Bruce Levine on Black Confederates

Those of you who are sincerely interested in the subject of how the Confederacy utilized its large black population during the war should begin with this presentation by Professor Bruce Levine from the recent Virginia Sesquicentennial Conference at Norfolk State University.  The approach of throwing out random accounts without any analysis/interpretation gets us nowhere.  We need serious research and Levine has given us a thorough analysis of the public debate that took place throughout the Confederate South over whether to arm its slaves.  I highly recommend that you begin your reading with his book, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War.  Levine’s presentation is hardly controversial among scholars.  Any attempt to throw out a random account, as is the norm in this debate, must come to terms with the broader narrative that clearly demonstrates that Confederate military and civilian officials stood squarely against enlisting its slave population with few exceptions.

Click here for an extended lecture by Levine.  Thanks to the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission for making these presentations available on YouTube.  They are a wonderful resource.

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48 comments… add one
  • Kate Halleron Nov 22, 2010 @ 5:12


    Not only is the ‘cut-and-paste’ technique objectionable, but the name-calling doesn’t help your case either.

    Anyway, you’ve constructed a ‘straw man’ when you assert that the ‘experts’ say there were NO Black Confederates. I don’t know a single instance of that assertion being made, and I’ve been involved in lots of these discussions since I began this research. Of course there were some – the problem is with the tens of thousands of black soldiers that the Lost Causers claim, which is not supported by any kind of diligence.

  • Gary Nov 21, 2010 @ 19:30

    Interesting reading and you’ll find a double standard among self possessed scholars who claim there were no black Confederate soldiers; it appears many of these so called experts use the argument to sell their works and push their agenda. For instance comments about them in services by Frederick Douglas and Harpers Weekly were to force Lincoln into their use. They claim “One thing of interest in those is that the CSA Sec of War makes the comment that “negroes cannot be employed as soldiers” – except it’s OK if they can pass for white! That may have been the case of your relative. So basically no Confederate officer would lie because he used a black as a soldier while at the same time official records of the Union army must have been lies but were they still lying after blacks were being used by Union forces?

    The Official Records constitute the most extensive collection of primary sources of the history of the war. They include selected first-hand accounts, orders, reports, maps, diagrams, and correspondence drawn from War and Navy Department records of both Confederate and Union governments. Official Records, Series I, Vol XVI Part I, pg. 805, Lt. Col. Parkhurst’s Report (Ninth Michigan Infantry) on General Forrest’s attack at Murfreesboro, Tenn, July 13,1862: “There were also quite a number of Negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.”

    Official Records, Series 1, Volume 15, Part 1, Pages 137-138, report of the Union commander: “Pickets were thrown out that night, and Captain Hennessy, Company E, of the Ninth Connecticut, having been sent out with his company, captured a colored rebel scout, well mounted, who had been sent out to watch our movements.”

    Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLIX, Part n, pg. 253 – April 6, 1865 “The rebels [Forrest] are recruiting negro troops at Enterprise, Miss., and the negroes are all enrolled in the State.” Official Records, Series I, Vol. XIV, pg. 24, second paragraph, Colonel B. C. Christ, 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, official report of May 30, 1862, Pocotaligo, SC., “It is also difficult to state the force of the enemy, but it could not have been less than from 600 to 800. There were six companies of mounted riflemen, besides infantry, among which were a considerable number of colored men.”

    Official Records, Vol. XIII, Chapter XXV, pg. 688 – “…We are not likely to use one negro where the rebels have used a thousand. When I left Arkansas they were still enrolling negroes to fortify the rebellion.” – September, 1862

    Official Records, Correspondence, Etc., Vol. II, pg. 218 – “…they [the Confederacy] have, by means of sweeping conscription, gathered in countless hordes, and threaten to overwhelm the armies of the Union, with blood and treason in their hearts. They flaunt the black flag of rebellion in the face of the Government, and threaten to butcher our brave and loyal armies with foreign bayonets. They arm negroes and merciless savages in their behalf.” – July 11, 1862 – Rich D. Yates, Governor of Illinois

    Official Records, Vol. XIX, Chapter XXXI, pg. 617 – Record of the Harper’s Ferry Military Commission (U.S. Army) Question. “Do you know of any individual of the enemy having been killed or wounded during the siege of Harper’s Ferry?” Answer. “I have strong reasons to believe that there was a negro killed, who had wounded 2 or 3 of my men. I know that an officer took deliberate aim at him, and he fell over. He was one of the skirmishers of the enemy [Confederate, ed.], and wounded 3 of my men. I know there must have been some of the enemy killed.” Question. “How do you know the negro was killed?” Answer. “The officer saw him fall.”

