Black Confederates Didn’t Exist in 1914

The other day Andy Hall challenged the common assumption that the Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery contains a black Confederate soldier.  I encourage you to read Andy’s thoughtful analysis.  You will find images of this monument on countless websites along with colorful interpretations that seem to confirm the existence of these men.  While Andy cites the California Division of the SCV’s website, I am going to return to G. Ashleigh Moody’s response over at the Virginia Sesquicentennial’s Facebook Page.  Apparently, he wasn’t pleased with my initial post, but this will give me the opportunity to quote him in full.  Here is what he has to say about the Confederate monument:

One of the most “telling” monuments to the South and including Black Confederates and other Black Southerners is this 1912 (pre-PC) Confederate Memorial towers 32 and 1/2 feet and is said to be the tallest bronze sculpture at Arlington National Cemetery.  On top is a figure of a woman, with olive leaves covering her head, representing the South. She also holds a laurel wreath in her left hand, remembering the Sons of Dixie. On the side of the monument is also a life size depiction of a Black Confederate marching in step with white soldiers, and among other life size depictions, a Black woman receiving a baby as a father going off to war. These are the stories that bring people together, not the Neo-Yankee version of the South that we are having to endure today. We could do with a lot less “presentism”!

If it is a black Confederate soldier it would be news to Moses Ezekiel as well as the folks who gathered to dedicate the monument in 1914.  Consider the original, published history of the monument by Hilary A. Herbert:

But our sculptor, who is writing history in bronze, also pictures the South in another attitude, the South as she was in 1861-1865. For decades she had been contending for her constitutional rights, before popular assemblies, in Congress, and in the courts. Here in the forefront of the memorial she is depicted as a beautiful woman, sinking down almost helpless, still holding her shield with “The Constitution” written upon it, the full-panoplied Minerva, the Goddess of War and of Wisdom, compassionately upholding her. In the rear, and beyond the mountains, the Spirits of Avar are blowing their trumpets, turning them in every direction to call the sons and daughters of the South to the aid of their struggling mother. The Furies of War also appear in the background, one with the terrific hair of a Gordon, another in funereal drapery upholding a cinerary urn.

Then the sons and daughters of the South are seen coming from every direction. The manner in which they crowd enthusiastically upon each other is one of the most impressive features of this colossal work. There they come, representing every branch of the service, and in proper garb; soldiers, sailors, sappers and miners, all typified. On the right is a faithful negro body-servant following his young master, Mr. Thomas Nelson Page’s realistic “Marse Chan” over again.

The artist had grown up, like Page, in that embattled old Virginia where “Marse Chan” was so often enacted.

And there is another story told here, illustrating the kindly relations that existed all over the South between the master and the slave — a story that can not be too often repeated to generations in which “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” survives and is still manufacturing false ideas as to the South and slavery in the “fifties.” The astonishing fidelity of the slaves everywhere during the war to the wives and children of those who were absent in the army was convincing proof of the kindly relations between master and slave in the old South. One leading purpose of the U. D. C. is to correct history. Ezekiel is here writing it for them, in characters that will tell their story to generation after generation. Still to the right of the young soldier and his body-servant is an officer, kissing his child in the arms of an old negro “mammy.” Another child holds on to the skirts of “mammy” and is crying, perhaps without knowing why.

It’s ironic that Mr. Moody accuses others of falling into the trap of presentism.  His assertion is a textbook example of just such a move: reading into the past through a lens defined by our own assumptions and values.  The problem here is that black Confederates did not exist in 1914.  You will not find a reference to black Confederate soldiers in any of the public addresses given at the monument’s commemoration nor will you find them in newspaper coverage of the event.  While there may be a few scattered references to black Confederate soldiers at this time, I have yet to come across one.  And I suspect that the reason they don’t exist is that white Americans have no use for it.

At the height of Jim Crow the image of the faithful slave works just fine to maintain white supremacy and a collective memory of the Civil War that has pushed aside the theme of emancipation.  Actually, it would be surprising to find an emphasis and celebration of armed black Confederate soldiers at a time when African Americans (throughout the United States) were expected to be compliant.  There is some evidence for this in Virginia.  Up until the early twentieth century Virginia allowed blacks to form their own militia units.  I studied these organizations in the Petersburg area during the course of my research on the battle of the Crater and historical memory.  These units openly celebrated the end of slavery as well as the participation of black soldiers in the United States army.  I found no references to their role as soldiers in the Confederate army.  Their influence and level of public activity sharply declined following the collapse of the Readjuster Party in the mid 1880s.  The decline and eventual elimination of the black militias corresponded with the erosion of black civil rights that culminated in Virginia’s new state constitution in 1903.

No, black Confederates are a much more recent phenomenon.  In fact, as I’ve suggested before, their presence in popular Civil War circles more than likely dates to the late 1980s, following the success of the movie, Glory, and its focus on the sacrifice and struggles of black Union soldiers.  I suspect that the movie made some feel defensive about identifying with the Confederacy and, as a result, sought something to balance the moral scales.  By demonstrating the existence of black Confederate soldiers it can be shown that emancipation was unimportant to southern blacks and that their identification with the Confederacy negates any claim that the government was pledged to protect slavery and white supremacy.

However, even if I am wrong with this, the Confederate monument at Arlington does not contain a black Confederate soldier.

