Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Real Confederates Didn’t Know About Black Confederates

Posted in African Americans, Education, Media, Memory by Andy Hall on October 26, 2010

Lots of folks are familiar with Howell Cobb’s famous line, offered in response to the Confederacy’s efforts to enlist African American slaves as soldiers in the closing days of the war: “if slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” It was part of a letter sent to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, in January 1865:

The proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Lee, given as authority for such a policy. My first hour of despondency will be the one in which that policy shall be adopted. You cannot make soldiers of slaves, nor slaves of soldiers. The moment you resort to negro [sic.] soldiers your white soldiers will be lost to you; and one secret of the favor With which the proposition is received in portions of the Army is the hope that when negroes go into the Army they will be permitted to retire. It is simply a proposition to fight the balance of the war with negro troops. You can’t keep white and black troops together, and you can’t trust negroes by themselves. It is difficult to get negroes enough for the purpose indicated in the President’s message, much less enough for an Army. Use all the negroes you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong — but they won’t make soldiers. As a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier. Better by far to yield to the demands of England and France and abolish slavery and thereby purchase their aid, than resort to this policy, which leads as certainly to ruin and subjugation as it is adopted; you want more soldiers, and hence the proposition to take negroes into the Army. Before resorting to it, at least try every reasonable mode of getting white soldiers. I do not entertain a doubt that you can, by the volunteering policy, get more men into the service than you can arm. I have more fears about arms than about men, For Heaven’s sake, try it before you fill with gloom and despondency the hearts of many of our truest and most devoted men, by resort to the suicidal policy of arming our slaves.

No great surprise here; earnest and vituperative opposition to the enlistment of slaves in Confederate service was widespread, even as the concussion of Federal artillery rattled the panes in the windows of the capitol in Richmond.

What’s passing strange, as Molly Ivins used to say, is that Howell Cobb is a central figure in one of the canonical sources in Black Confederate “scholarship,” the description of the capture of Frederick, Maryland in 1862, published by Dr. Lewis H. Steiner of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. In his account of the capture and occupation of the town, Steiner makes mention of

Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this num­ber [of 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.

This passage is often repeated without critique or analysis, and offered as eyewitness evidence of the widespread use of African American soldiers by the Confederate Army. Indeed, Steiner’s figure is sometimes extrapolation to derrive an estimate of black soldiers in the whole of the Confederate Army, to number in the tens of thousands.

But, as history blogger Aporetic points out, Steiner’s observation is included in a larger work that mocks the Confederates generally, is full of obvious exaggerations and caricatures, and is clearly written — like Frederick Douglass’ well-known evocation of Black Confederates “with bullets in their pockets” — to rally support in the North to the Union cause. It is propaganda.  Most important, Steiner’s account of Black Confederates under arms is entirely unsupported by other eyewitnesses to this event, North or South. Aporetic goes on to point out the apparent incongruity of Steiner’s description of this horde being led by none other than Howell Cobb:

A drunken, bloated blackguard on horseback, for instance, with the badge of a Major General on his collar, understood to be one Howell Cobb, formerly Secretary of the United States Treasury, on passing the house of a prominent sympathizer with the rebellion, removed his hat in answer to the waving of handkerchiefs, and reining his horse up, called on “his boys” to give three cheers. “Three more, my boys!” and “three more!” Then, looking at the silent crowd of Union men on the pavement, he shook his fist at them, saying, “Oh, you d—d long-faced Yankees! Ladies, take down their names and I will attend to them personally when I return.” In view of the fact that this was addressed to a crowd of unarmed citizens, in the presence of a large body of armed soldiery flushed with success, the prudence — to say nothing of the bravery — of these remarks, may be judged of by any man of common sense.

The Black Confederate crowd doesn’t usually include this second passage describing the same event, or explain Cobb’s apparent profound amnesia when it comes to the employment of African Americans in Confederate ranks. How is it, one wonders, that the same Howell Cobb who supposedly led thousands of black Confederate soldiers into Frederick in 1862 found the very notion of enlisting African Americans into the Confederate military a “most pernicious idea” just twenty-seven months later? How is it that the general who called on his black troops to give three cheers, then “three more, my boys!” came to believe that “the day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution?” How is it that the commander of successful black soldiers felt that “as a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier?”

But set aside Dr. Steiner’s propogandist account for the moment; it’s unreliable and unsupported by other sources. Events at Frederick aside, how is that Howell Cobb, in January 1865, was unaware of the thousands, or tens of thousands, of African Americans soldiers supposedly serving in Confederate ranks across the South?

Howell Cobb’s Confederate bona fides are unimpeachable, and throughout the war he was irrevocably tied in to both political and military affairs. In his career he was, in turn, a five-term U.S. Representative from Gerogia, Speaker of the U.S. House Representatives, Governor of Georgia, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress, and Major General in the Confederate Army. He was a leader of the secession movement, and was elected president of the Montgomery convention that drafted a constitution for the new Confederacy. For a brief period in 1861, between the establishment of the Confederate States and the election of Jefferson Davis as its president, Speaker Cobb served as the new nation’s effective head of state. In his military career, Cobb held commands in the Army of Northern Virginia and the District of Georgia and Florida. He scouted and recommended a site for a prisoner-of-war camp that eventually became known as Andersonville; his Georgia Reserve Corps fought against Sherman in his infamous “March to the Sea.” Cobb commanded Confederate forces in a doomed defense of Columbus, Georgia in the last major land battle of the war, on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865, the day after Abraham Lincoln died in Washington, D.C. Perhaps more than any other man, Howell Cobb’s career followed the fortunes of Confederacy — civil, political and military — from beginning to end.

And yet, after almost four years of war and almost three years of commanding large formations of Confederate troops in the field, in January 1865 Howell Cobb seemingly remained unaware of the thousands, or tens of thousands, of African Americans now claimed to have been serving in Southern ranks throughout the war.

It is passing strange, is it not?

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  1. mike O'Malley said, on October 26, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Excellent job in every respect–well reasoned, well written, thorough–I tip my hat!

  2. TheRaven said, on October 26, 2010 at 2:04 am

    his Georgia Reserve Corps fought against Sherman in his infamous “March to the Sea.”

    Considering how Sherman rolled over Cobb’s defensive force, you’d think that this alleged leader of thousands of black troops, back in 1862, would have marshaled 10’s of thousands to stop Sherman towards war’s end. If Cobb is the linchpin of the Black Confederate revisionist argument, then it seems like the clinching counter-argument is: how many black confederate troops were deployed to stop Sherman?

  3. [...] it in com­ments at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog. The blog­ger at “Dead Con­fed­er­ates” took it, ampli­fied it, and did more research and con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing to dra­mat­i­cally im…He used freely avail­able resources and framed it in a way that speaks directly to the [...]

  4. BorderRuffian said, on October 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    “Steiner’s account of Black Confederates under arms is entirely unsupported by other eyewitnesses to this event”

    Fremantle’s observations of Confederate troops in _Three Months in the Southern States_ is in basic agreement with the Steiner account.

    • Andy Hall said, on October 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

      Fremantle wasn’t at Frederick in 1862.

      But again, set aside Steiner’s account of Frederick. How is it that Cobb, Lee and so many other Confederate military leaders, politicians, and newspaper editors in late 1864/early 1865 treat the proposed enlistment of African American soldiers as a new step, a profoundly dramatic (and in Cobb’s view, disastrous) change of strategy, when black soldiers had supposedly been serving successfully alongside white troops all along?

      As I said, it’s passing strange that something supposedly so commonplace, so accepted, generated such an uproar and opposition even when it offered the last, best hope for the Confederacy.

  5. BorderRuffian said, on October 26, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    And the Steiner and Fremantle accounts are only months apart.

  6. BorderRuffian said, on October 26, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    “Fremantle wasn’t at Frederick in 1862.”

    It’s the same army. One observation is in Sept. 1862, the other in June 1863.

  7. Mark Douglas said, on October 27, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Anyone who thinks there were thousands, or even dozens, of black troops in the CSA is an absolute idiot.

    First, there is no indication, let alone proof of that. Even this blog ADDS shit to the letter saying the blacks were soldiers. Then tries to act like that proves there were black confederate soldiers Typical nonsense from southern scum.

    For any of you lunatics who want to think black were IN the CSA Army, go read Jeff Davis speech about blacks in the Army on Jan 5, 1863. Go on, go read it. If after you read his speech, and you still think there were blacks in the CSA, you need therapy for being a mindless sheep, which most of you are anyway.