    Official Records: Series 2, Vol. 6, Part 1 (Prisoners of War) p. 17-18 – “…before one single negro or mulatto was mustered into the U.S. service you had them organized in arms in Louisiana. You had Indians and half-breed negroes and Indians organized in arms under Albert Pike, in Arkansas. Subsequently negroes were captured on the battle-field at Antietam and delivered as prisoners of war at Aiken’s Landing to the Confederate authorities, and receipted for and counted in exchange.”

    Official Records, Vol. XLI, Chapter LIII, pg. 670 – PATTERSON, [November] 24, 1864 – “Colonel MAUPIN: I have arrived with my squad on return. Captain McClanahan has gone on the upper road for Pilot Knob; will all arrive there to-morrow. No rebel force below. We have turned up eleven bushwhackers to dry and one rebel negro. No man hurt on our side. The men are generally well.”

    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. ”

    Official Records, Series 1, vol 35, Part 1 (Olustee), Page 442-443, S.C., FLA., AND ON THE GA. COAST. Chapter XLVII – Report of Bgen Asboth, USA: “…when I proceeded to Milton, Fla., a distance of 9 miles, and after rebuilding the destroyed bridge on the Arcadia Creek, I came upon the enemy, about 100 strong, and consisting of Captain Goldsby’s (Alabama) cavalry company and a new militia infantry company, mounted…Having received early information of the arrival of two army steamers at Bayou Mulatte, the enemy had sent his stores on seven wagons in time toward Pollard, and seemed prepared and decided to accept a fight in the camp at the upper end of the town, but fled, upon our impetuous charge, in all directions. We pursued them closely for 7 miles, and captured 4 privates of Goldsby’s company and 3 colored men, mounted and armed, with 7 horses and 5 mules with equipments, and 20 Austrian rifles.”

    Official Records, Series I, Vol. XVII, Chapter XXIX, Pg. 635-637 – December 28, 1863 – “…It had to be prosecuted under the fire of the enemy’s sharpshooters, protected as well as the men might be by our skirmishers on the bank, who were ordered to keep up so vigorous a fire that the enemy should not dare to lift their heads above their rifle-pits; but the enemy, and especially their armed negroes, did dare to rise and fire, and did serious execution upon our men…The casualties in the brigade were 11 killed, 40 wounded, and 4 missing; aggregate, 55. – Very respectfully, your obedient servant, D. STUART, Brigadier-General, Commanding”

    Official Records, Series I, Vol. III, Correspondence, etc., pg 767-768 – “CAMBRIDGE, September 4, 1863. His Excellency A. LINCOLN, President of the United States: “…excitement here growing out of the recruiting of colored troops, and as some of the recruiting officers are acting rather indiscreetly, I fear, by taking slaves in their recruits, and the slaves of loyal as well as disloyal persons…to enlist slaves as well as free people is creating a great deal of anxiety among the people…we ought to use the colored people, after the rebels commenced to use them against us”.

    Official Records, Series I, Vol XVI Part I, pg. 805, Lt. Col. Parkhurst’s Report (Ninth Michigan Infantry) on General Forrest’s attack at Murfreesboro, Tenn, July 13,1862: “There were also quite a number of Negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.”

    May 10, 1862, Harper’s Weekly “THE correspondent of the New York Herald, in one of its late numbers, reports that the rebels had a regiment of mounted negroes, armed with sabers, at Manassas, and that some five hundred Union prisoners taken at Bull Run were escorted to their filthy prison by a regiment of black men. There is little doubt also, that the fortifications at Manassas and those at Yorktown were the work of the slaves. “

    Proof of an agenda can been seen in their work a recent issue of Civil War Times had a article but one of the pompous self acclaimed experts in which he was explain the action against the black soldiers was the Confederacy role in keeping slaves in line and purely a racial affair. But in the works of “No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater”, 1864 by Richard Slotkin (did I mention PHD) he references the official records of both armies and the fact that when Union forces charged at the Crater they were shouting “Take no prisoners remember Fort Pillow”, “No Quarter” has does the NPS records. That white Union troops killed as many black troops as the defenders, that while the union soldier felt their action cowardly and ungentlemanly (similar to a war crime) that it incensed the defenders watching their comrades being vaporized. Since the Union were killing their own soldiers racism surely played a role but much so was the retribution for the uncivilized act and the taunting of the troops. He also failed to mention that the Confederates incensed also shot white POW’s. I guess a “ROUNDED” historian would be aware of all the facts and report same. So, anyway please allow me to add keep an open mind when reading blogs. My contention is what did it matter? While the cause is still argued what cannot be disputed are facts Article Thirteen, dated March 2, 1861 of the Thirty Sixth Congress, Sess. II, Res. 9, 11, 12, 13 stated “[NO.13] Joint Resolution to Amend the Constitution of the United States. Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the following Article be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three-fourths of said Legislatures, shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution, viz: No Amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, with-in any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State”. Approved, March 2, 1861. Note: This was passed by 66% of the States still seated one month before the incidents of War in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina; so if the Southron States had returned to the Union they could have voted and slavery would have been ensured. They didn’t so if Slavery was not the issue why was the War fought?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 2:23


