Black Confederates in the Civil War

by Scott K. Williams

 

Introduction

Black Confederates? 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 that 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, a African-American professor at Southern University, stated, “When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.”
 

As the war came to an end, the Confederacy took progressive measures to build back up it's army. The creation of the Confederate States Colored Troops, copied after the segregated northern colored troops, came too late to be successful. Had the Confederacy been successful, it would have created the world's largest armies (at the time) consisting of black soldiers, even larger than that of the North. This would have given the future of the Confederacy a vastly different appearance than what modern day racist or anti-Confederate liberals conjecture. Not only did Jefferson Davis envision black Confederate veterans receiving bounty lands for their service, there would have been no future for slavery after the goal of 300,000 armed black CSA veterans came home after the war.

Noted Examples:

1. 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.

2. At least one Black Confederate was a non-commissioned officer. James Washington, Co. D 35th Texas Cavalry,  Confederate States Army, became it’s 3rd Sergeant. Higher ranking black commissioned officers served in militia units, but this was on the State militia level (Louisiana) and not in the regular C.S. Army.

3. 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).

4. 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."

5. 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.”

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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."

9. 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.

10. 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.”

11. In March 1865, Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary Of State, promised freedom for blacks who 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".

12. 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 sooner than the more conservative South. Black soldiers from both sides received discrimination from whites who opposed the concept .

13. 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”.

14. 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.

15. 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."

16. 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.

17. One black  C. S. Navy seaman was among the last Confederates to surrender, aboard the CSS Shenandoah, six months after the war ended. At least two blacks served as Navy pilots with the rank of Warrant Officer. One, William Bugg, piloted the CSS Sampson, and another, Moses Dallas, was considered the best inland pilot of the C.S. Navy. Dallas piloted the Savannah River squadron and was paid $100 a month until the time he was killed by the enemy during the capture of USS Water Witch.

18. 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, ect. In the 1920'S Confederate pensions were finally allowed to some of those workers that were still living. Many thousands more served in other Confederate States.
 
19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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.”

 
 
Resources:

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). 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).

Author, Historian William C. Davis on Black Confederates:

     Noted Civil War historian/Author William C. Davis writes about the forgotten black Confederates: "One of the lost chapters of Civil War history has been the passive and even active support that many southern blacks, free and slave, gave to the Confederacy. "Forgotten Confederates" illuminates the overlooked facet of this seemingly contradictory behavior by a group of African Americans who appear to have thought of themselves as Southerners first and blacks second. Neither Confederate history, nor black studies, can afford to ignore it."


 

More Accounts of Black Confederates:

A letter by a Federal officer:
Col. Giles Smith commanded the First Brigade and Col. T. Kilby Smith, Fifty-fourth Ohio, the Fourth. I communicated to these officers General Sherman's orders and charged Colonel Smith, Fifty-fourth Ohio, specially with the duty of clearing away the road to the crossing and getting it into the best condition for effecting our crossing that he possibly could. The work was vigorously pressed under his immediate supervision and orders, and he devoted himself to it with as much energy and activity as any living man could employ. 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."

 

Problems with Documenting Black Confederates

 
1. Muster Rolls: Virtually all Confederate muster rolls do not contain any racial information. While it is fairly easy to identify American Indians and Hispanics by their non-Anglo names, most blacks, on the other hand, adopted European names. Although some individuals can be assumed to be slaves for lacking last names, but free blacks are virtually indistinguishable from their white comrades-in-arms. For instance, brothers, Arthur and Miles Reed both served as Privates in Co.D, 3rd NC Artillery (also in the 40th NC Infantry), but Broadfoot's Confederate roster (index of National Archives' service records) does not in any way identify them as black. Due to these difficulties, secondary sources including pension records, United Confederate Veteran files, and family records must supplement research in suspected black soldiers.
It should also should be noted that for some States, muster roll records are notoriously incomplete for a variety of reasons. For example in Alabama, many of this military records were destroyed or conveniently lost rather than hand them over to the Federal government where persecution of ex-Confederate was a very real possibility. In Missouri, a serious attempt to compile Confederate muster records did not begin until 1908, by that time many rolls were lost and many veterans had already passed away. As a result, the completeness of Confederate muster rolls are a recognized problem, not only for the black Confederate descendant but for many white Confederate soldiers as well.