    Yes, there were over a MILLION blacks forced to work for the confederates. Lee had 50-100 thousand in Richmond alone, building the fantastically large earth works that he and Davis would hide behind much of the war. Most of you morons have no idea what the earth works even were, but guess who built them? Here is a clue – not the white soldiers. The black SLAVES.

    Wait — I will PUT part of Davis Jan 1863 speech here. Because this is one of the many things the South has apparently hidden, because it destroys nearly every pathetic Southern Myth – all of which you Southern Apologist take as gospel.

    +++++++++++++++++++++ QUOTE BY DAVIS BELOW

    Citizens of the non-slave-holding States of America, swayed by peaceable motives, I have used all my influence, often thereby endangering my position as the President of the Southern Confederacy, to have the unhappy conflict now existing between my people and yourselves, governed by those well established international rules, which heretofore have softened the asperities which necessarily are the concomitants of a state of belligerency, but all my efforts in the premises have heretofore been unavailing. Now, therefore, I am compelled e necessitati rei to employ a measure, which most willingly I would have omitted to do, regarding, as I always must, State Rights, as the very organism of politically associated society.
    For nearly two years my people have been defending their inherent rights–their political, social and religious rights against the speculators of New England and their allies in the States heretofore regarded as conservative. The people of the Southern Confederacy have–making sacrifices such as the modern world has never witnessed–patiently, but determinedly, stood between their home interests and the well paid, well fed and well clad mercenaries of the Abolitionists, and I need not say that they have nobly vindicated the good name of American citizens. Heretofore, the warfare has been conducted by white men–peers, scions of the same stock; but the programme has been changed, and your rulers despairing of a triumph by the employment of white men, have degraded you and themselves, by inviting the co-operation of the black race. Thus, while they deprecate the intervention of white men–the French and the English–in behalf of the Southern Confederacy, they, these Abolitionists, do not hesitate to invoke the intervention of the African race in favor of the North.

    ================================ END QUOTE.

    Then Davis goes on to say that Lincoln was SOOOO horrible, SOOO VILE for using blacks as soldiers — he will INVADE THE NORTH and capture all the blacks there. He will put all slaves ever freed BACK on the slave status — FOREVER.

    Go read his speech. Learn some real history. Quit being stupid mindless sheep

    • Andy Hall said, on October 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm

      First, there is no indication, let alone proof of that. Even this blog ADDS shit to the letter saying the blacks were soldiers. Then tries to act like that proves there were black confederate soldiers Typical nonsense from southern scum. . . .

      Go read his speech. Learn some real history. Quit being stupid mindless sheep

      Who are you addressing here, exactly?

  8. Fisking Fremantle « Dead Confederates said, on October 28, 2010 at 2:26 am

    [...] I uploaded a post in which I characterized Dr. Steiner’s famous account of Confederate troops entering Frederick, Marylan…, because (among other things) it was uncorroborated by other witnesses to the same event. The [...]

  9. [...] emphasis. Like another high-profile Confederate general, Howell Cobb, in discussing the proposal to enroll slaves as soldiers Gordon makes no mention of the [...]

  10. focusoninfinity said, on March 22, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    If there were any “black” Confederates, they were few in number. The documentation of those who were alleged to be black Confederates, in most cases, seems questionable to me. However….

    When you are talking of a long war with hundreds of thousands of people; the absolute, unquestionable statement that there was not one black Confederate soldier, on it’s face, per se, seems as questionable; and very hard to prove–even if true.

    What normal person would on first impression believe that in WWII the Nazis had Jewish enforcers (likely few volunteered and most were forced themselves) against other Jews in concentration camps. Yet I’ve read Jewish accounts of such. I’ve even read an account that in the last decade or so, there was a Jewish head of a KKK unit, that when exposed, the man committed suicide.

    In the case of “blacks”, what constitutes “black”? Reasonable people’s definitions may very; an inclusive definition may have a result different from an exclusive definition. It may or may not be right; put even in post slavery days, in the days of segregation, I can understand why many “blacks” who looked more “white” than “black”, if they could, even in the North, and specially in the still segregated South: “passed for white”. Were there no “passing for white” Confederate soldiers?

    You may know of your black heritage; but your parents and siblings have “passed for white” too. The Confederate draft detail is at your door, asking are you going to do what every Southern white man should do, obey the law, obey the draft? You may willing for your self to say heck no, I’m black. But what of your parents, your siblings, your wife, your children? You could reasonably say this cryptic “black” Confederate soldier does not count, his draft was involuntary. By “black Confederate”, is it only meant voluntary Confederates? Many 100% white drafted Confederates also did not consider their service voluntary either in the Civil War (though likely some did). In later wars, there were many both black and white draftees that did not consider their service “voluntary” (some have legally “volunteered for he draft”: true).

    While on one hand it seems questionable that there were more than few “black Confederate soldiers”; I find t as hard to believe there was not even one, and more likely, a few that were, willing or not, Confederate soldiers of “black” heritage.?

    • Andy Hall said, on March 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      As I say — the advocates of BCS would do their cause more good by really firmly establishing a handful of cases than by tossing out half-assed “research” that doesn’t stand up to even cursory scrutiny. There probably are a few needles in the haystack, but you can’t find them if someone’s continually throwing handfuls of straw in your face.

  11. focusoninfinity said, on March 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Agreed!

  12. Graehame Thorne said, on May 22, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Actually there is abundant evidence, ignored by mainstream historians for the sake of political correctness, of blacks actually fighting for the Confederacy much earlier than 1863, or even 1862.
    “Angered at the loss of life at the hands of blacks at Manassas…the Northern Exchange (newspaper) editorialized: ‘The war has dispelled one delusion of the abolitionists. The Negroes regard them as enemies instead of friends. …on Sunday, at Manassas, (they) shot down our men with as much alacrity as if abolitionism had never existed.'” (New Bern Weekly Press, August 13, 1861.)
    Tennessee in June 1861 became the first state on either side of the conflict to legislate the use of free black soldiers.
    You’re already familiar with the Frederick Douglass quote, so I’ll move along.
    In April 1861, a Petersburg, Virginia newspaper proposed “three cheers for the patriotic free Negroes of Lynchburg” after 70 blacks offered “to act in whatever capacity may be assigned to them” in defense of Virginia.
    Horace Greeley, in pointing out some differences between the two warring armies wrote in 1863, “For more than 2 years, Negroes have been extensively employed in belligerent operations by the Confederacy. They have been embodied & drilled as rebel soldiers & had paraded with white troops at a time when this would not have been tolerated in the armies of the Union.” (1863 – 2 = 1861.)
    As early as 1862, Union Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck certainly knew that there were black Confed. soldiers as he had to deal with them as POWs at Camp Chase. Black Confeds. also were known to be POWs at Camp Morton, Camp Douglas, & Point Lookout, where many of them died. Union Army records indicate that at least 7 Confed. black soldiers were captured at Gettysburg, & over a dozen showed up for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the battle.
    For the most part these blacks were integrated into predominantly white units– a practice that the Union Army wouldn’t allow for nearly another 100 years. For example, from 40 to 75 blacks rode with Confed. Gen. N.B. Forrest from 1862 thru the end of the war (amply attested in contemporary sources).
    This is a partial selection from very abundant evidence.
    The Virginia Confed. Pension Records lists nearly 1000 approved pensions for Black Confeds. Of these approved pensions, “…387 are for men whose military records identify the regiment & company in which they served. …these pensions would not be granted without the attestation of an officer or senior non-commissioned officer.”
    It also is known that only 1 in 10 veterans applied for these pensions so the extrapolation of the number of these black Confeds. is possible. While we will never know exactly how many African-Americans fought for the Confederacy, the possibility of a minimum number of 3800 to 3900 Black Confeds. (387 x 10) serving in combat roles from Virginia alone is plausible… (…or, if the 1000 number is correct, then 10,000 from Virginia alone). Once again, these numbers come from the freakin’ Virginia Confed. Pension Records!!!
    Multiplying these numbers by the 11 Confed. States, but leaving out of consideration the many Confed. volunteers from the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, & Maryland, we arrive at a rough estimated minimum total of 42,500 to 110,000 blacks serving as Confed. soldiers– numbers that are entirely plausible in view of the over 200,000 blacks who served in the Union Army & Navy.
    Personally I think these numbers are rather high, & that blacks from states like Virginia or Louisiana were much more likely to serve as Confed. soldiers than blacks from Georgia or Texas, so using pension records from Virginia could be misleading. When all is said & done, however, I think that a total of 15,000 to 30,000 black Confed. soldiers is entirely reasonable.
    As for your quotes from Jeff Davis & Howell Cobb, history is replete with examples of politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths. For the first few years of the war it was illegal to arm black Confed. soldiers, & commanders who used blacks did so illegally. Although evidence is lacking, the widespread use of blacks was probably not discussed, or was even denied, by Confed. politicians for reasons of political expediency, since to admit it would have raised the question of what the South was actually fighting for.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 22, 2011 at 11:20 am

      Graehame, thanks for commenting.