[photo from Andy Hall's blog]
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69 thoughts on “Black Confederates Didn’t Exist in 1914

  1. Brooks D. Simpson

    I await Mr. Moody’s response. My understanding is that he is committed to historical accuracy, and that he is eager to draw attention to distortions of the historical record. Let’s see if he provides links to these posts on his webpage as evidence of that effort.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I wouldn’t hold your breadth, Brooks. This is Moody’s FB response to my last post:

      Well Kevin, your response looks real pretty and professional, but it is just another of your Neo-Yankee hate filled attempts to shift attention to your agenda which is not hard for folks to figure. I’ll waste a little of my time responding… to your hateful rant. Do you ever provide any positive Southern history? LOL Our Petersburg history of soldiers like Poplar, Tinsley, and, the hundreds of other Black Petersburg soldiers who supported the South are well documented in our historical City Council Records, Etc. (Also see the Northern definition of a soldier provided below) I don’t have to prove anything in that regard since it is impossible for me or your bigoted words to change our Petersburg history. That’s a fact! Using Will Green or others to further promote your trash “won’t fly” either! As for the picture of Comer and that story, I received that information from the soldier’s family who had lived here in Petersburg, who provided the family story, and who let me photograph the picture. Maybe you’d like to call that family a liar. I never said the soldiers were from Petersburg.

      For you and others who seem to enjoy bashing the South and Black Southerners, this is what the Northern army manual considered a soldier in 1864….According to General August Kautz, U.S.A. in his military manual (1864), “Customs of service for Non-Commissioned Officers”, page 11, “In the fullest sense, any man in the military service who receives pay, whether sworn in or not, IS A SOLDIER because he is subject to military law and under this general head laborers, teamsters, sutlers, and chaplains are soldiers.”

      Kevin, try being nice for a change! Are you part of the “Left wing” PC crowd that says that these people don’t exits either?>>>> http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=14210&id=1742130127&l=9f2a49939f Another Part II album will be posted shortly.

      Reply
      1. Margaret D. Blough

        Kevin-re; Mr. Moody’s response: One big difference between the Confederate “body servants”, etc. of the Civil War and support staff in the modern US military is that, the last time I checked, in modern times, if someone in the military tried to sell a support staffer in the military or even an employee of an independent civilian contractor, they’d be arrested and court martialed for violating federal criminal laws against human trafficking/enslavement and violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

        Reply
  2. Marc Ferguson

    Moody: “Do you ever provide any positive Southern history?”

    Kevin,
    Perhaps you can point out to Mr. Moody some of your posts discussing the actions of slaves during the war resisting slavery, seeking freedom, and serving as USCTs. That is certainly one of the most positive episodes in Southern history and should make all Southerners proud!

    Reply
  3. Margaret D. Blough

    Kevin-

    Thanks to you and Andy. Of course it makes sense that the blacks were being shown in subserviant roles.. The South of 1914, indeed the entire country, was entering a particularly brutal racist period, that included the KKK marching in massive numbers in DC in the 1920s when it came perilously close to becoming a mainstream national organization among whites as well as the brutal Tulsa, Oklahoma race riot of 1921 in which many died and which whites used to destroy a prosperous black community.

    Reply
  4. Robert Moore

    I always find it entertaining to see how some modern Confederate celebrationists have taken the “morally high ground” in defense of the “honor of Black Confederates”, and yet ignore the general attitude held of the same folks by the majority of Confederates at war. So, then… aren’t they, therefore saying that the Confederate standard of weighing the social value of “Black Confederates” was wrong? Confederates defined blacks… who weren’t on muster rolls for reasons defined by them… as body servants, cooks, etc., but not as “soldiers”. Yet, modern Confed celebrationists are redefining (revising… therefore, revisionists?) these same folks under more “enlightened” understandings, as “soldiers”. But wait, Confederate ancestors did not (and, for the most part, rarely said anything about them at all). Hmmm. Were Confederate ancestors wrong then, for the standards by which they defined blacks in their service while they, as whites, served as soldiers? Is this not, then, technically, a form of “negative” spin on Confederates, at the hands of… Confederate celebrationists? Pffshaw… shut your mouth! :-)

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Here is G. Asheleigh Moody’s response from the Virginia Sesquicentennial’s FB Page:

      Kevin, Is that all you got! Look again! Your myopic view of the Black Soldiers from Petersburg, Etc. who supported the South is quite telling. If you don’t consider free Black cooks, body servants, hospital staff, teamsters, and yes, so…me Blacks who actually took up arms against the Northern invaders, Etc. soldiers, then you fly right into the web of General August Kautz, U.S.A. in his military manual (1864), “Customs of service for Non-Commissioned Officers”, page 11, “In the fullest sense, any man in the military service who receives pay, whether sworn in or not, IS A SOLDIER because he is subject to military law and under this general head laborers, teamsters, sutlers, and chaplains are soldiers.”

      But, you seem to think you know more than General Kautz did in 1864! Just typical! Your level of investigation and analysis of our history reflects your agenda. Folks reading this and your writings know your bias. For your information, the U. S. Army SOLDIERS today have body servants, cooks, teamsters (drivers), hospital staff, Etc. That’s a fact! I guess you and your kind would not call them soldiers either! In any case, the good news is that Southerners, Etc. are bringing folks like you into the “sunlight” and thus more information about Black Southern history and its enemies comes into view. So keep writing and posting, and my information will reach more people, which is the purpose of my site as stated. Some folks will actually do research on their own, and not depend on my information, or just depend on your opinion or “presentism”.

      Reply
      1. James Bartek

        Huh. So Union officers (in this case Kautz) dictated Confederate military regulations? And they supply “body servants” in the military today? Dadgum. Blackwater’s got its hands in everything.

