On “Black Confederates”

Posted on March 8, 2008 by

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I’ve been enjoying Kevin Levin’s blogging about Black Confederates lately and I particularly enjoyed his post Black Confederates: The Standard Formula.

I don’t really think much of the position that some in the SCV and neo-Confederates (yes, I recognize a difference between the two, though at times, people from the two sets are one-in-the-same under the same neo-Confederate ideology) have taken regarding Black Confederates. Quite honestly, I think there is a substantial body of counter-information being selectively neglected when developing pro-Confederate ideology about Black Confederates. Just as some try hard to make their case by digging for information about Black Confederate, I think that others can (and should) take the time to begin tallying the numbers of Southern blacks (slave and free) who 1) fled the South for the North altogether (the war offering that opportunity), 2) were FORCED (without firearms, of course) into the service of the Confederacy during the war, and 3) left slavery or life as free blacks to join the ranks of the Union army (U.S.C.T. regiments as well as serving in different capacities in other units and branches of the U.S. military). I have no doubt that the job of tallying these numbers would be a difficult task, but I do believe that it would be worthwhile.

At one point in time I was looking for evidence of Black Confederates in my home county. It’s funny, but Though shown in the roster in the history of the 10th Virginia Infantry, there is nothing more about Brown in the bookonly after having given up that task did I actually found one. Charles Brown was a slave in Page County, Virginia at the opening of the war, and in some way, was given permission to hire himself out as a cook to Confederate officers in Co. K (Page Volunteers), of the Tenth Virginia Infantry. It appears that he may have started his work as a cook sometime in 1862, but that was never made clear in my findings. He stuck it out with the Tenth Virginia through Spotsylvania Court House (May 12, 1864) and was even among those who worked at burying the Confederate dead after that battle. This was no great find, as it is commonly known that this sort of thing happened throughout the war. However, what struck me the most was that, within three weeks of Spotsylvania Court House, Brown was shown as having enlisted in the Tenth. Regretfully, all that exists is the initial record card that shows that he did enlist (though there is no mention of his being black). I could find nothing after the date of his enlistment pertaining to being a musket-bearing member of the regiment (he actually enlisted as a cook) or if he ever received a pension as a former “Black Confederate.”

In Climbing Up to Glory, author Wilbert Jenkins provided a unique examination of African-Americans in the Civil War, through the perspectives of African-AmericansThat said, I was also able to identify (also from the number of slaves and free blacks of Page County) free blacks who were forced to work as laborers for the Confederacy (John Dogan was one one free black who gave a great account of this in his loyalist claim) and one slave, Noah Thornton, who left Page for the deep South and joined the 82nd U.S.C.T.

Ultimately, looking for Black Confederates without considering the other blacks who weren’t supportive of the Confederacy is telling a half-story and showing the utter ignorance (and slanted agenda) of those who continue on that path.

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