Potential Black Confederates

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:

  • Co. A
    Hale, John; Harris, James; Harris, William Alban; Rickman, Abner; Scott, Micajah
  • Co. B
    Alexander, Grunton B; Harris, Rufus
  • Co. C
    Burgess, William; Rickman, Joseph; Rickman Joseph A.; Scott, Alex; Worley, Rufus
  • Co. D
    Anderson, German
  • Co. E
    Farley, James
  • Co. G
    Cummings, John
  • Co. H
    Alley, Sampson
  • Co. I
    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.

To the Archives! or To the Computer!

56 thoughts on “Potential Black Confederates

  1. Christopher Coleman

    I am less interested in the quantity of Black Confederates (who were at best very few) than their beliefs and thoughts. Are there any memoirs or diaries by Black men who served in the Confederate army, even in the ninety day regiments? I know a company of Black volunteers wanted to serve at the start of the war in Nashville but their offer of service was refused.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Obviously, these are extremely difficult to find given literacy rates. There are accounts of men who served in the Louisiana Native Guard, but that is a unique story and a relatively short one given that the unit was not accepted into Confederate service.

      There are accounts of blacks in Petersburg expressing an interest in enlisting as well. It’s not surprising that this would take place in towns/cities with substantial free black populations, who worried about maintaining what little wealth they possessed.

      Reply
  2. Eric A. Jacobson

    I am quite familiar with this unit and these. Their service records are interesting. All (as I recall) have only three cards each, and there is nothing beyond Oct or Nov 1861. I think these are bona fide black Confederates, but I think you also see some complexities even with “free men of color.” What happened to all of them? How is it possible they were all dropped from the rolls? Here is what I have long thought, based on a spattering of other such cases I found:

    This unit was composed of 12 month men. By the spring of 1862 the Confederate government was enacting conscription and black soldiers were dropped from the rolls. So free blacks were accepted on the State level, but not on the Confederate level? I think that is exactly the case, as you would see the Davis administration avoid arming black troops en masse until the very bitter end.

    So these men, in my opinion, are worthy are much further study – to understand them, as well as the area in which they lived, how local Southerners viewed them, and how the Confederate government viewed them. Just some of my thoughts.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      So free blacks were accepted on the State level, but not on the Confederate level? I think that is exactly the case, as you would see the Davis administration avoid arming black troops en masse until the very bitter end.

      Given what we know right now, that seems like a very reasonable interpretation. It definitely conforms to some extent with the story of the Louisiana Native Guard. Absolutely fascinating. Thanks for chiming in, Eric.

      Reply
    2. larrycebula

      Yes, I would love to see someone trace the history of these men–before, during and after the war. What a great project this could be for a grad student or anyone looking for a new research topic.

      Reply
  3. Eric A. Jacobson

    I might also add that this regiment was reorganized in May 1862, and that is likely when these free blacks were flushed from the official ranks. That said they may well have continued in a variety of support duties.

    Reply
  4. BorderRuffian

    There is a big skip in the records of these companies. There are a few existing rolls for them in 1861 and then they jump to late 1862.

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  5. Ken Noe

    I once again wonder (as I did here in related posts in 2010 and 2011) if these “free men of color” on rosters of Appalachian companies could be Melungeons, mountain people often listed as “free people of color” in 1860 who nonetheless considered themselves white. Gibson at least is a common Melungeon surname. Professor Bradley knows that part of Tennessee well, perhaps he’s already pursued this.

    Reply
    1. Rob Baker

      Where did you find the reference to Tullahoma? The NPS site states the 25th “completed its organization in August, 1861, at Camp Zollicoffer, in Overton County, Tennessee” http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-regiments-detail.htm?regiment_id=CTN0025RI

      That would make the more since in terms of Ken’s melungeon argument. In Tennessee, Melungeons were/are located primarily in the eastern part of the state. A court case occurred in that portion of the state as well, (Jacob Perkins vs John White (1858)) which stated that if a person had “not in his veins more than 1/8 of Negro or Indian blood, he is a citizen of this state and it would be slanderous to call him a Negro.” Tennessee would have recognized these people as white. But that calls into question calling them “men of color”, does it not?

      Reply
  6. Jeff

    “The number of free Negroes in Tennessee had increased from 361 in 1801 to 4,555 in 1831. In that year “defensive legislation” was enacted providing that no slave should be emancipated unless he should leave the State immediately. Negro suffrage was abolished in 1834. Aside from the fact that the free Negro was permitted to attend private schools in Memphis and Nashville, to receive religious instruction, to sue and be sued, to make contracts and inherit property, and to enjoy legal marriage, no rights of citizenship remained to him after 1834. A sort of inmate on parole, he was both socially and economically proscribed.”

    http://newdeal.feri.org/guides/tnguide/ch10.htm

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  7. James F. Epperson

    FWIW, I think Mr. Jacobson is correct. There were some free men of color in a North Carolina battery, and at some point in 1862 they were discharged “by reason of being black,” or some similar phraseology. I might be able to re-discover the designation for that battery, if you are interested. It is in an old online discussion.

