Charles M. Brown… Page County’s “Black Confederate”… or… maybe not(?)

Posted on October 27, 2010 by

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As, I believe, most are aware (mostly because of the recent issue with the textbooks in Virginia), there is a great deal of talk about the subject of “Black Confederates” at this time, and, in the CW blogosphere, I think Andy Hall and Kevin Levin are handling it just fine. I’ve engaged in discussion about the topic in this blog before as well (for example, see here, here, here, here, and here) and can’t really add anything more to the discussion, but do have something that may be of interest.

I first mentioned Charles M. Brown back in a post on March 8, 2008. Actually, my finding him was purely accidental, as finding “Black Confederates” was not the objective of the research I was conducting at the time. Brown was a slave in Page County, Virginia at the opening of the war, and apparently secured permission to hire himself out as a cook to Confederate officers in Co. K (“Page Volunteers”), of the 10th 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 10th through Spotsylvania Court House (May 12, 1864) and was even among those who worked at burying the Confederate dead after that battle. Here, I’ll let a newspaper article from an issue of the Page News and Courier from the 1920s, give you the initial picture that I got…

Cooked for Page Confeds

Charles Brown, colored, of Pennsylvania, a native of this county, is a specimen of his race with a record for push and progressiveness. Way back in the year 1846, Brown was born near Rileyville and was the property of Miss Sophia Wood [born between 1817-1820; never married], falling to her by the distribution of slaves during the division of her father’s effects. Brown, who is in Luray on a visit after an absence of twenty-five years, was born on the river west of Rileyville, at the place once owned by the late Minor Conn, who was the grandson of Joshua Wood [1773-1858], at one time a leading land owner of the northern part of Page County. The venerable specimen of his race recalls many of the stirring things that were co-temperaneous with his boyhood days in the Rileyville section, telling how often at the midnight hour he had crossed the Shenandoah river in a frail craft in search of the most popular ‘medicine’ that was known in those days and which he says was a panacea for all ills. This, the old man says, always brought the patient around alright and he says it did not have its modern successor – a ‘bursting’ headache. Brown says along about the year ’62


Erasmus L. Bell

when this country was in strife Captain David C[offman]. Grayson [1838-1933], of Washington; Dr. T[Theodore] H. Lauck [1844-1923], of Texas, and the late [Erasmus] Lee Bell, of Lynchburg, learning of his goodly cooking qualities, sought his services as a cook in the Confederate army. Through a part of the war Brown went with these men looking after their welfare on this line. He was with them at the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, assisting in the burial of Confederate dead. The old man, crippled by his 74 years, says that the only difference he has been able to see between slavery days and the present were the restrictions that were thrown around him going where he wanted though this he believes was offset by the plentitude of all things good to eat in those times. Brown claims his part in the awakening of Luray thirty and forty years ago, for he says he was the first man that ever struck a pick for the excavation for the famous Luray Inn and the passenger station at this place, declaring also he took part in building the stations between Charles Town. W.Va. and Luray, later going to Roanoke where he did similar work while in the employ of the late Julius C. Holmes, of Charles Town, who it is known had this work in hand. After working in Roanoke for a while, Brown was stricken with ‘Pennsylvania fever,’ going to Washington, in that State, where he has ever since resided as a janitor of a number of public buildings and to which he will return as soon as he has looked over he scenes that brought happiness to him in the days when he was a Page pickaninny.

After I found this, I looked in the rosters of the 10th… and to my surprise (there was no mention in the article about his “enlisting”), a “Charles M. Brown” enlisted in Company K on June 5, 1864, as a cook. Regretfully, there is no further record… and there is no pension application from Brown as a veteran soldier… or as a body-servant, cook, etc. Bottom line is… he appears in the muster roll, and therefore, I feel, under guidelines to which I subscribe, he “qualifies” as a veteran “Black Confederate”… a soldier (as opposed to a black who cooked, served as a body servant, or etc., in the service of a Confederate soldier… not in the service of the Confederate military). But then… did the Confederates who knew him think he qualified?Hmmm… I’ll get back to that.

What continued to bother me about Brown is that he didn’t appear in any additional muster rolls. He simply made the books on the date of his “enlistment”… and then not a peep. There are more muster rolls for that company, but they are limited in details. Still, Brown flat out doesn’t appear again. Was this an official enlistment, was it an honorary status, was it done, and then, his name stricken from the rolls because he was black (after all, it was against the official position held regarding blacks in the Confederate army)?

Now… this past week, it dawned on me that I had never checked to see if the veterans of Co. K mentioned Brown’s name in a list compiled in 1914. Some time back, I mentioned efforts in Page County that were underway around 1914 to raise funds for a Confederate monument (though Herbert Barbee’s Confederate monument had been in place for almost two decades, by that time… but that’s another story). As part of that effort, there was going to be a series of plaques that would be placed on the monument, providing the names of all the soldiers who were loyal Confederates. That became a complicated affair, and… to this day, there are no plaques (for more about that, see here… which also includes a few details as to why there are two Confederate monuments in Luray). So… I went back in the logs that were created around 1914, to see if the veterans of Company K remembered Brown… and if they did remember him, he was not included as a veteran soldier. Now, why would this be? Here, I’ll add more fuel to the fire…

The following is an excerpt of a note written by Frederick T. Amiss (on an unrelated note… as a matter of fact, yes, not only related to, but a son of Doc Amiss):

Messrs. Grayson, Bell, Kauffman and Lauck:-

Gentlemen:-

If the above list contains any names that you four gentlemen agree should not be in it, please strike it out. If it omits any name that you agree should be in it, please insert it.

Grayson replied on April 17… and mentioned nothing about Brown.

Annotations and notes were later added by Bell, Kauffman, and Lauck… and still no appearance of Brown’s name.

Interesting. Take a look back near the top of this post… yes, that’s right, the quote. Three of the named men were mentioned by Brown in the 1920s. This was the officers’ mess that Brown served. If anyone would could vouch for Brown, it would be these men.

Theodore H. Lauck

Still, there’s something else to consider… Grayson and Bell were captured in the Wilderness, May 10, 1864; Lauck was captured at Spotsylvania Court House, May 12, 1864… and Brown did not appear on the rolls until June 1864. Was it simply that these officers didn’t recognize Brown as a soldier because he enlisted after they were captured? I’m not buying it, because these same three officers were highly active in postwar veteran affairs. Additionally, Kauffman wasn’t captured until October 1864… and yet, still no mention of Brown.

Why didn’t anyone remember Brown as a soldier? I leave it up for you to think about… and discuss.

So… I once thought that I may have found a “Black Confederate”. Frankly, if I thought in harmony with those who use the “memory” of “Black Confederates” to serve other agendas, I could conveniently ignore the complicating details from the postwar years. Yet, that’s not why I “do history”. I prefer to be responsible, laying out all the facts, and considering all the details. In the end, there is no clear answer… there is no definitive truth… only more questions that will likely remain unanswered… the same questions that will remain unanswered when it comes to most of those who have been, only in recent years, titled as “Black Confederates”.

In the end, maybe I didn’t find a “Black Confederate” after all. I’m o.k. with that…

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