Louis Nelson a black Confederate rifleman
I enjoy reading all the arguments both for and against the possibility of black men serving in the Confederate army. You would be surprised about how upset both sides get on the subject. There are those who refuse to believe that a black man would do anything to support a government that supported slavery while there are those who believe over 100,000 blacks fought for the Confederacy. The truth of the matter is that both sides are missing the mark. Another problem that historians have today is attempting to look at history from the way people think today. A hundred years from now, it may be deemed immoral to slaughter animals for food. Those historians will look at our generation and shake their heads. While we don't think we've done anything wrong, there will be those historians who paint us all as evil.
The first African slave mentioned on this continent was in Massachusetts in 1638. Ironically, its these same present day New Englander's who identify the evil South as the slave states. The state of New York freed its last slave in 1827, just 33 years prior to the war. The last slave on record in Pennsylvania appeared on in 1846, just 14 years prior to the war. The last handful of slaves in New Jersey were freed in 1865 by the 13th Amendment. At the same time, today we are 12 years removed from an attack on our country by terrorists. Have we changed our opinions about terrorists? A hundred years from now, our descendants may say those terrorists were correct and fighting for what they believed in, but does this make what they did right?
The entire thought of blacks fighting for the Confederacy is confusing or we wouldn't still be having this argument today. Louis Nelson served as a cook in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry during the first part of the war. This unit served under Bedford Forrest (the same evil Southerner who hated blacks and slaughtered them at Fort Pillow according to historians). In the latter stages of the war, he served as a rifleman. During the last part of the war, he was a chaplain, ministering to both white and black Confederates. He had memorized the Bible by heart. If you look for his service records you will not find anything. Not because he didn't serve, but because he was black. Since the Confederate government would not allow blacks to enlist, men like Louis were never considered a part of the Confederate army. Does this mean he wasn't a soldier?
I have an ancestor who volunteered and was employed as a scout against the British army during the Revolutionary War. He was captured in this role and held prisoner for almost two years. When the war ended, he was released. Was he a Revolutionary soldier? According to the line of thinking among these "North was right, South was wrong" people, he was not. He applied for a pension and because he had no military records was denied a pension although he was a war prisoner for almost two years.
I worked with a fellow years ago that was a cook in Vietnam. He never fired any type weapon in combat. He did enlist and was lucky enough to be placed in the kitchen while other poor men were fighting and dying. Does this mean he was not a soldier? He draws a military pension today and is considered a veteran. According to the rules set forth by some historians, this man was a soldier (although he never fired a weapon in anger), while Louis Nelson didn't have a piece of paper declaring him a soldier (he served as a rifleman), this means Nelson was not a black Confederate according to historians. The line is fine and historians get caught up in the argument and refuse to yield an inch either way in an attempt to prove their side was right.
Nelson Winbush is the descendant of Louis Nelson. He is also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as am I. We are both proud descendants of Confederate soldiers. Winbush has been attacked by the NAACP for his support of what his grandfather believed. During the antebellum period, slaves were considered a part of the family. My ancestors were too poor to own slaves. Some slaves were better off than my ancestors. Mary Chesnut said that slavery was not worth the trouble. When a 1000 dollar slave (27,000 dollars in today's money) got sick, you ran to get a doctor. When slavery was over, you paid the same person minimum wage and when they got sick and were no longer capable of employment, you hired someone else.
Nelson Winbush denies today that Lincoln freed a single slave. He has the ability to realize that Lincoln's emancipation proclamation freed slaves in the states in rebellion and no other. In other words, Lincoln freed slaves he had no power to free, but didn't free a single slave in the states he could have. I salute Nelson Winbush whom I consider a brother above any of these northern white men who attempt to stir up trouble between our races by painting the white southerner as a criminal to self-serve their own agenda. I believe to their discredit and frustration that Nelson Winbush would side with me.
The entire argument is frustrating because the Confederate army kept poor records as it was. Knowing how many actually served the Confederacy will never be known. We do know many served as cooks and many more were used to dig entrenchments. Some say the number was as high as 100,000 and one Harvard professor places the number as low as 7,000. Either way, it is known that some blacks actually fought while others served in supporting roles. As I like to say that war was over nothing more than money. Allow me to quote Abraham Lincoln, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it..."