        Reply
  5. Robert Moore

    Marc, I agree… but to a point. Southerners should be proud of the diversity of their (our/my) culture in that war, but there always seems to be a catch with many… that they had to be fighting for one reason alone… or supporting one cause alone, and that it alone defined/defines the South. I don’t like to use the word “proud” as it seems loaded when it comes to historical “memory”, but I think there is much to be considered in positive attributes of Southern people in that war… in USCT troops, Southern Unionists, leave-aloners, free blacks, those held in bondage, and, yes, even among the common Confederate soldier. Yet, it seems that most can’t embrace all of them, and appreciate the complexities of the greater story of Southerners in that war.

    Reply
    1. Marianne Davis

      Robert,
      You raise such an important point. There was much to admire in many Southerners of the mid-19th century, and much to excoriate in the North. The fact that the war was about the spread of slavery does not excuse Northern attitudes about black people, nor is anyone trying to hide that history.
      We run into two basic problems while discussing the war, though. Firstly, many of those people who want to fix on a single cause of the war (and that must NEVER be slavery) feel compelled to add to every argument, “And we were right.” This year, it’s black men fighting for the South they loved, and that loved them in return. Next year, we can expect them to trot out photos of young women working in NYC offices in 1858. Then they can tell us that the South went to war to preserve womanly virtue and family values.
      Secondly, and more importantly, the two sides are talking at cross purposes. The ones accused of hating the South are engaged in an academic inquiry. The stridency of the SCV is because they feel they are fighting a rear guard action to save the reputation of their ancestors. Worse yet, they have come to believe that they, in the 21st century, hold the same views and values as those their ancestors held. So they are fighting to defend their own ethos. This is sad. And of course, worst of all, they feel the War belongs only to the South, only to Southerners who fought for the CSA, and only to the true believers who know it had nothing to do with slavery. Again, pretty sad.

      Reply
      1. Robert Moore

        Marianne,

        “The stridency of the SCV is because they feel they are fighting a rear guard action to save the reputation of their ancestors. Worse yet, they have come to believe that they, in the 21st century, hold the same views and values as those their ancestors held. So they are fighting to defend their own ethos. This is sad. And of course, worst of all, they feel the War belongs only to the South, only to Southerners who fought for the CSA, and only to the true believers who know it had nothing to do with slavery.”

        Yes, I’m intimately familiar with all of this and couldn’t agree more. Additionally, the idea that the war belongs only to Southerners who fought for the CSA is just as problematic as their pitch on Black Confederates and slavery not being among the core of reasons for the war. Specifically, just because one has a Confederate ancestor doesn’t mean he wanted to support that “cause”. How often do you hear them give consideration to conscription, desertions, the “galvanization” of Confederates, and so forth? Organizationally, they don’t touch it, and yet those who consider it in the overall assessment are considered revisionists and “South bashers”. It’s absurd when, as an organization, they are neck-deep in the revisionism.

        Reply
        1. Marianne Davis

          Robert,
          One has to wonder if some SCV members are not descended from both CSA soldiers and Southerners who remained loyal to the Union? What might a little research do for them? Imagine being outed, tee hee. . .

          Reply
  6. Shek

    G. Asheleigh Moody,

    You asked about those today who are cooks, teamsters, etc., and if they are called soldiers. In most cases, they are contractors who are paid for their services and are called contractors. If they wear a soldier’s uniform because they’ve volunteered to serve their country and perform those duties, then they are soldiers and paid the salary of a soldier.

    Reply
  7. Jennifer Gross

    I have to say I’m surprised that no one has called out Moody’s use of the Kautz quote for its most obvious flaw. Kautz wrote, “In the fullest sense, any man in the military service who receives pay, whether sworn in or not, IS A SOLDIER because he is subject to military law and under this general head laborers, teamsters, sutlers, and chaplains are soldiers.” Moody seems to be assuming that slaves impressed into service as sutlers, laborers, cooks, teamsters, etc., as well as those who served individual masters as body servants, were paid for their work. Of course, they were not. If they were impressed, their masters may have been paid (or more likely promised pay), but that is not the same thing at all now is it? If I missed someone else previously pointing this out, I apologize for the echo.

    PS. I’d also like to give a hearty “here! here!” to what Marianne Davis previous posted about the SCV believing the memory of the Civil War belongs only to those who agree with them. It is indeed very sad.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Charles M. Brown… Page County’s “Black Confederate”… or… maybe not(?) « Cenantua's Blog

  9. JH

    The big question boys and girls-why are they teaching the civil war to 4th graders? Should these topics not wait until they are older.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Why can’t students be introduced to the Civil War in the 4th grade? What is it about their cognitive development that concerns you? Certainly, they must be introduced to it in an age-appropriate manner.

      Reply
      1. JH

        What is it about their cognitive development that concerns you?

        Its probably my own bias and experiences that make me wonder out loud. Like, “daddy why do they always talk about slavery”, or “daddy were we on the good team or the bad team”. My response to the second question was “Baby we were on both teams” and life is more complicated than what they will teach you in a history book.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          That’s why educators have to think carefully about how to introduce these topics at that age. No doubt, it’s a difficult question, but I don’t see any reason to not introduce them to it.

          Reply
          1. Lee White

            Well speaking from my experience in the NPS and giving programs to kids, I have my best luck with 4th and 5th graders.

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              And I’ve seen what can be done at that level at my own school. It turns out they are quite sophisticated at that age.

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    2. Jonathan Dresner

      4th grade is well past the age when children are too young to understand war, slavery, etc. Not the gory details, mind you, but basic historical narratives. My son was in the 1st grade when he asked me to explain WWI and WWII, and the Holocaust came up in Sunday School last year, 2nd grade. I was going to wait a bit longer on that, mind you, but it’s part of the calendrical cycle and the High Holy day liturgy anyway.

