Why haven’t we heard more about them? National Park Service historian, Ed Bearrs, stated, “I don’t want to call it a conspiracy to ignore the role of Blacks both above and below the Mason-Dixon line, but it was definitely a tendency, which began around 1910.” Historian, Erwin L. Jordan, Jr., calls it a “cover-up” which started back in 1865. He writes, “During my research, I came across instances where Black men stated they were soldiers, but you can plainly see where ‘soldier’ is crossed out and ‘body servant’ inserted, or ‘teamster’ on pension applications.” Another black historian, Roland Young, says he is not surprised that blacks fought. He explains that “…some, if not most, Black southerners would support their country” and that by doing so they were “demonstrating it’s possible to hate the system of slavery and love one’s country.” This is the very same reaction that most African Americans showed during the American Revolution, where they fought for the colonies, even though the British offered them freedom if they fought for them.
It has been estimated that over 65,000 Southern blacks were in the Confederate ranks. Over 13,000 of these, “saw the elephant” also known as meeting the enemy in combat. These Black Confederates included both slave and free. The Confederate Congress did not approve blacks to be officially enlisted as soldiers (except as musicians), until late in the war. But in the ranks it was a different story. Many Confederate officers did not obey the mandates of politicians, they frequently enlisted blacks with the simple criteria; “Will you fight?” Historian Ervin Jordan, explains that “biracial units” were frequently organized “by local Confederate and State militia Commanders in response to immediate threats in the form of Union raids…”. Dr. Leonard Haynes, an African-American professor at Southern University, stated, “When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.”
- The “Richmond Howitzers” were partially manned by black militiamen. They saw action at 1st Manassas (or 1st Battle of Bull Run) where they operated battery no. 2. In addition two black “regiments”, one free and one slave, participated in the battle on behalf of the South. “Many colored people were killed in the action”, recorded John Parker, a former slave.
- At least one Black Confederate was a non-commissioned officer. James Washington, Co. D 34th Texas Cavalry, “Terrell’s Texas Cavalry” became it’s 3rd Sergeant. In comparison, The highest-ranking Black Union soldier during the war was a Sergeant Major.
- Free black musicians, cooks, soldiers and teamsters earned the same pay as white confederate privates. This was not the case in the Union army where blacks did not receive equal pay. At the Confederate Buffalo Forge in Rockbridge County, Virginia, skilled black workers “earned on average three times the wages of white Confederate soldiers and more than most Confederate army officers ($350-$600 a year).
- Dr. Lewis Steiner, Chief Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission while observing Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson’s occupation of Frederick, Maryland, in 1862: “Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this number [Confederate troops]. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. These were shabby, but not shabbier or seedier than those worn by white men in the rebel ranks. Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc., and were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army.”
- Frederick Douglas reported, “There are at the present moment many Colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but real soldiers, having musket on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the rebels.”
- Black and white militiamen returned heavy fire on Union troops at the Battle of Griswoldsville (near Macon, GA). Approximately 600 boys and elderly men were killed in this skirmish.
- In 1864, President Jefferson Davis approved a plan that proposed the emancipation of slaves, in return for the official recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France. France showed interest but Britain refused.
- The Jackson Battalion included two companies of black soldiers. They saw combat at Petersburg under Col. Shipp. “My men acted with utmost promptness and goodwill…Allow me to state sir that they behaved in an extraordinary acceptable manner.”
- Recently the National Park Service, with a recent discovery, recognized that blacks were asked to help defend the city of Petersburg, Virginia and were offered their freedom if they did so. Regardless of their official classification, black Americans performed support functions that in today’s army many would be classified as official military service. The successes of white Confederate troops in battle, could only have been achieved with the support these loyal black Southerners.
- Confederate General John B. Gordon (Army of Northern Virginia) reported that all of his troops were in favor of Colored troops and that it’s adoption would have “greatly encouraged the army”. Gen. Lee was anxious to receive regiments of black soldiers. The Richmond Sentinel reported on 24 Mar 1864, “None…will deny that our servants are more worthy of respect than the motley hordes, which come against us.” “Bad faith [to black Confederates] must be avoided as an indelible dishonor.”
- In March 1865, Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary Of State, promised freedom for blacks that served from the State of Virginia. Authority for this was finally received from the State of Virginia and on April 1st 1865, $100 bounties were offered to black soldiers. Benjamin exclaimed, “Let us say to every Negro who wants to go into the ranks, go and fight, and you are free…Fight for your masters and you shall have your freedom.” Confederate Officers were ordered to treat them humanely and protect them from “injustice and oppression”.
