African American Confederate Heritage
May-June 1997 and July-Aug 1997
Do black people have a Confederate heritage? One of the best kept secrets of The War Between the States is the roll of black people in the war. It has been estimated that as many as 300,000 black people served the war effort in one way or another.1 Author H. C. Blackerby states that as many as 93,000 served in active combat role.2 The first Union officer to be killed in battle was the abolitionist, Major Theodore Winthrop. He was killed by Sam Ashe, a black servant.3 Winthrop was killed at the Battle of Big Bethel. Ashe was a member of the Wythe Rifles.4 On December 23, 1861, the New York Tribune reported that Union forces had been fired upon by a "body of seven hundred negro infantry".5 Dr. Lewis Steiner, Union Chief Inspector of the U.S. Army Sanitary Commission, stated that Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's army had as many as 3,000 Negroes in it.6 One Black Confederate captured by the Yankees was asked why he sided with the South. His response was: "I had as much right to fight for my native State as you had to fight for your'n".7
Why did Southern Blacks fight for the South?
Southern Blacks were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the South. Some were concerned for friends and family at home. Some were unsure as to what the outcome of the war would be. Many were disillusioned by the prejudice of northerners. And most of all had never been out of the South. The South was their home!
Today, very few Blacks know of their Confederate heritage. History books are written by the victors and they dare not print the truth about the roles of Blacks in the Confederacy. Blacks have a rich Confederate heritage. It is their loss that they do not know about it.
1. Old Huntsville, Vol. 62, p. 43
2. Ibid., (Quote from Blackerby's, Blacks in Blue and Gray)
3. National SCV publication on Black Confederate Heritage
4. Old Huntsville, Vol. 62, p. 43
7. Ibid., p. 44
Continuing our topic from last month, here are some facts about blacks loyalty to the Confederate cause:
1. Famed bridge engineer and former slave Horace King received naval contracts for building Confederate Warships. 1
2. John W. Buckner, a black private, was wounded at Ft. Wagner repulsing the U.S. (Colored) 54th Massachusetts Regiment. 2
3. George Wallace, a servant who surrendered with General Lee at Appomattox, later served in the Georgia Senate. 3
4. Jim Lewis served Gen. Stonewall Jackson, and was honored to hold his horse, "Little Sorrel", at the general's funeral. 4
5. Captured black cook Dick Poplar suffered cruelty by Yankee Negro guards at Pt. Lookout, MD for being a "Jeff Davis Man".5
One of the more famous black Confederate veterans was John F. Harris, a Mississippian. John served in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1890, and was present when a resolution was voted on to erect a Confederate Monument to the soldiers of Mississippi. Several blacks opposed the resolution, but John Harris rose and spoke in its defense: "When the news came that the South had been invaded, those men went forth to fight for what they believed in, and they made no requests for monuments... But they died, and their virtues would be remembered. Sir, I went with them. I, too, wore the gray, the same color as my master wore. We stayed four long years, and if that war had gone on till now, I would have been there yet... I want to honor those brave men who died for their convictions".6 After his speech, six other blacks joined John and voted for the funding of the monument.
1. National SCV publication on Black Confederate Heritage
6. THE TIMES - PICAYUNE, B-6, Feb. 21, 1996
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