      There are a lot of assertions in your comment that probably should be addressed as separate issues.

      First and most important, throughout your comment you continually apply the word “soldier” to any person associated with the army, black or white, free or slave, regardless of their position or role. This misleads the reader, because it ignores most basic differences – social, cultural and legal – that were fundamental to the South in the 1860s. That’s simply not the way white Southerners, military and civilians alike, viewed their world. It was a hugely different world, and it does not improve our understanding of it to elide these very basic elements.

      You’re right that there are numerous accounts in the press, mostly early in the war, of African Americans volunteering, or organizing, or drilling, but these accounts usually have a few things in common. They almost never (1) specifically designate the company or regiment, (2) never identify the officers in command, and (3) they’re almost always offered at second- or third-hand. There’s no way to follow-up or corroborate them. These supposed African American units seem to disappear from the Confederate press after an initial mention. Where are the descriptions in Southern newspapers of these units, in field, with the regular army? These units comprised of African American men invariably disappear after some brief item in the paper.

      More important, where are the Confederate military reports, dispatches and memoranda that describe these units? Or, if you believe that Confederate companies and regiments were racially integrated, where are the letters and diaries that mention these men as fellow enlisted soldiers? There are virtually none, although there are plenty that talk about black servants around camp, including anecdotes where those men picked up a weapon in a tight spot. But even then, such incidents are described specifically because they’re unusual, underscoring that they are not fellow soldiers, as the soldiers themselves viewed them.

      Confederate pension records are not definitive in determining a man’s wartime status, decades before. As you probably know, what we generally term “Confederate” pensions were issued by individual states, each of which established its own criteria and review process. Some states, like Mississippi, established separate programs specifically for former slaves/servants, while others seem to have allowed men who clearly were slaves and body servants to a receive pensions under the same program as enlisted soldiers. (The famous Holt Collier of Mississippi applied first as a servant, then as a soldier, then as a servant again.) I’ve even outlined a case, Richard Quarls, where a former slave was awarded a pension based on the service record of his former master, Pvt. J. Richard Quarles. Pension records can be helpful, but in and of themselves, they’re unreliable to definitively establishing a man’s role forty, fifty, sixty years previous.

      James G. Hollandsworth, Jr. had an excellent essay on black Confederate pensioners in Mississippi History Now, that highlights some of the challenges working with these records.

      You mention that “The Virginia Confed. Pension Records lists nearly 1000 approved pensions for Black Confeds. Of these approved pensions, “…387 are for men whose military records identify the regiment & company in which they served. …these pensions would not be granted without the attestation of an officer or senior non-commissioned officer.” “ I would ask, how many of those explicitly identify the applicant in question as a soldier, with rank, as opposed to a servant with the company or regiment? Slave/servant’s pension included those elements, as well, because whether the man was applying as a former soldier or servant, he still had to establish that he qualified under the relevant law.

      I have to disagree strongly with your dismissal of Cobb’s letter as an example of a politician’s double-speak. While Cobb certainly was a politician in civilian life, this was not a letter for public consumption; it was a letter directly from Cobb, and senior Confederate general, to the C.S. Secretary of War. Neither man had any expectation of it being made public, and there’s no reason to believe Cobb’s writing in it expressed anything but his actual views on the matter.

      You write:

      Multiplying these numbers by the 11 Confed. States, but leaving out of consideration the many Confed. volunteers from the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, & Maryland, we arrive at a rough estimated minimum total of 42,500 to 110,000 blacks serving as Confed. soldiers

      I can easily believe that many (or more) African Americans went into the field as body servants, cooks, teamsters, laborers, and in support roles generally. Some were free; most were slaves. And those men were essential to the larger war effort. On that, we can agree. But if you’re arguing that those tens of thousands were considered to be fellow soldiers at the time by white enlisted men and officers, by the C.S. government or the Confederacy generally, that’s a ludicrous statement.

      Finally, you write:

      For the first few years of the war it was illegal to arm black Confed. soldiers, & commanders who used blacks did so illegally. Although evidence is lacking, the widespread use of blacks was probably not discussed, or was even denied, by Confed. politicians for reasons of political expediency, since to admit it would have raised the question of what the South was actually fighting for.

      That’s a classic conspiracy theory rhetorical construct; the lack of evidence – in this case, the lack of direct evidence that Confederate commanders enlisted tens of thousands of African American soldiers illegally, and in secret – is itself evidence that it really happened.

  13. Graehame Thorne said, on May 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Andy–
    Thank you for a cogent & relatively complete response.
    “First and most important, throughout your comment you continually apply the word ‘soldier’ to any person associated with the army…”
    If I gave that impression then I apologise. I believe that a majority of the blacks associated with the Confed. armies were in fact servants or laborers, some of whom picked up a rifle in a pinch. I also believe that some enlisted from the beginning as soldiers, & that even among the servants & laborers their status evolved over time, from being unarmed, to arming themselves to be ready for an emergency, until their original role became irrelevant & they became, to all intents & purposes, soldiers. Furthermore, many of those servants & laborers performed jobs, like cook, teamster, quartermaster, or engineer, that in most modern armies would constitute them as soldiers, even though they may not have been so considered by their contemporaries, further blurring their status. And yes– I’ll even agree that in many cases those whom I’m calling black soldiers weren’t considered such by their contemporaries. But I maintain that a man who is marching in step with soldiers, indistinguishable from them by clothing, purpose, or his response to orders, having a weapon on his shoulder & bullets in his pocket, is a soldier– regardless what self-serving opinions his contemporaries may have entertained about his status.
    “You’re right that there are numerous accounts in the press, mostly early in the war, of African Americans volunteering, or organizing, or drilling…”
    …and you discount these “numerous accounts”– why? What reason could Frederick Douglass or Horace Greeley have possibly had for alleging black Confed. soldiers when none in fact existed? If anything, they each could have been expected to vigorously deny it.
    “They almost never (1) specifically designate the company or regiment, (2) never identify the officers in command, and (3) they’re almost always offered at second- or third-hand.”
    It wouldn’t be in the interests of a Southern newspaper to glorify the exploits of black Confed. soldiers, & how would a Northern newspaper even know their “companies, regiments, or officers in command?” And what do you mean by second- or third-hand? Many Northern newspapers– the ones upon which we rely most for these accounts– had reporters with the Union armies. Those reporters either personally witnessed the use of black troops by the enemy or interviewed officers who had. Does that make it a second-hand account? If so, then we must dismiss virtually all newspaper reporting, since it always makes use of interviews.
    “…Where are the descriptions in Southern newspapers of these units, in field, with the regular army.”
    The evidence is nearly universal that most black soldiers were integrated into predominantly white units, indicating perhaps their lineage as servants, or possibly indicative of the fact that until 1865 it was illegal to arm former slaves, so that the formation of a segregated army would have been impossible. And since thru 1865 their status as armed belligerents was illegal, very likely black troops were instructed to keep their weapons out of sight except when actually engaged. And to anticipate your objection, no– this isn’t arguing from a lack of evidence to a positive conclusion. The positive evidence, as I’ve said before, is abundant. All I’m doing here is using common sense to account for the absence of some of the evidence that you insist upon. Once again, in reporting on a war to preserve slavery it wasn’t in the interests of Southern newspapers to glorify the exploits of former slaves.
    “Confederate pension records are not definitive in determining a man’s status.”
    Since the issue of a state pension generally required the affirmation of an officer or senior NCO, I would argue that they’re about as definitive as you’re gonna get. Of course, you’d have to account for the fact that these records were sometimes altered at the time the pension was issued. Historian Erwin L. Jordan, Jr., in his examination of pension records, cites examples when, “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.”
    “I’ve even outlined a case, Richard Quarls, where a former slave was awarded a pension based on the service record of his former master, Pvt. J. Richard Quarles.”
    …which, given the similarity in names, is a perfectly understandable mistake. One.
    “I have to disagree strongly with your dismissal of Cobb’s letter as an example of a politician’s double-speak.”
    Even if you dismiss Dr. Steiner’s account– & I make little use of it myself– & you don’t believe that Howell Cobb led black troops into Frederick, MD in 1862, you’re still left with abundant accounts of the contributions of armed black troops to the Confed. cause.
    “But if you’re arguing that those tens of thousands were considered to be fellow soldiers…”
    Not the 42,000 to 110,000. As I said, I consider that a high estimate based on records from 1 atypical state. Elsewhere I’ve estimated a total of 15,000 to 30,000 black troops.
    “That’s a classic conspiracy theory rhetorical construct…”
    Why? All I’m saying is that white politicians & generals in a pro-slavery country would generally be reluctant to openly discuss the use of black troops in their armies at a time when the use of such troops was officially illegal. That isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s common sense. Nor am I using a lack of evidence to infer a positive conclusion. As I’ve said, the evidence itself is abundant.
    For example, the Civil War monument designed in 1914 by Moses Ezekiel shows a black Confed. soldier marching in step with white soldiers. Ezekiel was himself a Confed. veteran. Does he count among all those letters & diaries that you insist never mention black fellow-soldiers?
    Nathan Bedford Forrest frequently alluded to dozens of black soldiers– as many as 75 in some accounts– a majority of whom were presumably his former slaves, whom he freed in 1863 & who followed him for the rest of the war. The difference in numbers can be accounted for by differences in status. Some were his own slaves, others were the slaves of some of his officers, some may have been free, etc., so that the number varied depending on exactly what he was talking about.
    Union Brig. Gen. D. Stuart, in his official report to the War Dept., writes of a river crossing which “…had to be prosecuted under the fire of the enemy’s sharpshooters…but the enemy, and especially their armed negroes, did dare to rise and fire, and did serious execution upon our men.” Did Brig. Gen. Stuart have some reason to lie? Or did he perhaps not know what he was talking about? What possible reason would he have had to say such a thing, if it were not in fact true? This one account, if it is allowed to stand, is sufficient to call your entire theory into question.
    I realize that I will never convince you of the reality of black Confed. soldiers, since you obviously have a vested interest in denying, or even ridiculing it. And the reality is that neither of us was present, so neither of us will ever really “know”. My point is simply that there is a great deal to be said on the opposite side of the question from yours.