      We’ve seen all of these snippets from the OR at one point or another, but you need to go further. Like so many others you think serious history is about cutting and pasting from different sources and expecting the audience to acknowledge your preferred conclusion without any further analysis. You decided to comment on a thread that clearly reflects the kind of approach needed to figure out whether an individual in fact served as a soldier. As you can see it’s not easy. Your comment is utterly worthless in helping those of us who are interested move forward.

      By the way I read and reviewed Richard Slotkin’s new book on the Crater and he does not argue that white Union soldiers killed as many of their own men as did Confederates. You are correct that racism was rampant in the Union army and many of the white soldiers blamed their black comrades for the defeat. Still, I fail to see what this has to do with the subject of the post. You are more than welcome to contribute to this thread as long as you stay on topic. There are plenty of other websites that embrace your cut and paste method.

  • Jennifer A. Simpson Nov 21, 2010 @ 16:54

    Kathleen, what great information! Thank you so very much for sharing.

  • Kathleen Wyer Nov 21, 2010 @ 11:34

    Hello again, Kate:

    You asked for support in finding the histories of free people of color. You wrote:

    “Now, I have lots and lots of documentation about him, several hundred pages worth, but the difficulty I’m having is with the historical background. Obviously, his is a rather rare case, but all the current ‘noise’ about Black Confederates is making it very difficult. Most of what we find concerns slaves – there seems to be little scholarship into the lives of free blacks before and during the War. If you know of any resources, could you point me to them? Feel free to email me – I’d be happy to hear from you.”

    I recommended Paul Heinegg’s research because he might shed some light into the history of free people of color during your ancestor’s life. Heinegg’s research has won awards for his scholarship and featured in well-known publications such as the New York Times. Paul Heinegg is also the Manager of’s Free People of Color. You may know that is the web’s beacon to the history and genealogy of Africans in the Americas. Paul Heinegg and I are part of the multi-racial staff at

    My mission as Manager of the Writers Forum is to support those interested in writing and publishing their family histories.

    When created the Free People of Color Forum in 2001, I posted this question: “Who Were Free People of Color?”

    The responses have continued into 2010. You will note that the early postings mention the widely held belief about the descendents of a white man and black woman. Since then people from all racial backgrounds have posted responses to the 2001 message and also a wide range of queries and shared histories. One fascinating story is about the family of Art Thomas. The LaForce family, French Huguenots owned his enslaved family from Kentucky and Virginia in the mid 1700’s. During the French and Indian War, a Shawnee raid captured the LaForce family and took them to Canada. One can only imagine the interaction of three groups of people who were denied freedoms. This incident caused an international furor. You can read about this incident on-line at the National Archives.

    You wrote:

    “Most of what we find concerns slaves – there seems to be little scholarship into the lives of free blacks before and during the War.”

    I share your frustration about how much emphasis is on slavery. However, my frustration is centered on the lack of history of the US Colored Troops and the black contrabands that were invaluable to Union intelligence.

    As for “scholarship”, historical institutions, societies and universities offer a wealth of documented information about the free people of color in the US. The University of Virginia’s Library offers an Historical Census browser. Its data shows that approximately 1 in 10 African ancestored people were free on the eve of the Civil War.

    I echo Margaret D. Blough’s suggestion about Henry Wiencek’s “The Hairstons.” Henry is also a contributor to There are an endless number of books authored by respected historians and sterling family researchers that chronicle the lives of free people of color. Perhaps you’d be interested in legendary John Hope Franklin’s “The Free Negro in North Carolina”. His archives are at Duke University.