2. Pension records: Only those surviving to pension age, or were aware of this benefit, or were fortunate enough to overcome postwar anti-Negro prejudice. Since pension files were controlled by State authority, they were often subject to a local county review board. This caused considerably differences in various States and from county to county. South Carolina, for instance, recorded 30 black Confederates pensioners in one county (York County) alone, Tennessee claimed 267, while the State of Missouri, which was rather hesitant to issue pensions to anyone, let alone to black Confederates, appears to have not issued any. Discrimination towards black Confederates was another real problem. For example, in South Carolina white Confederates could apply for old age pensions as early as 1887. Black veterans were denied pensions until 1923. By that time the majority of them were deceased.
One of the best resources about Black Confederates is the book, "Forgotten Confederates: An Anthology about Black Southerners", by Charles Kelly Barrow, J. H. Segars and R.B. Rosenburg. Not only packed full of very good historical accounts, it lists the names of hundreds of black Confederate veterans who received pensions for their service. While it is far from being comprehensive, it is the best resource available to date.

3. Classification: One must understand what is meant by the term, "black Confederate". Most black Confederate were NOT what one would considered as a "soldier" in the nineteenth century sense of the word. There was and still remains today an old bigoted argument that this "old boy was not a soldier but a slave" ? Well this is the same mindset that opposed compensation for black Confederates back in 1923. To be truthful and nondiscriminatory we must look either at their counterpart in the Union army or in today's modern army. Did U.S. servicemen ever serve as stable assistants, aides to Commissioned officers, cooks, teamsters, ect ? They certainly did. Plus many eye witness accounts of black Confederates testify that even some in these positions did occasionally carry arms. It would be wrong to claim that the bulk of black Confederates working in factories, repair shops, and hospitals far away from the battlefields, were soldiers even in today's standard. Most of these would NOT be considered "soldiers" but "employees of the Army". Nether the less we must be careful not to continuing to inject nineteenth century discriminatory bias on men that in today's Army would be considered soldiers. If they were serving on the battlefield or immediately behind frontlines of battle performing military service, then we should consider the modern Army equivalent. Unfortunately since we must use muster rolls, and other 1861-1865 era documents, many of these Southern black patriots will be forever unknown and forgotten. We must do the best we can to see that the few were can document are not forgotten.
 
 
Confederate soldier leaving child behind in the care of a slave. Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery, designed by  Moses Ezekiel.

Estimates of Black Confederate Serving the South


How many black Confederates served the South in combat or direct battlefield support ? The numbers vary wildly from 15,000 to 120,000. The truth remains that nobody has an accurate figure. My estimate is that 65,000 blacks scattered across the entire South followed the Confederate armies from one battlefield to the next from 1861 to 1865. Larger numbers of blacks loyally served the Confederacy, not as soldiers but as employees of the Army, Navy, Confederate government or the individual State governments.


Where does this estimate of 65,000 come from ?

Dr. Steiner, Chief Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission, observed that Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson's troops in 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."


If we assume Dr. Steiner is somewhat reliable and assume that this 3,000 Negroes of Jackson's troops are a  representative number of black Confederates in a typical Confederate fighting force, then we may be able to make a rough calculation. First we must determine how many men were part of Jackson's troops ? If Lee had 50,000, was Jackson's force, 25,000 ? That would be a likely estimate. So then what percentage is 3,000 of 25,000 ? Answer: 12 %. So that would tell us that 12% of Jackson's force was black Confederates.  Now, if  we assume that Steiner meant 3,000 blacks soldiers    in Lee's entire 50,000 force that crossed the Potomac, then the percentage of black Confederates is reduced to 6%. Either way it is calculated, black Confederates were a considerable percentage of the total Confederate fighting force.


To extend this reasoning across the entire Confederate Army, what does this represent ? That depends on the total number of men that served in the CS Army, which is also in itself debatable as muster rolls are notoriously incomplete.