- A quota was set for 300,000 black soldiers for the Confederate States Colored Troops. 83% of Richmond’s male slave population volunteered for duty. A special ball was held in Richmond to raise money for uniforms for these men. Before Richmond fell, black Confederates in gray uniforms drilled in the streets. Due to the war ending, it is believed only companies or squads of these troops ever saw any action. Many more black soldiers fought for the North, but that difference was simply a difference because the North instituted this progressive policy more soon than the more conservative South. Black soldiers from both sides received discrimination from whites that opposed the concept.
- Union General U.S. Grant in Feb 1865, ordered the capture of “all the Negro men… before the enemy can put them in their ranks.” Frederick Douglas warned Lincoln that unless slaves were guaranteed freedom (those in Union controlled areas were still slaves) and land bounties, “they would take up arms for the rebels”.
- On April 4, 1865 (Amelia County, VA), a Confederate supply train was exclusively manned and guarded by black Infantry. When attacked by Federal Cavalry, they stood their ground and fought off the charge, but on the second charge they were overwhelmed. These soldiers are believed to be from “Major Turner’s” Confederate command.
- A Black Confederate, George _____, when captured by Federals was bribed to desert to the other side. He defiantly spoke, “Sir, you want me to desert, and I ain’t no deserter. Down South, deserters disgrace their families and I am never going to do that.”
- Former slave, Horace King, accumulated great wealth as a contractor to the Confederate Navy. He was also an expert engineer and became known as the “Bridge builder of the Confederacy.” One of his bridges was burned in a Yankee raid. His home was pillaged by Union troops, as his wife pleaded for mercy.
- As of Feb. 1865 1,150 black seamen served in the Confederate Navy. One of these was among the last Confederates to surrender, aboard the CSS Shenandoah, six months after the war ended. This surrender took place in England.
- Nearly 180,000 Black Southerners, from Virginia alone, provided logistical support for the Confederate military. Many were highly skilled workers. These included a wide range of jobs: nurses, military engineers, teamsters, ordnance department workers, brakemen, firemen, harness makers, blacksmiths, wagonmakers, boatmen, mechanics, wheelwrights, etc. In the 1920’S Confederate pensions were finally allowed to those workers that were still living. Many thousands more served in other Confederate States.
- During the early 1900’s, many members of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) advocated awarding former slaves rural acreage and a home. There was hope that justice could be given those slaves that were once promised “forty acres and a mule” but never received any. In the 1913 Confederate Veteran magazine published by the UCV, it was printed that this plan “If not Democratic, it is [the] Confederate” thing to do. There was much gratitude toward former slaves, which “thousands were loyal, to the last degree”, now living with total poverty of the big cities. Unfortunately, their proposal fell on deaf ears on Capitol Hill.
- During the 5oth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913, arrangements were made for a joint reunion of Union and Confederate veterans. The commission in charge of the event made sure they had enough accommodations for the black Union veterans, but were completely surprised when unexpected black Confederates arrived. The white Confederates immediately welcomed their old comrades, gave them one of their tents, and “saw to their every need”. Nearly every Confederate reunion including those blacks that served with them, wearing the gray.
- The first military monument in the US Capitol that honors an African-American soldier is the Confederate monument at Arlington National cemetery. The monument was designed 1914 by Moses Ezekiel, a Jewish Confederate, who wanted to correctly portray the “racial makeup” in the Confederate Army. A black Confederate soldier is depicted marching in step with white Confederate soldiers. Also shown is one “white soldier giving his child to a black woman for protection”. – Source: Edward Smith, African American professor at the American University, Washington DC.
- Black Confederate heritage is beginning to receive the attention it deserves. For instance, Terri Williams, a black journalist for the Suffolk “Virginia Pilot” newspaper, writes: “I’ve had to re-examine my feelings toward the [Confederate] flag…It started when I read a newspaper article about an elderly black man whose ancestor worked with the Confederate forces. The man spoke with pride about his family member’s contribution to the cause, was photographed with the [Confederate] flag draped over his lap…that’s why I now have no definite stand on just what the flag symbolizes, because it no longer is their history, or my history, but our history.”
Charles Kelly Barrow, et. al. Forgotten Confederates: An Anthology About Black Southerners (1995). Currently the best book on the subject.
Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia (1995). Well researched and very good source of information on Black Confederates, but has a strong Union bias.
Richard Rollins. Black Southerners in Gray (1994). Also an excellent source.
Dr. Edward Smith and Nelson Winbush, “Black Southern Heritage”. An excellent educational video. Mr. Winbush is a descendent of a Black Confederate and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).
This fact sheet is provided by Scott Williams. It is not an all-inclusive list of Black Confederates, only a small sampling of accounts. For more information about the SCV or “Confederates of Color” contact Mr. Williams at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For general historical information on Black Confederates, contact Dr. Edward Smith, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20016; Dean of American Studies. Dr. Smith is a black professor dedicated to clarifying the historical role of African Americans.