      Reply
  10. Brooks D. Simpson

    Is there any evidence that the KKK went out of its way to make sure that its black victims had not been black Confederates, or did they kill fellow veterans carelessly? You would think that advocates of large numbers of black Confederates would answer that question. I also wonder why these same people have made no effort to readjust the estimates of the strengths of opposing forces to reflect the presence of the many black Confederates they claimed populated their ranks. Why are they ashamed to acknowledge their service? Finally, I don’t know why those folks who embrace the notion of large numbers of black Confederates have failed to denounce Robert E. Lee for failing to note and acknowledge their service. Troubling questions, indeed.

    Reply
    1. James F. Epperson

      There you go again, Brooks, with your endless bashing of Robert E. Lee. Next thing you’ll be telling us, he actually surrendered to Grant at the end of the war …

      Reply
    2. Woodrowfan

      In 1901-1902 Virginia adopted a new constitution. It was designed in part to disenfranchise black voters through a literacy test (explain this written passage to the nice white man please). However, there was a loophole to allow Civil War veterans (from both sides) to vote. Surely those who believe in mass numbers of black Confederate veterans could go through the records and find those who qualified to vote because, as black men, that served as soldiers for the Confederacy…

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        You make an excellent point that once again goes to show how detached the black Confederate narrative is from the broader history of the nation.

        Reply
  11. Brooks D. Simpson

    I just think that proponents of the notion that black Confederates served willingly in large numbers to support Confederate independence and the perpetuation of slavery ought to have their beliefs subjected to some sort of scrutiny.

    Reply
  12. Jamey

    So, all those Confederate blacks that were at 1913 Gettysburg reunion who showed up and stayed with their “white” friends were not real? And the blacks slaves that were freed by General Forrest and stayed and fought with him – he had to testify before Congress about were not real? The “negro” sharpshooters mentioned killed or scouts mentioned by US officers in Official Records produced by US gov’t were not real? Etc, etc.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Jamey,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. That’s right, there were no black Confederate soldiers at the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion. I would love to see your documentation for such a claim. Keep in mind that organizers didn’t allow black Civil War veterans of the US Army to participate. If you have evidence of a black Confederate soldier than you need to provide the enlistment papers and other wartime evidence from the unit in question. Best of luck.

      Reply
  13. Jamey

    You are trying to play semantics by using “soldiers” to falsely bolster your case trying to omply that “soldiers” are not the wagon teamers, ditch diggers, etc, etc. Do you also degrade out soldiers today that do “carry a gun?” Or do you continually ignore those who then did “see the elephant?” Do you degrade the US blacks on 1863-65 that only “dug ditches”? Or the fact the US didn’t allow blacks untill 1863 while the South did employ both slave and free blacks? It is common knowledge that there were black Confederates there (http://www.37thtexas.org/html/BlkHist.html). I notice you do not address any of the Official record accounts or the testimony of Gen Forrest?? Compatriot Kelly “Black Confederates” documents very well many blacks Confederates. As does Compatriot Nelson Winbush when he speak of his grandfather who fought with Gen Forrest.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I am emphasizing the way in which these men were viewed during the war. In fact, they were not seen as soldiers. If they were then you would have to provide an analysis of what the Confederate slave enlistment debate was all about. Why would the Confederate Congress and white Southerners generally have engaged in a debate such as this if it was the case that blacks were already serving as soldiers? The 37th Texas site is a perfect example of what is wrong with this debate and what led to the mistaken reference in the Virginia textbook: http://cwmemory.com/black-confederate-resources/ Kelly Barrow’s books are also of very little help beyond the primary sources that they provide for further analysis. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Reply
      1. Bryan Cheeseboro

        I think in the Confederate Army, the Black cooks and ditch diggers were seen as just that- cooks and ditch diggers. They were not seen as comrades by White Confederates.

        I imagine a great many USCT soldiers also never saw combat and spent their war digging trenches, too. But the difference is those guys got paid by the War Department.

        And even wearing a uniform does not make someone a soldier. I’ve seen pictures of runaways in Union camps in blue uniforms before the creation on the USCT. They were just clothes to wear. It’s just like a batboy who wears the uniform of his ballclub. He’s a batboy, not a ballplayer.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I’ve never come across a wartime letter that indicates that black servants and impressed slaves were considered soldiers. I would love to see one.

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    2. Andy Hall

      Jamey, you are trying to play semantics by using “soldiers” to describe civilians and slaves who were not recognized as soldiers by the Confederacy at the time. It does not “degrade” them to acknowledge their status, any more than it “degrades” a modern-day civilian contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan — who are the modern-day equivalents of teamsters and cooks and launderers — to say that they do not meet the definition of “soldiers.”

      What you dismiss as “playing semantics” is actually incredibly important in understanding the past, just as it is in everyday life. We have have to be precise and clear in the words we use. The continual (and I believe, intentional) loose interchangeability of words like “soldier” and “served,” and the ignoring of critical distinctions between slave and free, serves only to muddle the question of Black Confederates, rather that clarify it. Kevin and others have argued repeatedly for clarity and precision in terminology; until the advocates for Black Confederates start asking hard questions and applying some serious scrutiny to the “evidence” presented, you’re not likely to convince anyone who looks at this question seriously and through the lens of the contemporary understanding of what constituted a “solider.”

      Reply
  14. Jamey

    Poplar, Dick, 13th VA Cav., CO H, captured at Gettysburg (July 1863), spent 20 months in Point Lookout – No Confederate blacks?

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  15. Jamey

    So, books written by “pro Confederates” quoting directly from period records do not count for you? Are you denying the Official records accounts of US soldiers killing “negro” sharpshooters?