  14. Graehame Thorne said, on May 23, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Faced with your insistence that there are no 1st-hand accounts in letters & diaries and that information is lacking regarding unit affioliations, ranks, &tc., I’ve had another look at my source material. What follows is a brief sampling of an abundant wealth of information. Note the number of accounts from 1861 & early 1862…

    A burial marker at Confederate Mound, Indianapolis, Indiana reads :
    Christian, J. (Negro), Co. D, Morgan’s 2d Ken. Cavalry, d. 11/22/63
    Vance, J.W. (Negro), CSA Mail Carrier, d. 3/14/64
    Littleton, Solomon (Negro), 3rd Miss. Inf., d. /3/62
    Mayo, Henry (Negro), Co. G 36th Virg. Inf., d. 3/23/62
    (20 other names)

    POW Reports & Casualty Lists…
    “When Fort Fisher fell to the Union troops in Jan., 1865, the following blacks are recorded [by Union forces] as being among the captured Confederates who were confined at Point Lookout, Maryland:
    Charles Dempsey, Pvt., Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro.
    Henry Dempsey, Pvt., Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro.
    J. Doyle, Pvt., Company E, 40th NC Rgt. (3rd NC Artillery), Negro.
    Daniel Herring, Cook, Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro. Released after taking Oath of Allegiance Jun. 19, 1865.
    (many other names)

    After the action at Missionary Ridge, Commissary Sgt. Wm. F. Ruby forwarded a casualty list written in camp at Ringgold, Georgia about 29 Nov. 1863, to Wm. S. Lingle for publication. Ruby’s letter was partially reprinted in the Lafayette Daily Courier for 8 Dec. 1863: “Ruby says among the rebel dead on the [Missionary] Ridge he saw a number of negroes in the Confederate uniform.”

    Personal accounts, letters, & diary entries…
    Letter from a Union soldier, published in the Indianapolis (Indiana) Star, Dec. 23, 1861: “Attack On Our Soldiers By Armed Negroes. A body of seven hundred [Confederate] Negro infantry opened fire on our men, wounding two lieutenants and two privates. The wounded men testify positively that they were shot by Negroes, and that not less than seven hundred were present, armed with muskets. This is, indeed a new feature in the war. We have heard of a regiment of [Confederate] Negroes at Manassas, and another at Memphis, and still another at New Orleans, but did not believe it till it came so near home and attacked our men.”

    Letter of Private Frank Bailey, 34th NY Inf. Rgt. to his brother in Middleville, NY:
    “West Point, Virginia, 12 May 1862. I hear that the Rebels sent out a Regt. of niggers to fight our men…and they incited to all sorts of cruelty. It is said that they cut the throats of our wounded and then rob them of every article of any value. The soldiers are death on niggers now. If they catch a nigger in the woods, and there is no officer near, they hang them… Now if…the Southern chivalry as they style themselves put these niggers up to such deeds as this, may the curse of God light on them. …There is no mistake but the Rebels have black soldiers for I have seen them brought in as prisoners of war. I saw one who had the stripes of an orderly sergeant on his coat. I don’t beleive in taking them prisoner, but kill them where ever they find them, that they may never more curse the land with their hateful presence.”

    From James G. Bates’ letter to his father reprinted in the 1 May 1863 Winchester [Indiana] Journal. [The 13th ('Hoosier Rgt.') was involved in operations around the Suffolk, Virginia area in Apr.-May 1863] “I can assure you [Father], of a certainty, that the rebels have negro soldiers in their army. One of their best sharp shooters, and the boldest of them all here is a negro. He dug himself a rifle pit last night (16 Apr. 1863) just across the river and has been annoying our pickets opposite him very much to-day. You can see him plain enough with the naked eye, occasionally, to make sure that he is a ‘wooly-head,’ and with a spy-glass there is no mistaking him.”

    From the diary of James Miles, 185th N.Y. Vol. Inf., entry dated Jan. 8, 1865: “Sargt said war is close to being over. Saw several negros fighting for those rebels.”

    Black Confederate Nim Wilkes– “I was in every battle Gen. Forrest ever fought after Columbia. I was mustered out at Gainesville (May 1865). (Rollins, 1994)

    Pvt. Louis Napoleon Nelson fought under Gen. Forrest at Shiloh, Lookout Mtn., Brice’s Crossroads, & Vicksburg. (Winbush, 1996)

    Newspaper reports…
    The Chicago Tribune cited by the Leavenworth (Kansas) Daily Conservative, Sept. 13, 1861: “Negroes are employed by the thousands in the rebel armies to fight against the Union…”
    Further from the same source, Oct. 6, 1861: “It is well known that negroes and Indians serve in the rebel army…”

    The Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana, Nov. 1, 1862 : “…seven regiments (7000) of negroes, armed and equipped, had arrived at Wilmington, N.C., to occupy the various rebel fortresses…”

    THE NEW YORK TIMES Nov. 11, 1864, Vol. XIV, No. 4098, front page: “Jeff. Davis’ Message– He Opposes the Theory but Urges the Practice of Arming the Slaves. The message of Jeff. Davis to the rebel Congress, which assembled on the 7th inst., has come to hand… Mr. Davis opposes in general the arminng of the negro slaves. He says he cannot see the propriety or necessity of arming the slaves while there are so many white men out of the ranks. He would only [in italics] drill and arm such negroes as are already employed in the Quartermaster and Commissary Departments [end italics] and fill the places of such by a draft of negroes from the planters. He would give only [in italics] the reward of manumission to such slaves as shall have served efficiently with arms in the field. [end italics]”

    Upon the death of one Levi Miller in 1921, the obituary published in the Winchester Evening Star carried the title, “Levi Miller, Colored war veteran”, along with an account of his heroic actions in the Wilderness Campaign, Spotsylvania Courthouse, New Castle, Chambersburg, & other battles.

    Elgin (Illinois) Daily Courier-News, Monday, Apr. 12, 1948: “Robert (Uncle Bob) Wilson, Negro veteran of the Confederate army who observed his 112th birthday last Jan. 13, died early yesterday morning in the veterans’ hospital at the Elgin State hospital… He enlisted as a private in Company H of the 16th Rgt. of Virginia Inf. on Oct. 9, 1862 and discharged May 31, 1863.”

    Books…
    “It seems a little singular that in the tremendous struggle between the States in 1861-1865, the south should have been the first to take steps toward the enlistment of Negroes. Yet such is the fact. Two weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter, the ‘Charleston Mercury’ records the passing through Augusta of several companies of the 3rd and 4th Georgia Regts., and of sixteen well-drilled companies and one Negro company from Nashville, Tenn.” “The Negro as a Soldier”, written by Christian A. Fleetwood, Sgt. Maj. 4th U.S. Colored Troops, 1895.