    Another suggestion is R.J.M. Blackett’s “Thomas Morris Chester Black Civil War Correspondent: His Dispatches from the Virginia Front.”
    (The Philadelphia Press, a white owned newspaper hired Chester to report on the Civil War 1864 to 1865 from the James River front. Biographer R.J.M. Blackett writes of Chester’s “thumbing his nose” right after the defeat of the confederacy. It will make you grin. “Chester deliberately chose to write his first dispatch at the desk of the Speaker of the Confederate House.”…When a paroled confederate officer entered the chamber and found Chester seated in the Speaker’s chair. Flying into a rage, he ordered Chester to leave the room. Unperturbed, Chester looked up briefly, then continued writing.” Blackett describes the scene when the confederate rushes up to Chester and gets knocked down by Chester’s well-placed punch. Thomas Morris Chester concludes his encounter this way:

    “Looking around for a moment and obviously savoring the situation, Chester commented cryptically, ‘I thought that I would exercise my rights as a belligerent,’ before returning to his writing.”)

    Also, Please feel free to visit and post queries at the Afrigeneas Free People of Color Forum and its other Forums such as the African Native American, Slave Research and the Military Forum.

    Lastly, you wrote:

    “Kathleen, I’m not sure you’re telling me anything new. As far as I’m aware, the general consensus was that most free blacks were the descendents of free white women. Mostly because if they were the descendents of slave women, most of them wouldn’t have been free in the first place.”

    Kate, you and your colleagues are part of a small group of people who are aware of the historical juxtaposition of white indentured women rather than black women as mothers of mixed race children. Based on my research, most Americans and certainly Europeans, Latin Americans and Caribbean people to name a few, are surprised by Heinegg’s research of the Upper South.

    Like your family, some of my Spanish Creole ancestors of color passed for white. I don’t blame them, that was their choice for survival. So I understand your concern about revealing your ancestor’s name. Time and place often influences future generations. For whatever reason, my ancestors, unlike their sisters, decided to accept census classifications of “mulatto”, then Creole and then black. Thank goodness they did. Three generations of their descendents attended black colleges and medical school.

    The “noise” or compelling arguments that dispel the myth of the black confederate (here on Kevin’s blog) are very important to all Americans. This myth perpetuates an exhausted stereotypic image of the faithful, groveling slave that would put Uriah Heep to shame and the backstabbing, sly, self-serving free person of color. If we research expand our research into archived newspapers like L’Union in New Orleans, in government testimonies (American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission), or in letters and journals penned by free people of color, we will uncover how and why they reacted to their dilemma as marginalized people.

    Kate, I do hope that my rather long winded but factual information will help you in your search and resolve, “… the difficulty I’m having is with the historical background.”

    I’m also pleased to share the above resources with Kevin Levin and his posters.


    • Margaret D. Blough Nov 21, 2010 @ 21:38

      Kathleen-There’s also Ira Berlin’s classic work, “Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South.” He makes a major point of the major cultural differences between the free blacks of Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, and the free and freed blacks of the upper South, in particular. Of course, one thing that distinguishes New Orleans & Louisiana from the rest of the slave states is that its attitudes towards slavery and race were formed as alternatively a French & Spanish colony. It was not unusual in French and Spanish colonies for white fathers to acknowledge illegitimate children born from black mothers, even enslaved ones, and make some provision for them (although generally not on the same level as offspring of marriages with white women) and the bulk of manumissions were by those fathers of their offspring. That produced a free black caste that identified strongly with the whites, on whose whim their priviliges rested, and not with the enslaved. The wave of ideological manumissions of the enslaved with no known biological link to the master that were seen in the upper South in the aftermath of the American Revolution and the Enlightenment were rare farther south. A white father in the 13 colonies or slave states with an English background acknowledging AND emancipating an offspring from an enslaved mother was extraordinarily rare and scandalous (although John Custis, Martha Washington’s father-in-law from her first marriage, was one of the very few exceptions).

  • Kate Halleron Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:21

    Sorry so late getting back into the discussion, I was unable to access my email yesterday.

    I’m trying not to post so much info online that my ancestor could be easily identified – most of my relatives are unaware of our racial makeup and I’m trying to be sensitive to their, um, sensitivities. At least until the book is ready for publication.

    The only Cherokee link is the marriage between his full-Cherokee mother and his half-black father. Several of his brother’s descendents applied for membership in the Eastern Cherokee, but were turned down ostensibly because his mother never registered (smart lady), but probably because they self-identified as black.

    Kathleen, I’m not sure you’re telling me anything new. As far as I’m aware, the general consensus was that most free blacks were the descendents of free white women. Mostly because if they were the descendents of slave women, most of them wouldn’t have been free in the first place.

