.”
Free blacks in Charleston are recorded as having said, in regards to why they fought for the Confederacy: “Our attachments are with you, our hopes and safety and protection from you. … Our allegiance is due to South Carolina and in her defense, we will offer up our lives, and all that is dear to us.”
On April 25, 1861 over three hundred free Blacks, and a few slaves “volunteered” by their owners, left Petersburg by train for labor service on the fortifications of Norfolk with their own Confederate flag, and leader.” “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.” – Charles Tinsley, Free Black, Pocahontas, Petersburg, Va.
Benjamin Watson, Co. I, 25th Tennessee Infantry, is recorded as having been a Private, was issued a weapon, and the comments section reads: Free Negro.
Peter Biggs, the Black Democrat of California, when arrested and placed in chains, shouted HURRAH FOR JEFF DAVIS! when being marched 20 miles to the Army barracks.
Jacob Cameron of Carter County, Tennessee, a slave owner, lists his slaves in detail, along with his family in his family Bible. In an interview by Mr. Merritt on June 10, 1950 with “Aunt Jo” Taylor, a former slave, who stated when questioned if her master and family were good to her, she, according to Merritt, enthusiastically and warm heartedly said: “never struck me a lick in my life,” “always gave us plenty to eat”, “taught us to do everything we knew how to do,” including “reading and writing”. She also mentioned instances of other families who did mistreat their slaves, although this was the exception.
From the memoirs of Dr. Abraham Jobe, 30 years after the war, can be found the following: “I will promise to treat you just as I have always treated you. I will clothe you and feed you, and you may work just as you please, with no task master over you; just as you know you always have done since you lived with me, and be cared for, and nursed when sick, the same as any of the balance of my family, the same as I always treated you, not even giving you a cross word.”
Free People of Color received the same pay as the owners. Privates made $11.00 to $13.00 per month. One service record: George Washington, a Colored Porter records that he earned $30.00 per month. Confederate Congress increased his pay to $40.00! Why is it that that Men of Color who served in the United States Colored Troops who had the same military occupation specialty such as musicians, cooks and body servants as their white Confederate counterparts are not considered by revisionist Yankee propagandists to be soldiers while the white Confederates that pulled the same duties are?
On October 10, 1931, an estimated four to six hundred people gathered along Potomac Street in Harpers Ferry to watch the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) dedicate a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, a black man and the first person fatally injured during John Brown’s raid on the town in 1859. Heyward was a free black man at work when those monsters descended on Harper’s Ferry. On one side of Potomac Street, in a corner between two buildings, stood a simple, flag-covered granite boulder, approximately six feet in height, surrounded by green ivy. On the other side, a speakers’ stand, draped in Confederate red and white bunting, stood along the retaining wall for the railroad embankment. In addition to members of the UDC and SCV, participants and honored guests included at least two descendants of Union soldiers and three black men. The crowd listened to the usual litany of remarks made on such occasions and watched as a young girl drew the flag from the boulder and a member of the UDC placed a wreath upon the stone. Singers from the local black Storer College provided music. The Heyward Shepherd memorial reflects its sponsors’ fond memories of loyal slaves, in particular those who did not flee or take up arms against the South during Brown’s raid and the Civil War but remained in faithful service to their masters. Either out of loyalty or fear, many slaves did not flee from their masters during those turbulent years, and as one recent study of blacks in Civil War Virginia contends, a few blacks willingly assisted the Confederacy.
Actual history just doesn’t support the assertion that there were no black Confederate soldiers, only slaves that cooked and dug trenches. That’s revisionist, reconstructionist propaganda. As a note of closing, the Yankees claim that lack of service record proves that no blacks served willingly, however; honest historians acknowledge that if one carried a musket, most of the time race, now referred to as ethnicity was not recorded on muster rolls. Comparing census records to service records is a must, for ascertaining a more clear picture on service of colored men to their beloved South.
What is presented here is by no means exhaustive, it is merely a few cherry picked stories and accounts to show that historically, beyond any shadow of a doubt, blacks did serve both free and slave, willingly and by force, as SOLDIERS in the Confederate States Army, and that they fought with valor and are deserving of memorialization, and of respect.