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I’m not sure what you mean by “pro Confederates.” A report is not sufficient. I’ve been very clear about the evidence needed to demonstrate the existence of black Confederate soldiers: you need to locate the enlistment papers for the individual in question. You are referring to a commonly cited report. However, historians don’t draw conclusions based on what report alone. Have you followed up to locate the unit in which these men supposedly served in as soldiers? How do you know these individuals were not slaves? What do you know about the individual who made the report? Was it a firsthand or secondhand account? Please understand that I will admit to the existence of as many black Confederate soldiers as you want provided that the proper evidence is presented. Soldiers enlisted in the Confederate army and we have records that can verify their presence. Thanks again for your comment.

      Reply
  16. Jamey

    African American Confederate Sharpshooters

    “A book written by Major John L. Plaster, USAR (Ret.), Sharpshooting in the Civil War, had some interesting facts about African American sharpshooters (snipers) who fought for the Confederacy during the war: A unit history of Berdan’s Sharpshooters, published in 1892, makes references to Confederate African American sharpshooters at the Siege of Yorktown in 1862. One account states “a good shot at long range”, ”a rebellious black made his appearance by the side of an officer and under his direction commenced firing on us”. After a period of time his position was discovered “firing through a hole in the back of a fireplace” by Sgt. William Andrews, a Berdan Sharpshooter of Company E, who using a telescopic sighted rifle shot him. Another Union sholdier, Federaick Kirkland reported at Yorktown a rebel African American sharpshooter whose habit was to “perch himself in a big tree and keeping himself behind the body” would fire down on the Union soldiers. An article published in the New York Herald, dated April 27, 1862, stated “there are among the rebel sharpshooters a large number of Negros, who show a good deal of ability in the use of the rifle” going on the describe the above incident with Sgt. Andrews. In the book ” Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in the Civil War” by Professor Ervin Jordan, the author describes incidents where black Confederate sharpshooters participated in combat during the Seven Days Campaign in 1862. Lt. Albert Jewett of the 4th New Hampshire Regiment tells of a black sharpshooter “a remarkable marksman, located somewhere about Fort Wagner” in South Carolina. According to Jewett, this sharpshooter could hit a Union artilleryman a half mile away. Jewett stated “this man was more dreaded than almost everything else that opposed us”. Pvt. William Haley of the 17th Maine Infantry describes a reb sharpshooter who was finally shot as a “six-foot Negro whose weight wasn’t less then 300 pounds”. Pvt. James Bates of the 13th Indiana Volunteer Infantry described the fighting near Suffolk, Virginia in April-May 1863. He states “I can assure you of a certainty that the rebels have Negro soldiers in their army”. “One of their best sharpshooters, and the boldest of them all here is a Negro. He dug himself a rifle pit last night (16 April) just across the river and has been annoying our pickets opposite him very much today. You can see him plainly enough with the naked eye….and with a spy glass there is no mistaking him”. His story is backed up by another soldier who claimed several Indiana soldiers were hit by the sharpshooters fire. As it was not unusual for slaves to be observed digging emplacements and performing chores for the Confederates, they were considered noncombatants and not fired upon. Outside Vicksburg Col. John Wyman, commander of the 13th Illinois Infantry reported “a brave and gallant officer” was allegedly shot and killed by an African American Confederate sharpshooter, as stated in the New York Herald. Their reporter, Thomas Knox, wrote “on our right a Negro sharpshooter had been observed whose exploits are deserving of notice”. “He mounts the breastworks regardless of all danger, and getting sight of a Federal soldier, draws up his musket at arm’s length and fires, never failing to hit his mark”. General George Gordon of the Union Army reported “many men from my command were killed, and strange stories bruited about of the precision fire of negro marksman, a Rebel.” The motivation of these African American sharpshooters is speculated: that they were freemen, superb marksmen who sold their shooting services, essentially paid mercenaries. One verified account is that of Holt Collier, the only black Confederate sharpshooter that Plaster can actually put a name to. A hunting guide who was made famous by his client in 1902 who refused to shoot a restrained bear-President Theodore Roosevelt, which started the national ”teddy’s bear” craze, for the teddy bear. Roosevelt said of Collier he was a decent man who “not only followed his master to battle as his body-servant, but had acted under him as a sharpshooter against the Union soldiers.” On February 28, 2004 the Veterans Administration provided a Confederate headstone for his grave!”

    None of these are real either I suppose…

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Of course the accounts are “real” in the sense that they exist and can be cited. I’ve already these individual accounts and once again we are presented with the same question. Have you followed up and located the units in which these individuals supposedly served in as soldiers. Again, service as a soldier can be demonstrated by locating enlistment papers and muster rolls. These armies contained thousands of blacks, who performed a wide range of functions as slaves and even free blacks. Historians ask questions and take the next step by following up and corroborating sources. This is one of the biggest problems with this particular debate. You can go to any number of websites and find these accounts. What you will not find is an individual asking the relevant questions about these sources.

      Reply
  17. Jamey

    Letter of Private Frank Bailey, 34th New York Infantry Regiment to his brother in Middleville, New York: -

    “West Point, Virginia, 12 May 1862 – I hear that the Rebels sent out a Regt. of niggers to fight our men and that they were as naked as when they were born, except the brogues on their feet, and they incited to all sorts of cruelty. It is said that they cut the throats of our wounded and then rob them of every article of any value. The soldiers are death on niggers now. If they catch a nigger in the woods, and there is no officer near, they hang them without any ceremony. Now if this is true that the Southern chivalry as they style themselves put these niggers up to such deeds as this, may the curse of good light on them. It is worse than the English were in the Revolution to hire the Indians, but their race is about run when the stoop to such barbarism as that. Yesterday there was two niggers hung close by here by our men. One of them had $20.00 government note in his pocket. There is no mistake but the Rebels have black soldiers for I have seen them brought in as prisoners of war. I saw one who had the stripes of an orderly sergeant on his coat. I don’t beleive in taking them prisoner, but kill them where ever they find them, that they may never more curse the land with their hateful presence.”