    My ancestor’s grandparents were a free white woman and a free black man. What their story was before they arrived in TN in the 1780s no one knows. I don’t know if he was free born, a manumitted slave or an escapee, but I do know that he was a land owner and served in the militia just the same as his white neighbors. Free blacks had the franchise in TN until 1835, so my family lived through a lot of changes.

    Anyone who wants more detail, such as Lee White, feel free to email me at khalleron at yahoo dot com.

  • Jennifer A. Simpson Nov 17, 2010 @ 9:50

    What do you make of Walter E. Williams’ article from Nov. 3, 2010?

  • Lee White Nov 17, 2010 @ 4:00

    Although not directly helping with your research, Im guessing he was viewed as Cherokee when he was brought into CS service, but there is a link between African Americans and Cherokees in the region, do you know if one of his ancestors was taken in by the Cherokee or was a slave to Cherokees? or is his mother the only Cherokee link? Also, as an aside, he might have been strong armed into service, but the conscription act didnt come into being until after Fort Donelson fell, and the first round of it was men between 18-35. I have looked at the 26th TN a number of times over the years and find this story very interesting.


  • Kathleen Wyer Nov 16, 2010 @ 22:53

    Racial makeup along with slavery and emancipation was influenced by a very complex system. America’s legislation concerning color and racial classification varied from state to state, regional differences such as climate, agricultural demands, wars, and European cultural differences had a definite impact on racial classification. On the eve of the Civil War, many states instituted laws to restrict the freedom of emancipated blacks. This certainly influenced the decision of some free blacks to put their best foot forward with the confederates. (More documentation on this later)

    Kate, I read your postings about your ancestor. Was his last name Halleron too? The reason for my question is that perhaps Paul Heinegg’s research on the Free People of Color of the Upper South may be of value to your research. Heinegg along with Ira Berlin’s Forward, disproves the widely held belief that people of mixed race were the offspring of a white father and black mother.

    Unlike my black ancestors from Florida, Louisiana and Mobile (free Spanish Creoles of Color) who were predominately the offspring of white men and enslaved or free black women, the free blacks (of all colors) in the Upper South were descendents of white women and free or enslaved black men.

    Paul Heinegg provides impeccable research to support the above statement.

    Heinegg writes, “Most families were the descendants of white servant women who had children by slaves or free African Americans.”
    “Very few families descended from white slave owners who had children by their slaves, perhaps as low as 1% of the total.”
    “Free Indians blended into the free African American communities. They did not form their own separate communities.”

    The link to his on-line research is at the url below. Please click on Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina to read Heinegg’s introduction and Ira Berlin’s comments first.

    Kate, I hope that this helps you.


  • Peter Nov 16, 2010 @ 11:36

    Interesting stuff this is,
    Ariela Gross’s _What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America_ strikes me as something that might be of use for you to look at. The first three chapters of it, at least, deal with fluid and conflicting ideas of race and identity. If I recall correctly, the second chapter goes in to some detail about Native American and black identity (both as they conceived of it and as adjudicated in court) in the first half of the nineteenth century.

    • Kate Halleron Nov 16, 2010 @ 14:41

      Thanks, Peter. I’ve ordered the book through Interlibrary Loan.

      Should I apologize for hijacking the thread? At least I’ve moved it from the general to the particular.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2010 @ 14:48


        Please do not apologize. This is exactly the kind of discussion that needs to take place about this subject. It’s a breadth of fresh air. 🙂

        • Jennifer A. Simpson Nov 16, 2010 @ 15:17

          Yes, absolutely a great discussion! I’m learning so much from everyone’s posts and from all of the links provided.

      • Margaret D. Blough Nov 20, 2010 @ 14:45

        Kate-Another book that might interest you is “The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White” by Henry Wiencek. The book is of particular interest for me because I worked for many years with one of the members of the Black branch of the Hairston family.

  • Kate Halleron Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:52

    Good questions all.

    At what point he began ‘passing’ is still uncertain. It’s certain that by the time he moved to Kentucky he was passing as white, although family lore says there was some question in the community at the time since he and his children were somewhat dark (his first wife was 1/4 black as well).

    The family members that remained in Tennessee undoubtedly remained part of the black community, and are considered black to this day.

    His grandfather is listed in court records as ‘negro’ while his father is listed as a ‘free man of color’. His mother was full-blooded (albeit unregistered) Cherokee. The 13th TN Cav regimental history has some interesting asides on race, although it’s obvious from looking at some of the included pictures of officers that he was not the only mixed-race member of that regiment.