    “The Governor of Tennessee was given permission in June 1861 to accept into the state militia black males between the ages of 15 and 50. The men were to receive eight dollars a month, plus clothing and rations.” “Negroes in the Confederate Army,” Journal of Negro History, Charles Wesley, Vol. 4, #3, (1919), p. 244.

    “Seventy free blacks enlisted in the Confed. Army in Lynchburg, Virginia. 16 companies (1600) of free men of color marched through Augusta, Georgia on their way to fight in Virginia.” “Negroes in the Confederate Army,” Journal of Negro History, Charles Wesley, Vol. 4, #3, (1919), pp. 244-245.

    “This war between the North and the South gave enslaved men and women an opportunity to take advantage of unstable conditions created by the warring whites. This was one way for some black people to initiate their march for their own freedom. Caught between two fires, they to find a way to survive the conflict. And for some, one way to survive was to volunteer to help the Confederates…The promise of freedom for themselves and their families was enough of an incentive to join the Confederate Army, and the Union had said that it was not fighting to end slavery.” “Between Two Fires– Black Soldiers in the Civil War,” Joyce Hansen, 1993, Franklin Watts, p. 42.

    “Color Cpl. George B. Powell (14th Tenn.) went down during the advance. Boney Smith, a Black man attached to the regiment, took the colors and carried them forward… The colors of the 14th Tenn. got within fifty feet of the east wall before Boney Smith hit the dirt, wounded. Jabbing the flagstaff in the ground, he momentarily urged the regiment forward until the intense pressure forced the men to lie down to save their lives.” “Into The Fight – Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg”, John Michael Priest, White Mane Books, 1998, pp. 128, 130-131.

    “The part of Adams’ Bde. that the 42d Indiana was facing were the ‘Louisiana Tigers.’ This name was given to Colonel Gibson’s 13th Louisiana Inf., which included five companies of ‘Avegno Zouaves’… These five Zouaves companies were made up of Irish, Dutch, Negroes, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Italians.” “Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle,” Kenneth W. Noe, The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, KY, 2001. (p. 270).

    Official Union Army Battle Reports…
    The report to the Union War Dept. of Lt. Col. Parkhurst, 9th Mich. Inf., regarding Gen. Forrest’s attack on Murfreesboro, Tenn. on 13 Jul 1862 (Official records Series 1, Vol. XVI, Part 1, Pg. 805)– “The forces attacking my camp were the 1st Rgt. Texas Rangers, a battalion of the 1st Georgia Rangers…& quite a number of Negroes…who were armed & equipped, & took part in several engagements…”

    Federal Official Records Series 1, Volume XV, Part 1, pp. 137-138, report of the Union commander: “Pickets were thrown out that night, and Capt. Hennessy, Company E, of the 9th Connecticut, having been sent out with his company, captured a colored rebel scout, well mounted, who had been sent out to watch our movements.”

    Federal Official Records, Series 1, Vol. XIV, pg. 24, 2d paragraph, Col. B.C. Christ, 50th Penn. Vol. Inf., official report of May 30, 1862 regarding Confed. forces opposing him at Pocotaligo, SC., “There were six companies of mounted riflemen, besides infantry, among which were a considerable number of colored men.”

    Federal Official Records: Series 2, Volume VI, Part 1 (Prisoners of War) pp. 17-18: “…before one single negro or mulatto was mustered into the U.S. service you had them organized in arms in Louisiana. You had Indians and half-breed negroes and Indians organized in arms under Albert Pike, in Arkansas. Subsequently negroes were captured on the battle-field at Antietam and delivered as prisoners of war at Aiken’s Landing to the Confederate authorities, and receipted for and counted in exchange.”

    Federal Official Records, Series 1, Volume IV, p. 569, report of Col. John W. Phelps, 1st Vermont Inf.: CAMP BUTLER, Newport News, Va., Aug. 11, 1861: “SIR: Scouts from this post represent the enemy as having retired. They came to New Market Bridge on Wednesday, and left the next day. They– the enemy– talked of having 9000 men. They were recalled by dispatches from Richmond. They had 20 pieces of artillery, among which was the Richmond Howitzer Battery, manned by negroes…”

    Federal Official Records, Series 1, Volume XXXV, Pt. 1 (Olustee), pp. 442-443, S.C., Fla., & on the Gulf Coast. Ch. XLVII– Report of Bgen Asboth, USA: “…I came upon the enemy, about 100 strong, and consisting of Capt. Goldsby’s (Alabama) cavalry company and a new militia infantry company, mounted… We pursued them closely for 7 miles, and captured 4 privates of Goldsby’s company and 3 colored men, mounted and armed, with 7 horses and 5 mules with equipments, and 20 Austrian rifles.”

    Federal Official Records, Series 1, Volume III, Correspondence, etc., pg 767-768: “CAMBRIDGE, Sept. 4, 1863. …some of the recruiting officers are acting rather indiscreetly, I fear, by taking slaves in their recruits, and the slaves of loyal as well as disloyal persons…”

  15. Jay said, on October 13, 2011 at 1:16 am

    Mack Douglas wrote: “Anyone who thinks there were thousands, or even dozens, of black troops in the CSA is an absolute idiot. First, there is no indication, let alone proof of that…”
    Typical. When the facts won’t support your personal, racist, bigoted, liberal views, insult and belittle those they do and do it loudly and repeatedly.
    Try reading the “Official Records of the Great Rebellion.” It contains records written during the war and compiled by the victors. It contains many references by Union soldiers about being fired upon by Negros.
    READ many quotes with former officers, North and South published shortly after the war.
    READ the manuscripts, published diaries and memoirs of That war’s veterans
    READ books that don’t necessarily agree with your viewpoint and look at the sources.
    Oh HELL, You wouldn’t want to do that! They might disillusion you!

    No, I don’t believe there were whole units of enlisted blacks in the Confederate army. But I have READ many historical documents that state, unequivocally, that Blacks did carry arms, did fight and did die for the Confederacy. Take a look at the Confederate Monument to their war dead at Arlington. There’s a negro there.
    Finally, MISTER Douglas, You said: “Go read his speech. Learn some real history. Quit being stupid mindless sheep.”
    My reply to that is I have. Davis was supporting the official political view. Officers and NCOs in the firing lines, didn’t always have the same views. Concerning READING, Obviously, you haven’t or, more typically, only read things that will support your particular narrow minded view instead of trying to figure out what the TRUTH is. Your kind HATE the truth, Hate scholars who seek it and if it doesn’t support your particular political agenda, hate those who report their findings and call them names and cast aspersion on their motives.
    Oh. As a final note, Lee didn’t spend a lot of time hiding behind the works in Richmond.

    I have done with Mr. Douglas and spent more time on him that the loud ‘mouth’ fool deserves.

    Define a soldier. I was a cook in the army. Was I a soldier? What about the Black truck drivers- teamsters- of the Red Ball Express in WWII and Korea. Were they “soldiers”? What of the Corp of “Engineers”- they who build roads and build fortifications? Do they deserve the title “soldier”? Hell yes! White Confederate soldiers were often detailed and served the war as nurses, teamsters, clerks &tc. Were they no longer soldiers?
    And what of these auxiliaries? Such personnel had a great deal of freedom of movement. Why didn’t they all just run away? They very often were operating in close proximity to Union forces. The Confederacy did not detail to guard wagoners from deserting. What about Lee’s excursion into Pennsylvania? Close proximity to freedom? But then, why carry food to Confederate soldiers under Union fire. Why bring in Union prisoners abandoned by their “soldier” guards! But, blacks did these things. What about the opinion of a veteran Negro senior NCO’s thoughts- That “except for the matter of slavery- that Negros of the South were heart and soul with the south? Nah- what would he know about Civil War History.

    Finally, was Negro service as a soldier commonplace? Probably. Was it organized and widespread? Probably not. Can the numbers be determined with any accurate degree of certainty? Absolutely not.
    But let us remember- All inclusive statements are automatically suspect. By that truism let us allow that some blacks, initially in the ‘service’ as servants, cooks, teamsters, ambulance drivers and &tc. however they came to be there, staid there and served the South in many degrees including the bearing of Arms, did so willingly and out of loyalty to something and/’or somebody. Why else would they have attended and been welcomed as former comrades in arms by the white veterans? Note that such as did so did not apparently despise the flag they served for 4 years? Why now then, should we???
    As for my interests in this discussion? I am descended of White settlers to “Western Virginia” whose kin (possibly save 1) did not own slaves. My interests in this discussion? The truth. I am interested more in an accurate record than in being “right.” (read, politically Correct.)
    I and my presentation here are not politically correct have at me fellows!

    • Andy Hall said, on October 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm

      Jay, thanks for taking time to comment. I appreciate your passion on the subject.