    Maybe yank was lying, they were/are known for doing that…

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Another very interesting account. Thanks for sharing it. Unfortunately, you have the same questions to answer as before. I assume you can identify the regiment referenced in the soldier’s account? How does this soldier know that the men taken prisoner were, in fact, soldiers and not slaves? This is what it means to engage in the practice of history. Simply providing an account is not sufficient as it must be analyzed. Do you understand?

      Reply
  18. Jamey

    The Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana, November 1, 1862:

    “Now the news comes to us that seven regiments of negroes have been drilled by the rebel authorities to man their fortifications in North and South Carolina…seven regiments [7000] of negroes, armed and equipped, had arrived at Wilmington, N.C., to occupy the various rebel fortresses during the sickly season. Is any one so ignorant as to suppose that the operations of these negroes are to be confirmed to the sickly season? Not a bit of it. They will be used in all seasons…”

    Maybe newspaper was lying…

    Reply
  19. Jamey

    From James G. Bates’ letter to his father reprinted in the 1 May 1863 “Winchester [Indiana] Journal” (The 13th IVI ["Hoosier Regiment"] was involved in operations around the Suffolk, Virginia area in April-May 1863 ) -

    “I can assure you [Father], 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 [16 April 1863] just across the river and has been annoying our pickets opposite him very much to-day. You can see him plain enough with the naked eye, occasionally, to make sure that he is a “wooly-head,” and with a spy-glass there is no mistaking him.”

    Reply
    1. Andy Hall

      Jamey, you surely find it odd that virtually every wartime account of African Americans serving in combat come from Union sources — Union newspapers, Union action reports, Union letters, and so on.

      Part of the job of the historian is to look critically at the sources available — not just what they say, but why, and what influences or motivations may lie behind them. What’s odd here is that there don’t seem to be comparable Confederate sources, and that when the Confederacy actually did formally propose to enlist black troops in 1865, it was a highly controversial move — described as a “suicidal policy” by one Confederate general, even though (we are to believe) they’d served as soldiers throughout the war, in all theaters. It’s an odd contradiction, is it not, that the Confederates themselves seem not to have known about Black Confederates?

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Andy,

        Thanks for the comment. This is part of the problem. I have no doubt that Jamey has a sincere interest in this subject, but he seems to have know conception of the historical method. I have a feeling that our questions are viewed as nothing more than as obstructionist.

        Reply
        1. James F. Epperson

          Kevin, please don’t confuse “James” and “Jamey,” OK? Our views are rather seriously different. If it helps, call me “JFE”—those are my initials.

          Reply
  20. James F. Epperson

    Jamey: One problem I have with all these accounts you have posted is that they are by Federal soldiers about conditions behind Confederate lines. I don’t know about you, but I would not trust Federal accounts of what was going on behind CS lines. They would have no way of knowing what is going on there.

    Reply
  21. Bob Huddleston

    Since we have Yankees on BCs, let’s see what a Rebel soldier had to say, Note how late in the war he was writing.

    [Charles C. Baughman … was a member of the Otey Battery, of Richmond. His father was George Baughman, Sr., a manufacturing stationer of Richmond. Mr. Baughman had four sons in Confederate service, — George, Greer H., Charles C., and Emilius A. The family was distinguished for its devotion to the Southern Cause] fn., p. 172

    1864, Oct. 23, Trenches, [Petersburg, Va.] C. [Charles Baughman] to [Geo. Baughman, SR.]
    Personal matters—I disagree with you about arming the negroes—the men are unanimous against it—half, or more than half, would lay down their arms—I have heard men say they would desert sooner than serve with negroes—I hope Congress will take no action—private affairs.
    A. L. S. B3-46. [p. 181]

    1864, Nov. 1, “Trenches,” Petersburg, Va. C. [C. Baughman] to [Geo. Baughman, Sr.j
    An alarm Sunday night—we are finishing our bomb-proof —heavy firing yesterday—I hope you have reconsidered the plan of drafting negroes—it is the “worse thing for our cause that could possibly be done”—approaching election—I fear Lincoln has the “Yankee nation” so much under his power that he will force them to elect him—personal matters.
    A. L. S. B,r49. [p. 182]

    1864, Apr. 23, n. p. W. E. Cowan, et al., Musicians, Steuart’s Brigade, to Brig.-Genl. G. H. Steuart.
    We request the removal of the negro Bartly from the drum corps—unpleasant to appear in the ranks with him—a full negro drum corps would do very well—but we think we could do without this one—hope for favorable consideration.
    L. S. 8-17-1. [p. 229]

    Douglas Southall Freeman, A Calendar of Confederate Papers with a Bibliography of Some Confederate Publications, Richmond, VA.: The Confederate Museum, 1908; rep., New York: Kraus Reprint CO., 1969

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks Bob. I’ve read literally hundreds of Confederate soldiers accounts during the summer of 1864 through the battle of the Crater. Not one soldier mentions anything about black Confederate soldiers. You would think that after their first major encounter with USCTs that these men would have something to say about their own black comrades in arms. Not a peep.

      Reply
  22. Jamey

    Federal Official Records, Series 1, Volume 4, p.569 -

    Report of Colonel John W. Phelps, First Vermont Infantry:
    CAMP BUTLER, Newport News, Va., August 11, 1861 -
    SIR: Scouts from this post represent the enemy as having retired. they came to New Market Bridge on Wednesday, and left the next day. They-the enemy-talked of having 9,000 men. They were recalled by dispatches from Richmond. They had twenty pieces of artillery, among which was the Richmond Howitzer Battery, manned by negroes. . . Their numbers are probably overrated; but with regard to their artillery, and its being manned in part by negroes, I think the report is probably correct.”