    The previous generation was undoubtedly considered ‘colored’ – I have too much documentation on this to be refuted. However, as concerns my gg-grandfather directly, the only documentation I have that considers him mulatto so far is the censuses.

    The family history is interesting not just for the CW era stuff, but for how the attitudes changed and developed from the time his grandparents arrived in TN shortly after the Revolution, when they were apparently treated the same as any other member of the community.

    • Andy Hall Nov 16, 2010 @ 11:26

      Kate, as someone who’s done a little digging in his own family’s ACW history — and not found anything as complex or intriguing as you have — I gotta say, I’ve enjoyed your posts on the complexities and challenges of your effort.

  • Kate Halleron Nov 15, 2010 @ 15:54

    Thank you, Earthtone.

    Ah, yes, the endless ‘Black Confederate’ discussion on CWTalk. Although you pointed to a couple of things I was not aware of yet, so thank you again.

    I haven’t figured out whether the soldiers who pressed him into the Confederate army knew he was mulatto or not – since he spent most of his life during and after the War ‘passing’ that’s still questionable.

    Unfortunately, he was illiterate so there are no letters or diaries to make my life easier. Finding out he was in the CSA was a rather recent discovery, so I’m still digging on that end as best I can.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 15, 2010 @ 16:00


      I assume you have his enlistment papers that clarify that he was, indeed, a soldier. My guess is that he was able to pass as a white man given the commitment from within the army to remove men who were discovered to be colored. Sounds like a fascinating story.

      • Kate Halleron Nov 15, 2010 @ 19:04

        I have both his military records. His CSA record shows him as a private and has him discharged ‘on account of age’ although he was only 40 at that time and the conscription act applied to men up to the age of 45, so the conclusion is that he lied about his age in order to be discharged.

        So either he did not know that he could be kicked out on account of his racial makeup, or else the particular regiment he was in already knew and did not care. He spent the bulk of his time in the CSA as a POW – only one battle, Ft Donelson where he was captured.

        Free blacks were pretty rare in E. Tennessee – there were only two free black families in the county where he was born, and he and his nephew and their families were the only free blacks in the county in which he resided. What that means as far as how he fit into the social fabric I’m still researching.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2010 @ 2:01

          Thanks for the response. I hope people are reading your comments as they show how research into this subject ought to be done.

        • Jennifer A. Simpson Nov 16, 2010 @ 3:33

          “So either he did not know that he could be kicked out on account of his racial makeup, or else the particular regiment he was in already knew and did not care.”
          If he was passing for white, I would think he knew that he could be kicked out on this account, and used age to get out, because he did not want his racial makeup known.

          • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2010 @ 3:44

            I don’t know if you will ever be able to answer this question. One way to approach it is to look closely at the racial dynamic within the community in which the unit was raised. What was this man’s occupation before the war and how much contact might he have had with the white population. The story you tell will be a local one, but may tell us quite a bit about the extent to which free blacks were able to maneuver around the strict regulations imposed by both the Confederate government and the army. Petersburg, Virginia is another interesting case study given its significant free black population.

            • Peter Nov 16, 2010 @ 9:02

              I think you’re right about looking at the racial dynamic, Kevin, but I think the first thing is to hammer out if the ancestor was actually seen as black at the time. The Cherokee bit throws a wrench into this, because if I recall, the 1850 census makes provisions only for “white” and “colored,” and if “mulatto” does show up, it may only indicate “mixed” rather than a specific mix. It may also be the case that people thought of the ancestor as white, or at least Indian, and the person taking the census simply screwed this up (for instance, in the 1860 census in Richmond, some census takers put an “x” in the “color” column for every Irish person enumerated; others didn’t). It could be the case here, as with many other free blacks, that the individual couldn’t quite pass as white in their community, but could pass as Indian. I would think the interpretive thrust would rest largely on the amount of evidence that this person was perceived as “black” beyond the census (because I’m not sure that the census can be entirely relied upon in this case, for the ambiguities that I mentioned). The question may very well be “what was the racial dynamic for Cherokee in Eastern Tennessee (which I would assume wouldn’t be too far away from that of Western North Carolina, which fielded the Thomas Legion, which included many Native Americans)?”

              • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2010 @ 9:15

                I completely agree with you, Peter.

                • Ken Noe Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:04

                  I wonder if the Melungeon angle might be promising here. Whether they were descendants of Portuguese sailors, Turks, the Lost Colony + local Indians, or Sephardi Jews (as many descendants maintain) or European-African-Indians (as most academics claim), Appalachian Melungeons were at various times and places listed in the census as “free Negro,” mulatto, Cherokee, or white. But that confusion didn’t stop both Civil War armies from deciding that they were white enough in the 1860s to enlist them, including in East Tennessee. A few of my ancestors allegedly were “Blackfoot.” Note that there is a huge, argumentative, and often volatile literature out there about all of this.