    Reply
      1. James F. Epperson

        I’m having trouble getting in to the group archives to find the conversation, but the men were brothers named Revels, and there was much discussion about their being Melungeon. I will keep digging and try to find more. A creative Google search might find the original article that was the focus of the discussion, but so far I have not succeeded. Will keep trying.

        Reply
  8. Rob Baker

    Kevin,

    Just from a cursory search, I’ve got a little information.

    The Regiment itself was organized at Camp Zollicoffer in NE Tennessee. The individual companies however, come from various parts of the state.

    Co. A – Tullahoma, with men from Sparta, White County

    Co. B – Livingston, TN, with men from Cave (now Doyle), White County

    Co. C – Doyle and Livingston with men from Cave, White County

    Co. D – with men from Livingston, Overton County

    Co. E – Tullahoma, Tennessee with men from Cherry Creek, White County

    Co. F – Livingston with men from Cookeville, Putnam County

    Co. G – Livingston with men from Flynn’s Lick, Jackson County

    Co. H – Livingston, Overton County

    Co. I – Livingston, with men from Putnam County

    Co. K – Tullahoma, with men from Putnam and White Counties.

    Despite the cities/towns in which they are organized, all of the men came from relatively the same area (Putnam, White Overton, and Jackson Counties). Interestingly enough, this area lies on what we Appalachians call “bottom land”, immediately west of the Cumberland Plateau. So the Melungeon concept Ken mentioned could very well be true. The state of TN however, by law, would have recognized them “White People” if they were 1/8 or less “Negro”. To me, it creates more questions about Melungeons than the regiment. Just my 2 cents.

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  9. Jimmy Dick

    Awesome conversation! This is what it should be about. Once the men are identified and the story is developed we can fit them into the larger narrative about why men chose to fight or not fight for the Confederacy. I would like to know if these men were later removed from the unit or if so did any of them join the Union Army? That would definitely expand the narrative a great deal. It would also point to men trying to fit themselves into the overall scheme of citizenship, but we need to know more details before beginning to explore that concept.

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  10. Bryan Cheeseboro

    Very interesting stuff. I’m glad to read this here rather than on a pro-Confederate site with a self-serving multicultural Confederate agenda.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this stuff is true because I’ve found a lot of stories in the Civil War Era that defy the traditional norm, i.e., the historical narrative. Whatever the case, I know this history does not speak for the entire South of that time and was absolutely the exception and not the rule… much like the following story I’d like to share.

    My dad told me that in 1960 (we are African-American, BTW) my uncle Robert married a White woman from Europe (Sweden or Switzerland, I can never remember) and brought her home to Columbus, Georgia. When he told me this, I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Was he crazy? Bringing her to the segregated South in 1960?” And my dad said to me, “Well, usually people just called you (the White woman) trash and forgot about you.” I don’t know what else to say about that but it’s interesting that in that place at that time, that is what happened. But I know that did not speak for the entire South. My point is that, here is something that defies the historical narrative of the African-American experience. I think the same is the case with these freedmen in Tennessee: their enlistment and service, whatever it was, is an interesting story but was not the case everywhere in the Confederacy.

    BTW, I’ve never been really close to my uncle and aunt (the live 3000 miles away from me), but I understand they are still married to this day.

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  11. Dan Weinfeld

    I would suggest a little caution before jumping to conclusions. For example, in the county I researched in the Florida panhandle, the 1860 census indicated there were 43 “free men of color” – a stat that I used in my book. I recently found, however, a history of the Catawba tribe, “The Indians of North Florida” (Scott and Hill), which includes extensive genealogies showing that most of these “free men of color” were in fact Catawba Indians. To confuse matters more, some Catawbas from the same county were classified in the 1860 census as white. Some non-white Catawbas served in regular (i.e, non-USCT) Union regiments. Some of the white Catawba men served in Confederate units. (I haven’t yet found non-white FL Panhandle Catawba serving in Confederate units). As authors Scott and Hill point out, the racial classification of American Indians in the 1860 census (and subsequently) could be very complicated depending on the tribe and even local officials’ willingness to acknowledge Native Americans’ status as such. Of course, defining Native Americans of small tribes as black could be convenient for local whites in with respect to disputes over property rights, taxation, etc.