    Now this is same battery that was in Richmond in 1861 (a 4-8 gun “battery” consist of approx 150-200 men)

    Reply
  23. Jamey

    Now I see you can’t account for US reports of people that were actually there. Why is that you feel the need to “add” something to what the people THERE saw? You want to distinguish between “:soldier” and slave. Ok. Goes back to my original comment you are playing semantics to try to cover up these blacks what ever their “status” fought as Confederates. As for black US troops, not seeing black Confederates, since they were captured and imprisoned what does that say about accuracy of reports. First you want to dent blacks SEEN by US troops then with your double standard want to say black US troops didn’t see any. Do you say same of black Confederates captured at Ft Fisher – where black US troops also fought? Why didn’t US blacks report what they had seen? Cover up? How can you claim to be a “historian” and deny actual records because they do not agree with you “theory”?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      You don’t seem to understand that serious historians do not simply throw out accounts and say, “Do you deny this”, etc. They collect sources and ask a wide range of questions about what it might tell us. It’s not a matter of a double standard here. Rather, it is quite telling that all of your accounts are from the Federal side. Where are the Confederate accounts that point to all these black Confederate soldiers as opposed to slaves or impressed workers? You are the one making the claims here and we are doing our job by asking questions. If you find this troubling than perhaps you should find a community that is more open to simply accepting your preferred view without any substantial analysis.

      This thread is finished. You’ve been given every opportunity to contribute and you continue to make the same tired points. Once again, I thank you for your contributions, but it is time to move on.

      Reply
  24. Jamey

    From Williams: “Charles H. Wesley, a distinguished black historian who lived from 1891 to 1987, wrote “The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army,” in the Journal of Negro History (1919). He says, “Seventy free blacks enlisted in the Confederate Army in Lynchburg, Virginia. Sixteen companies (1,600) of free men of color marched through Augusta, Georgia on their way to fight in Virginia.”

    Wesley cites Horace Greeley’s American Conflict (1866) saying, “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.”

    So if a black “HISTORIAN” says it, I notice you deny in other threads because Walter Williams wrote about it. How hypocritical as “you people” accept a white mans account because he grew up with yanks trying to justify their rape, murder and pillage, imho.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Charles Wesley was a distinguished historian whose works is still widely read. I read through much of it during my research for a book on the battle of the Crater. Unfortunately, Wesley made a few mistakes in his research as a I referenced on the blog. Click the link that I provide in the post and you will notice that the essay is not really about black Confederate soldiers. He draws a number of important distinctions that neither you nor Walter Williams seem to grasp. This has nothing to do with race and if you persist with such allegations you will be banned from taking part in this discussion.

      Reply
  25. Jamey

    But if just because northern papers, people, soldiers seem to be the only ones who “wrote” about Confederate blacks and you deny them, what does that say about their truthfulness? About yours? If you try and discount blacks Confederates reported by “your own” what truthfulness are you really reporting? How can you deny what people ACTUALLY saw THEN just because you disagree with blacks fought and supported the Confederacy? There are several accounts of CS marines (my ancestors) “servants” fighting beside marines (see Donaley (sp)). There were accounts of the 29th AL (another group of my ancestors) with blacks fighting with them. Above pulls a few quotes from individual white Confederates which yes there were such. However now publish the whole report by General Cleburne who was trying to get “federal” support of CS gov’t to allow black regiments? Of course the “States” already had blacks in their armies. Goes back to that “State Rights” issue. The States didn’t care what the federals did. If Popular was imprisoned and the blacks guarding him didn’t write/report it what does that say about them? What were they trying to hide? What are you now trying to continue to hide?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      You said: “How can you deny what people ACTUALLY saw…” Because people make mistakes about what they claim to see all the time. Take any accident with four witnesses and they will provide four different interpretations of the event. It’s much more difficult when we are talking about history. As I said in response to your last comment, thanks for taking the time to comment, but this thread is finished.

      Reply
  26. jack spratt

    What a stupid and pointless argument. News flash for Kevin: there are lots of armed insurgents round the world who are carrying weapons, conducting military action to include quartermastering, ordnance, logistics and combat operations functions who have never been formally enlisted with any papers of any kind. I would dare say that most of the American forces at Cowpens were never formally enlisted in the service of the nation-state known as the United States of America either. No, it was never state policy to arm southern confederate blacks until about 4 weeks before the end. Yes, black people served both free and slave in some capacity throughout the war for a wide variety of reasons ranging from heartfelt patriotism to fear of the lash. What is the obsession with haranguing over trivial nonsense?
    Other news flash to Marianne: the war was about the spread of slavery? Interesting. I thought it was about preserving the Union. Since you know best, perhaps it really was a heavily armed civil rights march.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Mr. Spratt,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Unfortunately, I fail to see an argument here. If this is nothing more than “trivial nonsense” than why bother to comment at all. You make the point that many fail to acknowledge, which is that the Confederate government did not take steps to enlist slaves into the army until the last few weeks of the war. Before that and with very few exceptions the presence of blacks in the army was due to their being impressed or brought by their masters. I’ve read scores of letters and diaries written by Confederate soldiers from throughout the war and I’ve yet to read a reference that indicates that they perceived the presence of blacks as soldiers or as comrades in any way shape or form.

      In the future I would suggest toning it down if you wish to be taken seriously.