      I don’t know if you’ve followed this blog, but we’ve discussed many of the issues you bring up regarding black Confederates. There’s an index to these posts here.

      You write:

      When the facts won’t support your personal, racist, bigoted, liberal views, insult and belittle those they do and do it loudly and repeatedly.

      Watch your language, Jay. If you notice in other comment threads, I’ve cautioned Mark on this, as well.

      Try reading the “Official Records of the Great Rebellion.” It contains records written during the war and compiled by the victors. It contains many references by Union soldiers about being fired upon by Negros.

      You may not have noticed that those mentions from the OR are included in a comment, right above yours. ;-)

      There are twelve or fifteen mentions in the 128 volumes (600-800 pages each) of the OR of black troops taking up arms for the Confederacy. No question that the men who submitted those dispatches were reporting what they understood to be happening, but like all of us, they filtered that through their own understanding of events, and their own expectations. Eyewitness testimony is valuable, but not infallible. (If you interview five different witnesses to a fender-bender, you’ll likely get five different versions of what happened.) These mentions of black Confederate troops – every single one of them from a Union source – are not the end of the inquiry, they’re the start. And that’s where they fall down.

      Remember the OR is compiled of both Union and Confederate records. And I have yet to see an example of a Confederate battle report, memorandum or dispatch that describes African Americans as Confederate soldiers. There should be numerous such mentions – after all, it’s the Confederates, not Yankees, who are closest to these supposed black soldiers and deal with them day in, day out – and yet thousands and thousands of pages of Confederate documents in the OR are completely silent on that.

      If you’re aware of contemporary (1861-65) documentation of black Confederate soldiers from any Confederate officer or official, please pass it along.

      As you can see from this post, Howell Cobb — who was as tied into both military and political events in the Confederacy as anyone — was flat-out appalled at the very notion of black soldiers.

      Take a look at the Confederate Monument to their war dead at Arlington. There’s a negro [sic.] there.

      The African American figure on the monument at Arlington is a body servant. He is explicitly identified as such in the official souvenir book published by the UDC to commemorate the unveiling of the monument. He is not a soldier.

      Define a soldier. I was a cook in the army. Was I a soldier?

      With respect, you were not a soldier because you worked in the mess hall. You were a soldier because you were formally enlisted. You were a soldier because you swore an oath upon enlistment. You were a soldier because you were carried on muster rolls and formally discharged. These things generally don’t apply to cooks, Union or Confederate, during the Civil War.

      Analogies between the Confederate army of 1861-65 and the modern U.S. Army don’t work very well, because they’re very different organizationally. The only definition of “soldier” that matters is that in force in the Confederate Army in 1861-65, and the Confederate Army regulations both (1) restrict enlistment to free white men, and (2) make no provision at all for the enlistment of cooks. (Apart from organizational tables for hospitals, cooks are barely mentioned at all. Same for teamsters.)

      But if you want to make an analogy, I’m sure you’re aware that today, a great many of the cooks, truck drivers, construction workers and so on, even overseas, are not soldiers at all – they’re civilian contractors from companies like Halliburton, KBR, etc. They travel with the Army, are integrated with the Army, and sometimes even come under fire – but they’re not soldiers.

      I am descended of White settlers to “Western Virginia” whose kin (possibly save 1) did not own slaves.

      Okay. But whether or not your ancestors owned slaves is irrelevant. None of what they did, good or bad, attaches to you.

      I am interested more in an accurate record than in being “right.”

      I’m interested in establishing an accurate record, too.

      Let us allow that some blacks, initially in the ‘service’ as servants, cooks, teamsters, ambulance drivers and &tc. however they came to be there, staid there and served the South in many degrees including the bearing of Arms, did so willingly and out of loyalty to something and/’or somebody.

      Let us also be clear — most of the African Americans attached to the Confederate army were slaves, and (by law and practice) they were serving their masters, not the Confederate cause.

      The motives and thoughts and desires of those men were undoubtedly as varied as they themselves were. I’m all for exploring their stories, in as much detail as we can. What I’m objecting to is (1) the shoddy, half-assed research that usually passes for “evidence” of black Confederates, and (2) the tendency to make grand, noble assumptions about the beliefs and motivations of those men, about whom they barely know their names. It’s easy – cheap, even — to paste some long-dead person’s name on a website with a little animated Confederate flag, and some words about honoring their service as brave Confederate veterans. What’s much harder – and therefore much more valuable and much more respectful – to try an tell that man’s story and completely and fully and candidly as you can. To me, that’s the best possible way of honoring them.

  16. Hugh Brennan said, on October 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    I’m studying Global and Comparative History at the graduate level. Currently concentrating on Africa and Islam. I am a 50 year Civil War “buff”, reenactor and enthusiast. I won’t comment regarding the Civil War and black Confederates, but I will tell you that the phenomenon of “slave” soldiers is widespread geographically and chronologically.
    Although to those of us in the western tradition the notion of a slave/soldier seems a contradiction in terms- so weel summarized by Howell Cobb’s comment- the fact is enslaved Africans, openly carrying arms, as individuals, in companies, regiments and entire armies served loyally and effectively throughout the world.
    Indian princes placed orders for slave soldiers with Arab slavers and took delivery on the opposite side of the Indian ocean. Some of these soldiers served so well, that they went on to command and eventually rule.
    Dutchmen, Britons, Frenchmen all employed regiments and companies of slave soldiers from the Americas to the East Indies.
    We cannot comprehend how a man in arms would not use his weapons to free himself. Again, we see the bearing of arms as the determining distinction of Liberty. Hence, the Second Amendment.
    But, it was more complicated than that. Slavery was nearly universal in Africa and not weighted with the racialist dimension we suffered from. Africans in service might look to emancipation and perhaps repatriation as the reward for service. The staus of a soldier/warrio was no to be despised in their own terms. The aquisition of arms, clothes, horses, provision of a steady living and the prospect of loot could all be inducements to loyal service.
    Personal loyalty, bonds of “brotherhood” and cohesion created by being foreigners in a distant land; all of thse could explain the seeming contradiction.
    I fear the refusal to acknowledge the possibiolity of freely entered, military service to the cConfederacy on the part of black soldiers robs them of what historians refer to as “agency”. Whatever we think of their actions and motivations is irrelevant to the choices they made. Black Southerners who served the Confederacy would not be the first people to serve interests that seem obviously inimicable to their own best interests.

  17. Ryan S said, on January 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Mark Douglas wrote:

    “Anyone who thinks there were thousands, or even dozens, of black troops in the CSA is an absolute idiot.

    First, there is no indication, let alone proof of that.”

    –>Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938

    –>Oklahoma Narratives, Volume XIII Pages 172-173

    –>George Kye (ex-slave)

    –>When the War come along I was a grown man, and I sent off to serve because old Master was too old to go, but he had to send somebody anyways. I served as George Stover, but every time the sergeant would call out “Abe Stover”, I would answer “Here”.

    –>They was eleven negro boys served in my regiment for their masters.

    –> http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mesn&fileName=130/mesn130.db&recNum=176

    I found eleven black troops in one regiment for the CSA. Oh, well I bet they were just servants even though they were officially serving as real soldiers under their master’s names.

    –>Texas Narratives, Volume XVI, Part 1: Pgs 194
    –>James Café (ex-slave)

    –>One day Marster Bob comes to me and says, ‘Jim, how you like to jine de army?’ You see, de war had started. I says to him, ‘What does I have to do?’ And he says, ‘Tend hosses and ride ‘em.’ I was young den and thought it would be lots of fun, so I says I’d go. So de first think I knows, I’s in de army away off east from here, somewhar dis side of St. Louis and in Tennessee and Arkansas and other places. I goes in de army ‘stead of Dr. Carroll.

    –>After I gits in de army, it wasn’t so much fun, ‘cause tendin’ hosses and ridin’ wasn’ all I does. No, sar, I has to do shootin’ and git shooted at! One time we stops de train, takes Yankee money and lots of other things off dat train. Dat was way up de other side of Tennessee.

    –>You’s heard of de battle of Independence? Dat’s whar we fights for three days and nights. I’s not tendin’ hosses dat time. Dey gives me a rifle and sends me up front fightin’, when we wasn’ runnin’. We does a heap of runnin’ and dat suits dis nigger. I could do dat better’n advance. We de order comes to ‘treat, I’s all ready.

    –>I gits shot in de shoulder in dat fight and lots of our soldiers gits killed and we losses our supply, jus’ leaves it and runs. ‘Nother time we fights two days and nights and de Yankees was bad dat time, too, and we had to run through de river. I sho’ thought I’s gwine get drowned den. Dat’s de time we tries to git in St. Louis, but de Yankee man stop us.