                  • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:11

                    Thanks for the tip, Ken. Can you suggest a reliable source for those of us who are unfamiliar with the subject?

                    • Ken Noe Nov 16, 2010 @ 10:21

                      Wayne Winkler’s “Walking Toward the Sunset” comes to mind, but I can’t say that I’m up on the literature these days.

  • EarthTone Nov 15, 2010 @ 12:21

    Kate, there is a very brief discussion of the point you make at the Civil War Talk forum:

    and here

    One thing of interest in those is that the CSA Sec of War makes the comment that “negroes cannot be employed as soldiers” – except it’s OK if they can pass for white! That may have been the case of your relative.

    I agree with you that the experiences of mulatto freemen and black slaves are separate and distinct, and we probably do injustice to each by calling them both “Black Confederates.” Anyway, good luck with your research.

  • Kate Halleron Nov 14, 2010 @ 13:25

    I’m in the midst of researching a book I’m writing about one particular ‘Black Confederate’ – my great-great grandfather.

    He was a ‘free black’ of mixed race – part white, part black, part Cherokee, but he’s listed on the 1850 and -60 censuses as mulatto, as is the rest of his family. In 1861 he was pressed into the the 26th Tennessee Infantry and then captured at Ft. Donelson in 1862. After his release from Camp Morton, he lied his way out of the Confederate Army, moved the family to Kentucky and then enlisted in the 13th Tennessee Cavalry, USA.

    On the 1870-1910 censuses he is listed as white. His second wife was white and the family has been ‘white’ ever since.

    Now, I have lots and lots of documentation about him, several hundred pages worth, but the difficulty I’m having is with the historical background. Obviously, his is a rather rare case, but all the current ‘noise’ about Black Confederates is making it very difficult. Most of what we find concerns slaves – there seems to be little scholarship into the lives of free blacks before and during the War. If you know of any resources, could you point me to them? Feel free to email me – I’d be happy to hear from you.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 14, 2010 @ 13:50

      Hi Kate,

      Thanks for taking the time to write. Sounds like a fascinating story. You are right that most of what you will find online is noise. In fact, I would stay as far away from it as possible. I don’t know if you’ve seen this page, but it’s for people who are trying to navigate this subject: You should read Levine’s book on the enlistment debate, which should help you place your ancestor in the proper context. It sounds like he was successful in passing as a white man, but given the documentation you no doubt have an interesting story to tell. You should also look up studies on free blacks in Tennessee. Contact the Tennessee Historical Society for references. Best of luck and let me know if I can be of further assistance.

    • Jennifer A. Simpson Nov 14, 2010 @ 16:57

      Kate, that is so exciting! Your ancestor’s story will surely make for an interesting read. I’m currently reading through all of the information at the link Kevin already mentioned, and, as he said, hopefully you can find some help there. If I run across anything I’ll email you. Good luck, and, I can hardly wait to read your book.

    • Richard Nov 14, 2010 @ 19:53

      13th Tennessee Cavalry

      Was he at Fort Pillow by any chance? (April 12, 1864)

      • Kate Halleron Nov 15, 2010 @ 10:11

        Actually, there was some confusion about the numbering of Union TN Cavalry regiments – the regiment at Ft Pillow was originally designated the 13th, and this is what is on most of the correspondence, but was later officially designated the 14th.

        My gg-grandfather’s regiment was first called the 12th then officially designated the 13th. So no, he was not at Ft. Pillow. That was a Western TN regiment, his was an Eastern TN regiment. Which is probably where the confusion started.

    • Bailey Nov 22, 2010 @ 8:19

      I wonder if the fear/ threat of being pressed into the CSA factored into my mother’s family going on vacation (for the duration of the war). Some states either repelled their anti miscegenation laws, or never had them. There were a lot of “mixed” people (of various social classes) in the U.S at that time.I could really go on a while on this subject. I will say that some of what looks lack of current mainstream historic information, isn’t that at all. Many groups have a reason for not digging into this history, or sharing this history. Jim Crow, and the different eras after-that have made many people believe in the black or white narrative that was created. (You know the narrative that “race” relations and civil rights were always improving).

      In many states (especially after 1910) a person could no longer mark mulatto- and really that term does not encapsulate just how complicated some people’s “racial” makeup. My great grandfather was the product of generations of few “mulatto” at that point our whole current paradigm of race really falls apart. Of course there were also “white looking” people who were enslaved (I have a few of those on my father’s side of the family).