      Reply
  27. Jim

    I know it is extremely hard for someone to envision Black Confederates, but you must remember that they weren’t looking back at the Civil War like you and I are. The war was ahead of them and unknown. They didn’t know the South would loose, it almost won the war. Especially the first 2.5 years of the war when the South was unstoppable. Many blacks had no political ideals they were fighting for and that would be true for most of their white counterparts. The poor whites weren’t allowed to vote, that was the wealthy property owners, the gentry. So many of the poorer whites had no dog in this fight either. So similar to many in our armed forces in modern times.. Remember Vietnam?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the lesson on the dangers of presentism. Funny that you don’t acknowledge it at work in reference to this monument. Proponents of this myth use the Confederate memorial at Arlington as evidence of black Confederate soldiers, but no one who was involved in the dedication of this site believed this to be the case. While I appreciate you taking the time to comment this tells us nothing about the history of African Americans and the Confederate army.

      Reply
  28. H Donald Capps

    The entire matter regarding “Black Confederates” has perplexed me for some years. About 1989 or so while I was on the faculty of The Citadel, there was a request for the school to have representatives present for a ceremony in Darlington. About a half dozen cadets from the leadership of the corps and several of us from the ROTC side of the campus ended up in Darlington on a Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be an unveiling of a refurbished statue of Henry “Dad” Brown — an African American who “served” in the “Darlington Grays” — F co. 8th SCV — and then in H Co. 21st SCV. He was then a “member” of the “Darlington Guards” when the Bourbons came to power after the removal of Federal troops from South Carolina.

    I was somewhat confused about Brown’s “service” in a SCV regiment given that such a distinction by an African American seemed to missing from any of the archival material I was researching at the State Archives. My research was focused on the SC Militia both before and after the War of the Rebellion, with a necessary detour being made to detail the SC military units during the 1860-1865 to help fill in some gaps. Despite many, many hours in the archives poring through the records there was a distinct absence of any mention of units made up of African Americans among the SCV ranks. Indeed, any mention of individual African American soldiers seemed to be missing from the files.

    At about this time and in the following years, I began to see the issue of “Black Confederates” suddenly become a subject embraced by the SCV and others. My initial reaction remains the same years later: Nonsense and Poppycock and Bovine Exhaust. That there may have been a few isolated cases of African American individuals who clearly provided something along the line of aid and comfort to the Confederate cause by bearing arms in some form or fashion is certainly both possible and rather probable. As someone correctly pointed out, people are pretty complicated regardless and often do things that only they understand. However, that there were at least 3,000 to 10,000 “Black Confederates” acting as combatants seems to be quite a stretch by any measure.

    As a historian, that this sort of nonsense is taken seriously is exasperating. Then again, when one takes a step back to observe the issue it becomes clear that those espousing such notions rarely make an effort to hide their disregard — if not outright loathing and even hatred — of those who ask the questions that historians do routinely when considering an issue of this sort. I am new to CWM, but reading through the various entries I see this sort of response again and again and again: the ready use of the ad hominum on those they disagree with, the “cherry-picking” of information as well as lifting material out of its context, the ready use of false equivalency argumentation, and — worst of all — a complete disregard for the principles of historical inquiry.

    This “Black Confederate” mythology and its clear political bias is probably yet another Sign of the Apocalypse….

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      About 1989 or so while I was on the faculty of The Citadel, there was a request for the school to have representatives present for a ceremony in Darlington.

      That year is crucial in the evolution of this narrative. The black Confederate narrative gains traction in response to the success of the movie Glory, which introduced the general public to the subject of United States Colored Troops. I suspect that some people, most notably those in the SCV, felt defensive about the amount of attention given to these soldiers and the emphasis on emancipation and the war as a fight for freedom.

      I am now at work on a book about the experience of camp servants in the Confederate army and the evolution of the black Confederate narrative. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  29. Forester

    Would the contributions of Black Confederates have actually been acknowledged in pre-1914 Virginia? Surely if there had been BCs, the whites of that period wouldn’t want to let on about it. Thus, couldn’t there have been many BCs “forgotten” by history?

    In my studies of women in WWII, I find many accounts of girls who didn’t get proper veteran status, millitary honors for dead nurses, no medals/awards until the 21st century, and so on. Offcially there were no women in the Merchant Marine, yet there were messmates and other non-combatant women on ships who even participated in battles (not ulike a black slave teamster picking up a rifle). But if not for the rise of feminism in the 60s/70s, such women would have been forgotten, and there was no rights movement in favor of the Black Confederates. With no one to protest in favor of their recognition, wouldn’t the Black Confederates have just slipped out of popular memory? Or perhaps even had their records covered up by white supremists?

    (This is pure Devil’s Advocate. I do NOT believe any Black Confederates existed. The WWII women example is bunk because in most cases, the women were still alive and the Black Confederates aren’t. But it seemed like an argument someone would make on the Internet, and I’m curious to hear your response. I mean this with full respect and I am not actually debating you).

    Reply
    1. Bryan Cheeseboro

      In order to understand the Black Confederate issue, or any case of faithful slaves, well treated slaves or even the free Black population of the south, we must never forget what American slavery was: a principle of White supremacy over Black inferiority. Having said all of that, I think that when some people claim large numbers of Blacks fought for the Confederacy as faithful and willing soldiers, they have clearly lost sight of that racial principle.

      In a war that lasted four years and involved millions of people, I wouldn’t doubt it that somewhere at some time, a Black man fired a shot at a Union soldier somewhere. But that shot is statistically insignificant and has no real impact on the war that the south lost with or without that shot. And while I would certainly find that story fascinating, the problem with it is that it is a history far too many people cannot handle. They see one Silas Chandler wearing a uniform and brandishing weapons, and then they see 90,000 Black Confederates.

      Reply

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