    –> http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mesn&fileName=161/mesn161.db&recNum=279

    –>Alabama Narratives, Volume I: Pgs 270-271
    –>Tom McAlpin (ex-slave)

    –>Sho’ I ‘members de war. I ‘members when de war commence, Jeff Davis called for volunteers; den a little later when de south needed mo’ mens to fight, Jeff Davis’ officers would go th’ough de streets, an’ grab up de white mens an’ put ropes ‘roun’ dere wrists lak dey was takin’ ‘em off to jail. An’ all de while dey was jus’ takin’ ‘em off to de war. Dey made all de white mens go. It was called de ‘scription. Some niggers went too. Dem niggers fought right side of dere masters. Some went as body guards an’ some went as soldiers.

    –> http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mesn&fileName=010/mesn010.db&recNum=273

    • Andy Hall said, on January 23, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Ryan, thanks for commenting. Mark has commented in the past with a lot of passion, but he often (as here) takes an absolutist position that doesn’t add a lot to the discussion. There are a number of cases where body servants or cooks picked up weapons and used them; that that happened is not in doubt.

      You wrote, “Oh, well I bet they were just servants even though they were officially serving as real soldiers under their master’s names.” Spare the sarcasm, please. They were not recognized as “real soldiers” at the time, nor generally by Confederate veterans in the decades following, though they sometimes participated in veterans’ reunions, where they were usually profiled and hailed as “faithful slaves” — not Confederate soldiers in their own right. Contemporary accounts are very clear on this aspect.

      If your statement, “I found eleven black troops in one regiment for the CSA” is based on the statement of George Kye — “They was eleven negro boys served in my regiment for their masters” — then that cuts right to the crux of the issue: they served their masters, not the Confederacy.

      I’m entirely in agreement that more research needs to be done in this area. But the advocates for “black Confederates” do seem more intent on proving the existence of black Confederates, than in trying to flesh out their full stories and understand them in the context of their time.

  18. Graehame Thorne said, on January 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Andy–
    Your recent response to Ryan popped up in my Inbox, reminding me to have another look at your blog & to revisit some of the issues we’ve discussed. Quoting from you…
    “…like Frederick Douglass’ well-known evocation of Black Confederates ‘with bullets in their pockets’– to rally support in the North to the Union cause. It is propaganda.”
    Why would a claim that “Black Confederates had ‘bullets in their pockets’– ready to shoot down…& do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government.”– rally support?! Quite the reverse. In a war that was fundamentally against slavery (Union denials to the contrary notwithstanding), if blacks were fighting against it then wouldn’t that mere fact tend to cause Northerners– even die-hard abolitionists– to question their cause? And even if it were true, wouldn’t Frederick Douglass– a black man– have had more of a vested interest to cover it up than to broadcast it? I’m certain that he considered it an embarrassment. The Douglass quote is in fact strong evidence of the truth of his assertion. (BTW, when Prof. John Stauffer researched the life of Frederick Douglass for his 2008 book, “Giants”, he found that Douglass, while not an eyewitness to Bull Run, did interview witnesses.)
    “There are twelve or fifteen mentions in the 128 volumes (600-800 pages each) of the OR of black troops taking up arms for the Confederacy.”
    I question your estimate of 12-15 mentions. I’ve documented 7 such mentions based on a very cursory search. I have a hard time believing that in the couple of hours that I spent on this I managed to net half of all the mentions in the OR.
    “I have yet to see an example of a Confederate battle report, memorandum or dispatch that describes African Americans as Confederate soldiers. There should be numerous such mentions – after all, it’s the Confederates, not Yankees, who are closest to these supposed black soldiers and deal with them day in, day out – and yet thousands and thousands of pages of Confederate documents in the OR are completely silent on that. If you’re aware of contemporary (1861-65) documentation of black Confederate soldiers from any Confederate officer or official, please pass it along.”
    1st of all, for at least 2 reasons I think this is a completely unreasonable standard of proof.
    To begin with, the Confederates lost the war, & many of their records were lost along with it. There is no equivalent of the “Federal Official Records” for the Confederacy. In most cases battle reports & even muster rolls are lacking. All we have are fragmentary accounts.
    But even beyond that, thru late 1864, thruout much of the Confederacy it was illegal to arm blacks. (Tennessee, as I’ve noted elsewhere, was an exception, as were several other Southern States, including Louisiana.) Commanders in the field who did so, did so illegally. This being the case, how reasonable is it for a commander who is violating both the law & the orders of his superiors to call attention to that fact in an official battle report, memorandum, or dispatch? And before you jump on me for arguing from negative evidence to a positive conclusion– no, I’m not. Your insistence that Confederate commanders document their violations of both the law & orders to the contrary doesn’t pass the “reasonable man” test.
    …however, despite the fragmentary nature of the evidence, we do have some of the accounts you say you’re looking for, recorded in some of the 3 messages that I posted on 22 & 23 May :
    POW Reports & Casualty Lists…
    “When Fort Fisher fell to the Union troops in Jan., 1865, the following blacks are recorded [by Union forces] as being among the captured Confederates who were confined at Point Lookout, Maryland:”
    Charles Dempsey, Pvt., Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro.
    Henry Dempsey, Pvt., Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro.
    J. Doyle, Pvt., Company E, 40th NC Rgt. (3rd NC Artillery), Negro.
    Daniel Herring, Cook, Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro. Released after taking Oath of Allegiance Jun. 19, 1865.
    (many other names)
    Note that this list, although it’s from a Union source, makes a clear distinction between a cook, who presumably was not enlisted as a soldier, & 3 soldiers who were so enlisted, giving their ranks & unit affiliations. This is not a report written in the heat of battle, or written shortly after a battle, when memory has a chance to fade & new pressing concerns are competing for the attention. This is an administrative list written far from the front lines, when the authors have plenty of time to get their facts straight & confirm their details.
    “Black Confederate Nim Wilkes– ‘I was in every battle Gen. Forrest ever fought after Columbia. I was mustered out at Gainesville (May 1865).’ (Rollins, 1994) Pvt. Louis Napoleon Nelson & Pvt. Polk Arnold of Forrest’s Escort Co., Pvt. Charles Temple, & QM Preston Roberts are also all blacks attested as having fought under Gen. Forrest at Shiloh, Lookout Mtn., & Brice’s Crossroads.” (Winbush, 1996)
    The above quote from Nim Wilkes would seem to be a 1st-person account confirming at least part of Forrest’s sworn testimony before the Joint Congressional Select Committee (42d Congress, 2d Session, Senate Report 41, Volume 13, 1872) that 45 to 75 blacks served under his command during the war. Interestingly, Forrest’s account receives further support from Federal Official Records Series 1, Vol. XVI, Part 1, page 805 (“…including quite a number of negroes, armed & equipped.”). This is further substantiated by the fact that Union records reflect that when Forrest surrendered, with him were 65 free, armed black freemen. This number corresponds favorably with the 45 to 75 attested by Forrest himself. I submit to you that Forrest’s sworn testimony, supported by the claim of one of his men & confirmed by 2 official Union records, is as close to proof as we’re likely to get. (Forrest’s account of his black Confederates is also supported by the research of Prof. Stauffer, who found that in both Louisiana & Tennessee, military units of blacks were organized by light-skinned mulattos or quadroons who identified with the slaveowning aristocracy.)
    2 more examples of biographical information in which ranks & unit identifications are given…
    Pvt. Richard “Dick” Poplar rode with the 13th Virginia cavalry. He was captured during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg. Poplar then served 5 months at Fort Delaware and 14 months in Point Lookout Prison and refused to sign the Oath of Loyalty.
    Pvt. Bill Yopp, who enlisted in the Blackshear Guards of the 14th Georgia Volunteer Infantry as the company drummer, was quoted as saying, “I had no inclination to go to the Union side, as I did not know the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers I did know, and I believed then as now, tried and true friends are better than friends you do not know.” Yopp was wounded three times.
    The website of Terrell’s Texas Cavalry (34th Texas Rgt., CSA) includes some of the few unit rosters that both survive & provide racial information. An excerpt from their unit history gives this information: “Unit rosters showed the 34th to be of multiracial makeup including White, Black, Brown, and Red Confederates. Company A had 25 Hispanic troopers and 2 Blacks; Company C had 28 Hispanics and 5 Blacks; Company D was commanded by Capt. Jose Rodriguez and had a Black 3rd Sergeant, James Washington.”
    It is also well-documented that in the spring of 1863, as Union victories eroded Confederate manpower, several Southern State militias offered units composed predominantly of black freedmen to the Confederate War Dept.– an offer that the War Dept. refused. The 1st Louisiana Native Guard, the Baton Rouge Guards under Capt. Henry Favot, & the Pointe Coupee Light Infantry under Capt. Ferdinand Claiborne were all units of black freemen. Your assertion that contemporary accounts almost never give unit designations or the officers in command thereby stands refuted.
    This is a complex & highly controversial issue, as was indicated recently by Harvard historian John Stauffer, who occupies the prestigious Chair of the History of American Civilization, when he said unequivocally that based on his years of research into the question of black Confederates, “the question of black Confederates is at least partly true”, in that he estimates that literally thousands of slaves– completely distinct from black laborers– took up arms and actually fought on behalf of the South.
    I repeat– the evidence in favor of black Confederate soldiers is abundant. Perhaps not enough to prove the case categorically, but more than enough to shift the burden of proof.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      You ask,

      Why would a claim that “Black Confederates had ‘bullets in their pockets’– ready to shoot down…& do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government.”– rally support?!