      My great grandfather’s family were very wealthy people, and when I first started looking into this “black confederate” issue, I dreaded looking into that family’s civil war history. Their actions during the war have sparked a whole new set of questions.

      I never doubted that there would be some people of more recent African Ancestry (but who would be counted as white today) among the confederate regulars. A massive European/Near Eastern Immigration wave occurred after the Civil War, pre-war, the West and the North attracted most of immigrants (and of course some cite slavery as the reason). Let’s also just agree to ignore the Wave of East Asian immigrants that occurred during the war (most people do it so it must not be important -snark).

      At any rate I’ve rambled long enough, happy historical hunting.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 9:58

        Thanks for the comment. On the complexity of race at the turn of the twentieth century I highly recommend Martha Sandweiss’s _Passing Strange_. You can purchase a cheap paperback here: I couldn’t put it down.

      • EarthTone Nov 22, 2010 @ 11:22

        New Orleans creoles are such a unique group that it’s difficult to say that their experience mirrors that of other colored folks throughout the country. But a very interesting article on the subject of color and passing was written by Justin Nystrom, under the title “Racial Identity and Reconstruction: New Orleans’ Free People of Color and the Dilemma of Emancipation.” It is in the book “The Great Task Remaining Before US: Reconstruction as America’s Continuing Civil War,” edited by Paul Cimbala and Randall Miller.

        A point of the article is that before the war, New Orleans had a tri-racial society, where creoles had superior status over black slaves. However, after the war, it started becoming a bi-racial society – a person was either black or white. Being “black” was a drop in status, opportunity, and personal freedom for creoles. So, many creoles went about the process of passing for white.

        As I have mentioned elsewhere, the subject of free/mixed race negros is something that deserves its own examination. For example: some people who are being called “Black Confederates” actually appear to be freemen/mulatto freemen. Calling them “black” implies that the behaviors and motivations of freemen were the same as those of black slaves. This is obviously not true to the well informed.

        It’s also worth noting, though, that the free black population was very small – just under 4% of the total black population in the Confederate states. In 1860, the CSA states had 3.5 million slaves and and just over 130,000 freemen (and 5.3 million whites). 80% of freemen lived in just 3 Confederate states – LA, NC, and VA. Being a free black was quite uncommon in the CSA, however, I would guess that they were more likely to be mixed race than the slave population.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 11:26

          It’s an excellent collection of essays. Thanks for the comment.

  • Jennifer A. Simpson Nov 14, 2010 @ 8:50

    James, great post! I would also like to cross post and would appreciate the source … Thank you in advance

  • Anthony Padovano Nov 8, 2010 @ 22:34

    Levine’s book was required reading for my class on the Civil War last spring here at UW-Madison.

  • Chris Meekins Nov 8, 2010 @ 15:11

    Its a tight presentation – on point, very succinct. It was even better live.

    • Margaret D. Blough Nov 8, 2010 @ 22:49

      Chris-Definitely. I was very happy to get a chance to talk to Professor Levine afterwards. He’s fascinating.

  • James Bartek Nov 8, 2010 @ 15:10

    I’ve posted this before, but maybe a re-posting is in order for those who eschew book-length accounts?

    From the archives at the Museum of the Confederacy:

    A Petition from Officers of Nelson’s Battalion, South Carolina Volunteers, May 1862:
    “We the undersigned Commissioned Officers of Nelson’s Battalion [South Carolina Volunteers] being desirous of getting the following men out of the Battalion petition that they be removed from our midst on account of their not being white men and not liable to do duty as soldiers.” [a list of men to be kicked out of the battalion for their “non-whiteness” follows]

    Four men qualified the request: “We concur, but suggest they be detailed as teamsters [teamsters = not soldiers].”

    Major P.H. Nelson, commander:
    “The within named enlisted members . . . are mulattoes. They are so regarded in the neighborhood from which they come, and are not allowed to vote. They are a drawback to the company, preventing white men from joining it.”

    Analyze that.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010 @ 15:13

      Thanks James.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010 @ 15:15

        It gets right to the heart of the matter. As you well know, there is nothing to dispute with this brief overview. Perhaps an understanding of Levine’s presentation may help those who seem to only find evidence for black Confederates in secondhand Union accounts.

    • Bob Huddleston Nov 9, 2010 @ 18:55


      I cross posted this and someone wants the source. I would appreciate it if you would send it tome @ Thanks in advance!

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