    Reply
  12. Kate Halleron

    I uncovered a source on Google Books – I don’t have it handy, but I can go find it – that stated that Tennessee enacted a law in June 1861 requiring free blacks to join the militia. It was under this law, apparently, that my own gg-grandfather, who was 1/4 black and 1/2 Cherokee, was pressed into the 26th Tennessee Infantry.

    I had been given the name of John Hale by another researcher awhile ago while doing my own research on black Confederates, but I was unable to find any good information on him. I’ll bookmark this page for further research – it’s possible one or more of them may have been included in the Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaires, which I own a copy of.

    As to ‘free man of color’ indicating Native Americans – many, if not most, free blacks in Tennessee were also part Native American. Intermarriage among the two groups was common, as there were very few free black families to choose from in the early days of settlement. In the city my ancestors lived in (Kingston, TN), there were only two free black families.

    Reply
      1. Kate Halleron

        Looking at the list on the Tennessee Archives site, none of them filled out Veterans’ Questionnaires.

        The ‘free black conscription law’ is found in ‘The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion’, page 281.

        http://books.google.com/books?id=W586AAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=political+history+of+the+united+states+during+the+great+rebellion&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2eU4Uo7HIuegiQKGxoDgCA&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=political%20history%20of%20the%20united%20states%20during%20the%20great%20rebellion&f=false

        Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I am impressed at the extent you will go to embarrass yourself. How sad. Such an interesting discussion thread and you have nothing to contribute.

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      1. Jimmy Dick

        Apparently Michael failed to grasp the importance of the word “required” in Kate’s post. We still don’t know what capacity they served in, if they were allowed to actually serve as soldiers, or what happened after the reorganization period when it seems like the CSA forced blacks out of units. We also need to know what happened to the men because a lot of Tennessee came under Union control at various points during 1862.

        Kevin is right. This is a great thread and all Michael can do is say, “Eat Crow!” So far the thread is validating everything we’ve said about black Confederates and adding to our knowledge of real history. But then Michael isn’t interested in real history, just a mythical version of it.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          There is a great deal we don’t know, but this thread is a wonderful example of the cautiousness demanded when doing history. A number of points that are often overlooked by the Confederate heritage crowd on this subject have surfaced. It’s the difference between taking the subject seriously and simply using the past to reinforce a presentist agenda. Michael clearly has very little interest in historical inquiry. I may be mistaken, but I believe he studied history at Virginia Tech. If so, what an embarrassment.

          Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              …an embarrassment for Michael given the talent that is in that department. Sorry for the confusion, Ken. :-)

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            2. Al Mackey

              I second that, Ken! :)

              I find it difficult to believe Michael has an MA in history from Tech. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t have a BA in history from Tech.

              Reply
    2. Eric A. Jacobson

      Eat crow – what a benign response!!! :)

      Seriously, such a comment shows a total lack of understanding on several levels. If Kevin Levin was like most Southern heritage folks I believe he never would have filed a post such as this. The fact that he did shows objectivity, and a desire to know the truth. Michael’s response shows that he has little to offer but schoolyard nonsense. A simple acknowledgment of what Kevin was doing would have sufficed. Instead the post will be taken and hoisted up by some as proof that the “black Confederate” argument is fully correct, which in and of itself misses the argument about bona fide historical analysis stripped of emotion.

      Reply
  13. Bryan Cheeseboro

    Was there a “one-drop” rule during the Civil War Era? Or did that come later (late 19th/early 20h Century)? Some of the comments here seem to suggest the “one-drop” thing was not really in existence at the time.

    Reply
  14. Randy P. Lucas

    I want to thank you for posting this list. It gives folks a starting point to begin further research into the lives and service of these men.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks, Randy. You are right that it is a starting point, but not simply in reference to these men, but with how these individual stories fit into our broader understanding of the Confederacy, race relations in the South, etc.

      Reply
  15. BorderRuffian

    Eric A Jacobson-
    “This unit was composed of 12 month men. By the spring of 1862 the Confederate government was enacting conscription and black soldiers were dropped from the rolls.”

    That is most likely the reason.

    “So free blacks were accepted on the State level, but not on the Confederate level?”

    Check those 1861 rolls. They are Confederate.

    Reply
    1. Eric A. Jacobson

      Actually there were not Confederate initially. The cards clearly state the men were raised for “State service” and then transferred “to the service of the Confederate States…”

      Reply
  16. Forester

    Isn’t it likely that blacks supporting the CSA (or joining her army) were probably themselves anti-black? Something like a real-world version of Sam Jack’s character in “D’Jango Unchained,” concerned about preserving slavery because they actually profit somehow from slavery? Maybe free blacks who owned slaves or were worried about newly emancipated slaves affecting the job market?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that finding Black Confederates may only prove that some blacks were themselves racist sellouts. It still doesn’t vindicate the South.