For example, let's use for example the 1,000,000 listed names in Broadfoot's Confederate roster compiled by the National Archives. Yes, there is some repeat names, but let's use that figure as an example. What percentage is 12% ? This would translate to 120,000 black Confederates and half that, 60,000. As such, the 65,000 estimate is not an unreasonable estimate. Debatable ? Yes. Refutable ? Absolutely not. Black Confederates imaginary ? Ridiculous


Could Dr. Steiner have been wrong regarding the numbers ? Yes, absolutely. In fact, many Army officers routinely made mistakes at estimating the enemies numerical strengths. However, the smaller the body of troops one is estimating, the more likely that number is correct. While Steiner failed to accurately estimate Lee's total forces (I recall he estimated 80,000 instead of 50,000), in my opinion, it is unlikely he erred as significantly with a handful of 3,000 black troops. So even if Steiner made an overestimate of 30%, we still are in the range of 40,000 to 80,000.

 


 Changing Attitudes in the Confederacy

Black Confederate soldier depicted marching in rank with white Confederate soldiers. This is taken from the Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery. Designed by Moses Ezekiel, a Jewish Confederate erected in 1908. Ezekiel  depicted  the Confederate Army as he himself witnessed. As such, it is the one of the first monument, if not the first,  honoring a black American soldier.  (Photo by Bob Crowell)

President Jefferson Davis: "Give Up the Negro Slave"

     "No effort must be spared to add largely to our effective force as promptly as possible. The sources of supply are to be found in restoring to the army all who are improperly absent, putting an end to substitution, modifying the exemption law, restricting details, and placing in the ranks such of the able-bodied men now employed as wagoners, nurses, cooks, and other employees as are doing service for which the negroes may be found competent."


     "As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter--give up the negro slave rather than be a slave himself. If we are correct in this assumption it only remains to show how this great national sacrifice is, in all human probabilities, to change the current of success and sweep the invader from our country," [Reprinted in the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, August 5, 1904.]
 

      It is wrong to think that most in the Confederate ranks were opposed to the revolutionary idea of enlisting slaves as soldiers for the C.S. Colored Troops, modeled after its northern counterpart. In fact, the majority of Confederate soldiers fully supported the idea. Of course, there were many that opposed the idea.

     For example, eleven men of the 12th Kentucky Cavalry signed a petition that they were adamantly opposed to Negro equality as soldiers. Furthermore this petition also denounces anyone who is an advocate for putting the Negro into the army as official soldiers. It states they are, "either whiped or are aspirants for office. They are mostly playouts that are walking the streets of every town in the South with the bars or stars on their collar. They are afraid to face the yankies any longer but want the Negro to fight for there liberty." Nothing can be further from the truth regarding the motivations of progressively minded Confederates.


     Regardless of the personal prejudices of these eleven Confederates, who were apparently in the minority. For instance,  nearly 400 officers and enlisted men from the 2nd, 7th, and 11th Kentucky Cavalry signed a petition asking the Confederate Congress to approve the policy of using Negroes as official soldiers. These were NOT "whipped men" or "aspirants for office", as the disgruntled eleven men of the 12th Kentucky claim. But battle-hardened men that knew how to be victorious. As they state, "to win our independence we should resort to every honorable means and cheerfully make every sacrifice. We know the fate that awaits us should the enemy succeed in crushing our gallant armies, and rather than submit let us exhaust every resource and use every means of defeating him." While their petition states they approve of Negro soldiers, this is not a condition to their continued fighting, as is stated, "we will, on the battlefield, submit to the arbitrament of the sword, the issue of independence or subjugation, and prove our determination to die freeman rather than live slaves." And to make sure their petition was heard, they chose one of their officers, Lt. Col. James Bennett McCreary, to personally deliver the petition to the C.S. Congress.


     The fact is, the Confederacy contained men of very diverse opinions, just as it was in the North. It is simply bad history for anyone to uphold eleven soldiers as defining the general attitude of the Confederate ranks and ignore a petition of much greater magnitude.


     While it is true that Confederate Vice President Alexander Stevens once stated, "Our new government's foundations are laid...upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery...is his natural and normal condition." However, It is a false assumption to believe that Stevens had control over the destiny of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis also opposed changing the status quo of the Old South but by 1865 the Davis administration was announcing to slaves in Virginia, "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."


