Stonewall Jackson’s “Regiment of Free Negroes”
Within the smoke-and-mirrors, ignore-that-man-behind-the-curtain game that constitutes advocacy for black Confederate soldiers, one often comes across the claim that Stonewall Jackson commanded two battalions of African American troops. It pops up all over the place, including (briefly) in grade school textbooks in the Old Dominion. Remarkably, with 27 bazillion books published to date on the Civil War, and a fair number of those specifically about Ol’ Blue Light himself, no one’s ever bothered to name those two battalions by their official designation, identify their officers, or point them out on the order of battle for a specific engagement.
I’m not sure where the claim about these battalions originated, but it may be at least in part based on this news item from the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer of November 27, 1861:
FROM THE UPPER POTOMAC POSITION OF THE REBELS — A FREE NEGRO REGIMENT A letter from Darnestown, Md., dated to-day, says. . . . Gen. JACKSON, who, as Colonel, formerly commanded at Harper’s Ferry, is engaged at Winchester in organizing, arming, and equipping a regiment of free negroes [sic.], said to number fully a thousand. The negroes are reported to be very enthusiastic in their new position.
Rumors and second-hand accounts of African American troops in Confederate service appeared frequently in Northern newspapers, especially during the early part of the war. We’ve seen how a single mention of black troops — from a source that seems dubious to start with — got rewritten and embellished and recycled, over and over, for weeks after the Battle of First Manassas. That one took in a lot of people, including (it seems likely) Frederick Douglass.
So now we’ve got a date (November 1861) and a location (Winchester, Virginia), for at least one (anonymous, second-hand) account of Jackson’s black troops. Anyone who has further details on this regiment — its commanding officer, its official designation, the actions in which it fought, or citations to it in Confederate sources, please drop it in the comments.
I have Fold3 open and waiting.