    Reply
    1. Randy P. Lucas

      May I ask a question? Can we not simply study the history as it was ans not worry about whose contemporary agenda it serves? These stories are interest and educational in and of themselves without worrying about whose political narrative it serves?

      Reply
      1. Forester

        I absolutely agree. I was speaking in a “Devil’s Advocate” sense about modern interpretations and musing on whether new findings would really change how we feel about history. I was also highlighting the value, and inherent problems, of interpretation — how two people or groups can find opposite meanings of the same fact.

        We do live in a political society that loves debate, however, and new information like Black Confederate records is undoubtedly going to fan the flames. The controversy is what will make the Fox and CNN debate panels — just look at Silas Chandler and how much the media left out. If I tend to think/talk about the modern debates first, it’s only because I know that it’s coming.

        Were I being drastically serious, I would not have invoked “D’Jango Unchained” as a reference. :D

        Reply
  17. grandadfromthehills

    Could it be that a majority opinion of the blacks and whites was that slavery was just a matter of fact and life? If I have read correctly, some free blacks owned black slaves in Tennessee some years before the Civil War. They obviously did not have the same rights as the whites, but did have businesses or farms. It would not seem all that strange for some blacks to volunteer for military service if they had no qualms with slavery. Obviously, some sub-Saharan Africans sold others into slavery so it was not frowned upon in Africa at the time and for many years afterwards.

    Sam Vanderburg
    Enjoying the heat in Texas

    Reply
  18. An

    I met a descendant of a black Confederate soldier, his ancestor from GA. He gave the Keynote speech at a Memorial Service I attended. He was wonderful, and deeply proud of his Southern Heritage. He had details of his ancestor’s service. All my respect sent to him!

    Reply
  19. London John

    Trying to guess the motives of men who left no records is obviously not History, but does that mean it shouldn’t be allowed? If we try to imagine how it was for free Blacks in the slave states, surely they must have been continually worried about their precarious position in society. Joining the militia and trying to join the Confederate army could have been a way of trying to bolster their position. Also in 1861 nearly everyone around them expected the Confederacy to win easily, with or without their assistance. Why should they have known better? So even if some free Blacks volunteered it doesn’t necessarily mean that they supported the Confederate cause.

    Reply
    1. Andy Hall

      “Trying to guess the motives of men who left no records is obviously not History, but does that mean it shouldn’t be allowed?”

      Discussing possible motivations is fine, provided it’s done within the full context of the time and place, and is clearly presented as such. (E.g., “Smith may have thought that. . . .” or “Jones might have wanted to. . . .”) But usually those qualifiers are left off in the black Confederate narrative, where individuals’ motivations or beliefs are usually presented as both objectively known and invariably virtuous. When you combine that with subtle-but-significant changes in the wording of the narrative, as with the story of Primus Kelly, you end up with something that sounds like it’s based on fact, but is largely smoke-and-mirrors.

      Reply
  20. BorderRuffian

    Eric A Jacobson:
    “Actually there were not Confederate initially. The cards clearly state the men were raised for “State service” [didn't say they weren't] and then transferred “to the service of the Confederate States…”

    Which was my point. The rolls are Confederate rolls.

    Reply
    1. Randy P. Lucas

      I’m curious, Mr. Powell, how you came to your conclusion as to what these men thought of themselves. Are there existent records which show they considered themselves “white?” I have said repeatedly that true history is far more complex than many historians and those of us who discuss history like to make it. Without evidence to the contrary that they were listed as “colored” in the 1860 Census, how could they consider themselves “white?” It appears to me a desire to wish away the possibility that any black man might have willingly served the Confederacy. It seems to me to be modern stereotyping attempting to substitute for genuine research.

      Reply
  21. Julian

    trolling as deep as Josephine Southern or even deeper …

    This discussion of Tennessee Confederates and Melungeon soldiers came to mind when this image was posted on a Facebook Civil War group. This is an image of Confederate Prisoners 20th Tennessee, Missionary Ridge November 25, 1863. There is much discussion about their shoes
    but one person said “Wow. …a black soldier. Great pic!!” another said that it was “Not a black soldier, just a man with a red face that photographs dark” and no one said any more or seemed to want to buy into the classic black confederate internet scenario

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=734058423307555&set=gm.771393659557570&type=1&theater

    another link shows the group more clearly – but perhaps there has been some discreet photoshopping … as here he looks like he is of not entirely European descent – and the whole image looks clearer than the other one.
    Neither of these links can say how or as what the man identified – other than he is part of a very consistently turned out CSA soldiers – we cant make any firm claims other than to speculate (a contrsdiction in terms) – the image is an interesting aside to the main game

    may be he is Melungeon as it is a Tennessee regiment

    http://tennessee-scv.org/20thtennprisoners.htm

    Reply

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