     While books frequently quote stubborn hard-nosed Confederate Congressmen, like Sen. Robert Hunter and Howell Cobb as examples of the never dying devotion to slavery. Not to mention the short sighted, General Robert Toombs, that stated, "The worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves." This fails to recognize the changing attitudes that were gradually coming about in the South. For instance, the majority of men in the Confederate Congress eventually disagreed with Toombs' assessment, as Congress in 1865 authorized for the enlistment of 300,000 blacks for the Confederate States Colored Troops. Among the last orders was for Confederate Officers were ordered to treat them humanely and protect them from "injustice and oppression". Let us remember that these last acts would have shaped the destiny of the Confederacy. If the South would have won the war, it is quite obvious that it would not be long before slavery would have crumbled..

Robert E. Lee's Views on C.S. Colored Troops:

Hd Qs CS Armies
27th March 1865


Lt Gen RS Ewell


Commdg General,
General Lee directs me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 25th inst: and to say that he much regrets the unwillingness of owners to permit their slaves to enter the service. If the state authorities can do nothing to get those negroes who are willing to join the army, but whose masters refuse their consent, there is no authority to do it at all. What benefit they expect their negroes to be to them, if the enemy occupies the country, it is impossible to say. He hopes you will endeavor to get the assistance of citizens who favor the measure, and bring every influence you can to bear. When a negro is willing, and his master objects, there would be less objection to compulsion, if the state has the authority. It is however of primary importance that the negroes should know that the service is voluntary on their part. As to the name of the troops, the general thinks you cannot do better than consult the men themselves. His only objection to calling them colored troops was that the enemy had selected that designation for theirs. But this has no weight against the choice of the troops and he recommends that they be called colored or if they prefer, they can be called simply Confederate troops or volunteers. Everything should be done to impress them with the responsibility and character of their position, and while of course due respect and subordination should be exacted, they should be so treated as to feel that their obligations are those of any other soldier and their rights and privileges dependent in law & order as obligations upon others as upon theirselves. Harshness and contemptuous or offensive language or conduct to them must be forbidden and they should be made to forget as soon as possible that they were regarded as menials. You will readily understand however how to conciliate their good will & elevate the tone and character of the men....
Very respy.


Your obt. servt.
Chaarles Marshall
Lt. Col & AAG
Hd. Qts. CS Armies


30th March 1865
Lt Gen RS Ewell
Commdg General,

 

General Lee directs me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 29th inst: and to say that he regrets very much to learn that owners refuse to allow their slaves to enlist. He deems it of great moment that some of this force should be put in the field as soon as possible, believing that they will remove all doubts as to the expediency of the measure. He regrets it the more in the case of the owners about Richmond, inasmuch as the example would be extremely valuable, and the present posture of military affairs renders it almost certain that if we do not get these men, they will soon be in arms against us, and perhaps relieving white Federal soldiers from guard duty in Richmond. He desires you to press this view upon the owners.
He says that he regards it as very important that immediate steps be taken to put the recruiting in operation, and has so advised the department. He desires to have you placed in general charge of it, if agreeable to you, as he thinks nothing can be accomplished without energetic and intelligent effort by someone who fully appreciates the vital importance of the duty....
Very respy
Your obt servt
Charles Marshall
Lt col & AAG
source: Richards S. Ewell Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

 


Harsh Treatment of Southern Blacks by Union Army:

Another reason some blacks sided with the South.

The "freedpeople throughout the Union-occupied South often toiled harder and longer under Federal officers and soldiers than they had under slave owners and overseers--and received inferior food, clothing, and shelter to boot."--"Free At Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War", 1992 edited    by Ira Berlin, & others.

Letter written by Federal Chaplain and Surgeons, dated Dec 29th 1862, Helena, Arkansas:

 

General, The undersigned Chaplains and Surgeons of the army of the Eastern District of Arkansas would respectfully call your attention to the Statements and Suggestions following. The Contrabands within our lines are experiencing hardships oppression & neglect the removal of which calls loudly for the intervention of authority. We daily see & deplore the evil and leave it to your wisdom to devise a remedy.  In a great degree the contrabands are left entirely to the mercy and rapacity of the unprincipled part of our army (excepting only the limited jurisdiction of Capt. Richmond) with no person clothed with specific authority to look after & protect them.  Among the list of grievances we mention these:
Some who have been paid by individuals for cotton or for labor have been waylaid by soldiers, robbed, and in several instances fired upon, as well as robbed, and in no case that we can now recall have the plunderers been brought to justice--
The wives of some have been molested by soldiers to gratify their licentious lust, and their husbands murdered in endeavering to defend them, and yet the guilty parties, though known, were not arrested.  Some who have wives and families are required to work on the Fortifications, or to unload Government Stores, and receive only their meals at the Public table, while their families, whatever provision is intended for them, are, as a matter of fact, left in a helpless & starving condition.
Many of the contrabands have been employed, & received in numerous instances, from officers & privates, only counterfeit money or nothing at all for their services.   One man was employed as a teamster by the Government & he died in the service (the government indebted to him nearly fifty dollars) leaving an orphan child eight years old, & there is no apparent provision made to draw the money, or to care for the orphaned child.