      You might want to look up the essay in which Douglass made his claim. Douglass is using the report of black Confederate soldiers at Manassas to argue, as he had been, for the Lincoln administration to enlist African Americans in the war effort. He continues later in that same graf:

      If a bad cause [i.e., the Confederacy] can do this, why should a good cause [the fight to preserve the Union] be less wisely conducted? We insist upon it, that one black regiment in such a war as this is, without being any more brave and orderly, would be worth to the Government more than two of any other; and that, while the Government continues to refuse the aid of colored men, thus alienating them from the national cause, and giving the rebels the advantage of them, it will not deserve better fortunes than it has thus far experienced.–Men in earnest don’t fight with one hand, when they might fight with two, and a man drowning would not refuse to be saved even by a colored hand.

      You continue:

      BTW, when Prof. John Stauffer researched the life of Frederick Douglass for his 2008 book, “Giants”, he found that Douglass, while not an eyewitness to Bull Run, did interview witnesses.)

      I don’t have that book, and can’t see his notes, but there’s nothing in text that says that, or makes any suggestion of where Douglass got his information. To the contrary, there’s ample circumstantial evidence that he read about it in newspaper.

      Regarding my statement that there are roughly 12-15 mentions of “black Confederates” in the OR, and all from Union sources, you write:

      I question your estimate of 12-15 mentions. I’ve documented 7 such mentions based on a very cursory search. I have a hard time believing that in the couple of hours that I spent on this I managed to net half of all the mentions in the OR. . . . To begin with, the Confederates lost the war, & many of their records were lost along with it. There is no equivalent of the “Federal Official Records” for the Confederacy.

      Complete and utter #FAIL. There is no such series as the “Federal Official Records,” and no one who was actually familiar with the OR would claim there was. The actual title of the OR, of course, is “The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” and it contains thousands and thousands of pages of Confederate reports, dispatches and other documents, as well as Federal.

      You write:

      “When Fort Fisher fell to the Union troops in Jan., 1865, the following blacks are recorded [by Union forces] as being among the captured Confederates who were confined at Point Lookout, Maryland:
      Charles Dempsey, Pvt., Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro.
      Henry Dempsey, Pvt., Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro.
      J. Doyle, Pvt., Company E, 40th NC Rgt. (3rd NC Artillery), Negro.
      Daniel Herring, Cook, Company F, 36th NC Rgt. (2nd NC Artillery), Negro. Released after taking Oath of Allegiance Jun. 19, 1865.

      There are a number of African Americans listed in Federal PoW records, but there’s almost never a corresponding record from a CS source. That’s significant. There are many, many entries in the compiled service records of white soldiers – whose status is not in doubt — but for whom there are incomplete or inconsistent entries.
      It’s also clear that you didn’t bother to look up the CSRs of the men you cite, because if you did, you’d know that (1) in every single case, their records are entirely from Federal sources, and (2) for Doyle and the Dempseys, first entry only gives the rank of Private, and multiple subsequent entries describe the, as “colored cook” (below). Herring is only listed as a “colored cook.” These men were not considered soldiers by the Confederate military, and their pretensions to that status were ridiculed by Robert E. Lee himself.

      Continuing:

      Pvt. Bill Yopp, who enlisted in the Blackshear Guards of the 14th Georgia Volunteer Infantry as the company drummer. . . .

      Bill Yopp never held the rank of private. He was a slave, a personal servant to the company commander, Thomas Yopp, and also served as a drummer. Bell Wiley, who met Yopp himself, was very clear about his status. There is no record of his enlistment, and his admittance to the Georgia Confederate Veterans’ Home – by special exception to the rules – was based on his long commitment to Confederate veterans after the war, not his service during it.

      Moving on:

      The website of Terrell’s Texas Cavalry (34th Texas Rgt., CSA) includes some of the few unit rosters that both survive & provide racial information. . . .

      I cannot find such a website, and am not really interested in what any website says, apart from directing me back to the primary sources. Perhaps you mean 37thtexas.org, which used to have lots of dubious information on black Confederates – but that site was taken down and replaced months ago. Maybe you didn’t check?

      This is getting tiresome:

      It is also well-documented that in the spring of 1863, as Union victories eroded Confederate manpower, several Southern State militias offered units composed predominantly of black freedmen to the Confederate War Dept.– an offer that the War Dept. refused. The 1st Louisiana Native Guard, the Baton Rouge Guards under Capt. Henry Favot, & the Pointe Coupee Light Infantry under Capt. Ferdinand Claiborne were all units of black freemen.

      The Louisiana Native Guard was not composed of “freedmen” – do you know what that term means? – but of free, mostly-Creole men. It was never accepted into Confederate service, and was disbanded altogether in early 1862, before the Federal attack on New Orleans, when the state of Louisiana passed new militia laws that excluded men of mixed race. It was legislated out of existence by the State of Louisiana.

      And again, Stauffer:

      This is a complex & highly controversial issue, as was indicated recently by Harvard historian John Stauffer, who occupies the prestigious Chair of the History of American Civilization, when he said unequivocally that based on his years of research into the question of black Confederates, “the question of black Confederates is at least partly true”, in that he estimates that literally thousands of slaves– completely distinct from black laborers– took up arms and actually fought on behalf of the South

      It is a complex issue, but one that you show little evidence of having much actual knowledge of, apart from maybe skimming the web. Stauffer has not, to my knowledge, published anything on black Confederates that’s passed peer review, or is generally accepted as a serious, scholarly work. If you’re going to cite his academic credentials as an authority, then his work on black Confederates needs to meet that same standard. He hasn’t. (Same goes for Ed Smith, and Walter Williams, and Earl Ijames, and. . . .)

      I know this sounds rude, but you haven’t the foggiest goddamned clue what you’re talking about. You cite websites that don’t exist, primary documents you’re clearly never reviewed yourself, and historical “facts” that are objectively, demonstrably, wrong. Anyone who’s serious about research would rightly be embarrassed by what you’ve written.

    • BorderRuffian said, on January 25, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      About 10,000 were enlisted (in varied forms) and 50,000 is a good estimate of the number of servants attached to the armies.

      The definition of soldier has been the same for at least 200 years-

      enlisted and paid.

  19. Andy Hall said, on January 26, 2012 at 11:13 am

    There are a few — very, very few in the larger scheme of things — African Americans who turn up briefly on muster rolls in the Confederate army, as reflected in the compiled service records (CSRs) at NARA. I went into more detail about this in the context of cooks, here. In most cases, the individual turns up once or twice, and that’s it, compared to the more typical Confederate private, whose CSR goes on for card and after after card. So it is possible to name “just one” example. In fact, one can probably name a few dozen.

    But when you look at those numbers in the larger context of their regiments and the army as a whole — when you quit picking at the bark and instead step back to see the entire tree in the forest — it becomes quickly apparent that these few examples are odd outliers, quite likely in some cases erroneous entries, that are in no way typical of the Confederate army as a whole. (Keep in mind as well that the CSR cards are not documents from the Civil War, but forms transcribed from the original, 1860s muster rolls by War Department clerks in the early 20th century, so they’re one step removed from the muster rolls in any case.)

    Where BR gets his number from, I don’t know.

  20. BorderRuffian said, on January 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    A few years ago some fellow offered a cash money reward for each black Confederate.

    What type of money are we talkin’ about here?

  21. Jane said, on August 30, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Perhaps the south didn’t officially deem them “soldiers” but they were anyway. Check the pension records for CW veterans of Confederacy, and you will stumble across many black men. Crazy but true!

    • Andy Hall said, on August 30, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Thanks for your note. If you spend some more time with this blog, though, you’ll find that I’ve spent a great deal of time discussing Confederate pensions in detail, and they usually are very explicit about the wartime roles of the men involved.


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