Monday, March 23, 2015

The Argument Over Black Confederate Soldiers

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Confederate soldiers

       I'm by no means what you would call a Neo-Confederate. I don't attempt to rewrite history the way a lot of Southerners and Northerners do. I just study history and attempt to call it like I see it without bias. I have had numerous discussions with supposed "historians" online who refuse to do the same. These discussions always have the same context, people calling themselves historians who are very closed minded about that time period. The problem begins when someone looks at the 1800's through modern eyes. 
       First, let me say this, I do not condone slavery, I truly believe it was an evil thing. However, it was legal at the time. These modern eyed historians believe the war was fought over something that was legalized by the American government. Now a Neo-Confederate believes the war would have happened had slavery not been involved. That also is a ridiculous statement. Yet, there was more to that war than just black and white, good versus evil, there were lots of gray areas, plenty of good and evil on both sides. These modern day historians refuse to believe that money had anything to do with the war. They ignore other problems the nation had at the time besides slavery. It doesn't fit into their perfect American government ideals. They went to school as children and were brainwashed with the old stories of how our founding fathers and leaders never sin, etc, and they refuse to believe any differently. 
       Now, for their theory to work, they have to believe that the black race would never have supported the Confederacy. So they convince themselves that there were no black Confederate soldiers. Let's take a look at what I have learned in about five minutes of research and see what I've uncovered. 

Negro Confederate pickets

The above drawing appeared in Harper's Weekly (A New York paper) in 1863 showing black Confederate pickets on guard duty as seen through a Federal officers field glasses during the war

       It's true that the Confederate government didn't recognize black soldiers, yet there are many incidents to show that blacks served the army. One "historian" argued with me that they were merely cooks, valets, and therefore not soldiers. I used to work with a guy that is a Vietnam veteran, he was a cook during the conflict, but this "historian" considers him a soldier. Why? Because the Vietnam veteran has a piece of paper that states he was a soldier. You see here how people twist things to suit their own agenda. 
       Just how bad was it to be a slave during that time period? I did a conversion of what a thousand dollars (what a healthy slave cost in 1860) and it comes to 29,500 dollars in today's money. We've all seen the Hollywood movies (and we all know that movies never lie about history) of white slave owners beating and mistreating their slaves. There were without a doubt some mean slave owners just like there are bad husbands, fathers, and mothers today, but most people that spend that kind of money will not abuse what they've bought, but take good care of it. 
       The best way to learn what being a slave was like at the time is from the mouth of the enemy. United States Colonel John  Beatty commanding the Third Ohio Infantry was posted in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and observed: "The poor whites are as poor as rot, and the rich are very rich. There is no substantial well-to-do middle class. The slaves are, in fact, the middle class here. They are not considered so good, of course, as their masters, but a great deal better than the white trash…The women sport flounces and the men canes…all are slaves.”
       Later, during the Battle of Murfreesboro (Stones River for you Yankee's) we learn that Confederate Brigadier General St. John Liddell had a black bugler. Private John Berry of the Eighth Arkansas Infantry describes an incident with captured Federal soldiers: "Passing through the yard of a nice farmhouse, we captured some of the Federal outposts, who pleaded for mercy. General Liddell swore at them, telling them they were fine fellows, invading our country and then asking pardon. Old Jake, the bugler, whacked one of them over the head with his saber, saying, with an oath, 'You youst get home, den.'"
       Another argument from the "historians" against black troops serving the Confederacy is that black men weren't allowed to carry weapons. Old Jake evidently was allowed to carry a saber. There is also the incident involving a black guard named Ben who carried a rifle. Ben was placed by Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone to guard surplus rations. When a white soldier approached and attempted to steal rations, Ben ordered him to halt. He ignored the command, so Ben fractured his skull with the rifle, killing the white Confederate soldier. The soldier's friends wanted to kill Ben, but General Mahone took up for Ben. In 1928, an amendment was added so that black Confederate's could collect a military pension. 
       Another black soldier is listed as fighting under Confederate Brigadier General James Holt Clanton at Greensport, Alabama. The black soldier named Griffin approached General Clanton and asked, "Where is Marse Batt?" Clanton pointed toward the Federal lines and said, "He is there dead." Griffin charged and recovered the white Confederate's body amid severe Federal fire. When he returned to Clanton's position, Clanton asked, "Is he dead?" Griffin replied, "I don't know. My mammy was his nurse and I'm older than he is. I promised to take care of him and bring him to her. I'm carrying him home now."
       There was also the incident of a black man named Sam that went to Shiloh with his white best friend named Billy Patton. Sam was owned by Billy's father George Patton (who became governor of Alabama following the war). When Billy was killed during the first days fighting, Sam refused to leave the field without Billy's body. Sam found Billy's body and brought him all the way from Shiloh to Corinth and then back to Florence, Alabama. One story says that the Confederate army took the horse away from Sam in Corinth and Sam was forced to carry Billy's body home himself. Either way, Sam was treated as a hero for the remainder of his life by the Patton family. 
       There is a video on youtube of an ex black Confederate who says he's been to all the reunions of Confederate soldiers and has been treated the same as any other soldier.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVYLswFcI48 
       