The negro hospital here has become notorious for filth, neglect, mortality & brutal whipping, so that the contrabands have lost all hope of kind treatment there, & would almost as soon go to their graves as to their hospital.  These grievances reported to us by persons in whom we have confidence, & some of which we known to be true, are but a few of the many wrongs of which they complain---For the sake of humanity, for the sake of Christianity, for the good name of our army, for the honor of our country, cannot something be done to prevent this oppression & stop its demoralizing influences upon the Soldiers themselves ?  Some have suggested that the matter be laid before the Department at Washington, in the hope that they will clothe an agent with authority to register all the names of the contravands, who will have a benevolent regard for their welfare, though whom all details of fatigue & working parties shall be made though whom rations may be drawn & money paid, & who shall be empowered to organize schools, & to make all needfull regulatiojns for the comfort & improvement of the condition of the contrabands; whose accounts shall be open at all times for inspection, and who shall make stated reports to the Department--All which is respectfully submitted. --Samuel Sawyer, Pearl P. Ingall, J.G. Forman


Letter by Charles Stevenas to Lt. J. H. Metcalf (Acting Assistant Adjutant General) on Jan. 27, 1863 describes working conditions of contrabands working for the Union Army in at Kenner, La.):

 

"The reason the negros gave for their filthy conditions was that they had no time to clean up in.  On inquiry I found they have worked from sunrise till dark, Sundays included, since last Sept. ..."
 

"My cattle at home are better cared for than these unfortunate persons." --Col. Frank S. Nickerson, U.S. Army (describing condition of southern blacks in the care of Federal Army)


Elsewhere at Fortress Monroe in the Virginia theatre, Lewis C. Lockwood, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts testifies that this kind of abuse by the Union Army was committed on a widespread extent. In a letter dated Jan 29, 1862 he writes:

"Contrabandism at Fortress Monroe is but another name for one of the worst forms of practical oppression--government slavery.  Old Pharaoh slavery was government slavery and Uncle Sam's slavery is a counterpart..."
"Masters who are owners or who have been brought up with their slaves [have an interest in them]; but what do government officers generally care how they treat these poor waifs, who have been cast upon their heartless protection..."
"But most of the slaves are compelled to work for government for a miserable pittance.  Up to town months ago they had worked for nothing but quarters and rations.  Since that time they have been partially supplied with clothing--costing on an average $4 per man. And in many instances they have received one or two dollars a month cash for the past town months..."  "Yet, under the direction of Quarter Master Tallmadge, Sergeant Smith has lately reduced the rations, given out, in Camp Hamilton, to the families of these laborers and to the disabled, from 500 to 60. And some of the men, not willing to see if their families suffer, have withdrawn from government service.  And the Sergeant has been putting them in the Guard-house,
whipping and forcing them back into the government gang.  In some instances these slaves have been knocked down senseless with shovels and clubs."
"But I have just begun to trace the long catalogue of enormities, committed in the name of the Union, freedom and justice under the Stars and Stripes. Yours with great respect, Lewis C. Lockwood"
Mrs. Louisa Jane Barker, the wife of the Chaplain of the 1st Mass. Heavy Artillery writes in 1864 regarding a Federal contraband camp near Ft. Albany, in northern Virginia:
The camp, referred to as a "village" by Mrs. Barker was ordered to be cleared out by order of Gen. Augur.  "This order was executed so literally that even a dying child was ordered out of his house---The grandmother who had taken care of it since its mothers death begged leave to stay until the child died, but she was refused."
"The men who were absent at work, came home at night to find empty houses, and their families gone, they knew not whither!--Some of them came to Lieut. Shepard to enquire for their lost wives and children---In tears and indignation they protested against a tyranny worse than their past experiences of slavery---One man said, 'I am going back to my old master---I never saw hard time till since I called myself a freeman.'  "
 

The following is a letter written by the colored men of Roanoke Island, N.C. on Mar 9th 1865 regarding the mistreatment they have received by the Federal Army.  The letter was probably drafted by a black school teacher among them named Richard Boyle.
 
