Thanks to Dr. Michael R. Bradley who reached out to me yesterday to share some information he has collected about the 25th Tennessee Infantry which enlisted in Tullahoma, TN, in June 1861. The unit was raised in the Upper Cumberland area. Included in the list of original enlistees are twenty names, spread over seven companies , with each name followed by the note “Free Negro.” According to Dr. Bradley, each of these men was assigned rank and complete enlistment papers noting rank and pay drawn for three months are in the archives.
These names are also listed in “Tennesseans in the Civil War,” published in 1964 by the Tennessee Historical Commission, although no race is noted in that source. The 1860 census however lists each of the men as a free person of color. Here are the names:
Hale, John; Harris, James; Harris, William Alban; Rickman, Abner; Scott, Micajah
Alexander, Grunton B; Harris, Rufus
Burgess, William; Rickman, Joseph; Rickman Joseph A.; Scott, Alex; Worley, Rufus
Fields, James; Gibson, William; Oxendine, Levi–died and buried at camp ground; Walker, L.
This is fascinating regardless of what further inquiry reveals. I am curious as to whether these men remained in their units beyond the first three months. Dr. Bradley admittedly has not followed up on that question nor does he state anything explicit about these individuals or what their presence might mean more broadly. I look forward to reviewing copies of their enlistment papers that are now being forwarded to me.
I don’t know much of anything about this part of Tennessee, but I suspect that what we have here is a story that reflects local conditions rather than anything that will revise our broader understanding of the Confederacy and race.
I would love to find one or even a small number of bona fide black Confederate soldiers after coming up short so many times. It would no doubt speak to the kind of diversity that historians have uncovered as opposed to the fantasies that drive many neo-Confederates. Those of you with some time on your hands should feel free to do some research on these men. I would love to know what you find.