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A black Confederate soldier at a reunion

       Here is a small list of Black Confederate soldiers that I have found with minimal trouble. 

Griffin, First Alabama Cavalry, referred to as a soldier.

Dan Robertson, Company B, 35th Alabama Infantry, fifer owned by the Lagrange Military Institute. 

Henry Adcock , John Brown, Alley Newton (cook), John Pride, Tom Pride, Anthony Steward, all of the 4th Tennessee Cavalry, and all free men. 

Bill King (cook), Reuben Battle, Bob Battle, all of the 20th Tennessee Infantry, all free men. 

Brunton Alexander, Sampson Alley, Harris Bruington, Jeff Bruington, Jo Bruington, Lafayett Bruington, Vincent Bruington, William Burgess, John Cummings, James Farley, James Fields, William Gibson, John Hale, James Harris, Rufus Harris, William Albans Harris, all of the 25th Tennessee Infantry and all free men. 

Adam (cook), Lewis (cook), Solomon (cook) of the 3rd Mississippi Infantry, Adam and Lewis were slaves, Solomon was free.

Ben (guard) of the 16th Virginia Infantry, armed with a rifle. 

       Let the record speak for itself, although all those "historians" that refuse to believe the obvious will continue to ignore the evidence. It will not fit into their perfect little world of the holy north against the evil south. 


3 comments:

  1. This was very interesting. Thank you for doing the research for us. Regarding the social habits and customs of the day, I suspect few of us would recognize, or respect, many of the behaviors that were taken for granted then. Corporal punishment was accepted within families and considered the proper way to 'train up a child'; most families were patriarchal and even after people became adults the father was head of the extended family and wielded power that would shake us individual-freedom oriented Americans to the very core of our beings. My grandfather was born in 1874 and grew up in a very large household (he was one of 12 children who lived to adulthood). My father says that when HE (my father) was 7 years old he was sent out to plow in the fields behind a mule. Every aspect of this action leaves me shaking my head. How could a 7 year old hold a mule in check pulling a plow that is - PLOWING THRU THE EARTH? My father and his siblings also were sent outside to play while the grown ups ate first when there was company; yes, he kiddingly said; he liked chicken wings and necks because he was grown before he knew there were other parts. His Papa went to town in the wagon and didn't invite the children to go; they stayed home and did their chores.
    And that patriarchal grandfather was born just a few years after own father came home from serving the Confederay through five brutal years. My grandfather was as unlike I am as if we had come from different planets. I suspect his grandfather could have been equally different. But my father still loved, and respected, his father.
    This is a bit of a departure from the issue of black soldiers but it has just reminded me that when we look back at history I think that I, and many others, look 'through a glass darkly'. A good reminder that adds another dimension to my views. Thank you.

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  2. Shirley, That is the mistake most often made by modern historians. They look at the past through modern eyes. It cannot be done properly and be fair. You must put yourself in that time period if you truly want to understand what they were doing at that time.

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  3. My research shows that about 70,000 "colored" troops fought for the Confederacy. Bedford Forrest( a major advocate of black civil and voting rights after the war) had many "colored" troops in his unit, and issued explicit orders that they were to be treated equally, and that they were ordered to demand such.

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