Writing President Lincoln regarding the actions of Superintendent, Capt. Horace James:
"..Soon as he [Superintendent] sees we are trying to support our selves without the aid of the government he comes and make a call for the men, that is not working for the government to goe away and if we are not willing to goe he orders the guards to take us by the point of the bayonet, and we have no power to help it we known it is  wright and are willing to doe anything that the President or our head commanders want us to doe but we are not willing to be pull and haul a bout so much by those head men as we have been for the last two years and we may say get nothing for it,  last fall a large number of we men was conscript and sent up to the front and all of them has never return   Some got kill some died and when they taken them they
treated us mean and our owner ever did   they taken us just like we had been dum beast."
In another letter of the same date:
"We want to know from the Secretary of War has the Rev Chaplain James [Capt. James] which is our Superintendent of negros affairs has any wright to take our boy children from us and from the school and send them to Newbern to work to pay for they ration without they parent consint   if he has we thinks it very hard indeed... "
"...the next is concerning of our White soldiers   they come to our Church and we treat them with all the politeness that we can and some of them treats us as though we were beast and we cant help our selves   Some of them brings Pop Crackers and Christmas devils and throws a mong the woman and if we say any thing to them they will talk about mobin us.  we report them to the Capt  he will say you must find out which ones it was and that we cant do but we think very hard it    they put the pistols to our ministers breast because he spoke to them about they behavour in the Church..."

 

What About Black Confederates in Missouri?

Across the South there was a significant minority of slaves and black freemen that sided with the Confederacy. Normally the free blacks, serving with the Confederacy received equal pay of the white Confederate private. For the slaves, the receipt of pay was not guaranteed. Their pay went according to their master's wishes, but often a portion did go for his personal up-keep. Others were promised freedom, mainly in return for faithful service by their masters.  Missouri was a far journey from the Confederate capital of Richmond, so the offers of freedom for service late in the war by the Jefferson Davis administration never made it to the far West.  But like the rest of the South, some black Missourians sided with the Confederacy, not because they were fighting to preserve slavery but  because they believed it was their duty to defend their people (as they saw them, both black and white) from the Yankee invader. But in Missouri this was less true than in most of the South.

In Missouri, since most slave owners were pro-Union, and the State was occupied by the Union Army, there were very few black Confederates.  Black Confederates rarely came to service without their masters (or more affectionately, "white folks").  For free blacks in Missouri, the Confederacy had nothing to offer to rally them to their cause. The Missouri River was patrolled by Union gunboats, so essentially the upper half the State was cut off from serious Confederate influence.  It is true a dozen or so rode with Confederate guerilla forces of Quantrill and a few served elsewhere. But their numbers in Missouri do not compare with the visibility of black Confederate in other southern States. One uncommon example would be George McDonald, of Osceola, Missouri (see link below).

Please see the author's article on "U.S. Colored Troops" and "Slavery in St. Louis" for more information on black Missourians during the Civil War.


About the Author:  Scott K. Williams is a St. Louis historian and writes articles for the American Local History Network and The Missouri Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks.  He is  a kinsmen of Lt. Col. James B. McCreary, who submitted a petition to the Confederate Congress, on behalf of Confederate soldiers, requesting slaves be recruited as soldiers in the Confederate Army. He is also a descendant of Union soldiers, abolitionists, and a member of the U.S. Grant Camp, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He is also author of , "Slavery in St. Louis" "U.S. Colored Troops" (And the Plight of  the Refugee Slave),  and "Benton Barracks".

Online Resources Regarding Black Confederates:

Terrell's Texas Cavalry, a historical multi-racial Confederate unit.
 

George McDonald, Proud Black Confederate of Missouri

Black Confederate Pensioners of Marshall County, Mississippi.

Rev. William Mack Lee Narrative (Gen. Robert E. Lee's black servant) "I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender."


        
 Copyright 1998-2003, by Scott K. Williams, All Rights Reserved. Permission granted to reproduce this fact sheet for educational purposes only. Must include this statement on all copies.