I’ll describe some actual, real-life black Confederates.
In 1891, Tennessee began granting pensions to Confederate veterans. The Board of Pension Examiners was established to determine if those applying for pensions were eligible. Eligibility requirements included an inability to support oneself, honorable separation from the service and residence in the state for one year prior to application. Widow’s pensions were first issued in 1905. These applications show place of birth for widows and soldiers, and information about their children. Proof of marriage was required. The board maintained three separate rolls: soldiers’ roll, widows’ roll, and African-American soldiers’ roll. The following notice appeared on the “Colored Man’s Application for Pension.”
“The Negros’ pension law passed by the Tennessee Legislature, provides that Negros Pensioned by this Act must have been bona fide residents of this State three years if they served with a Tennessee Command, and ten years if they served with a command from any other State. They must have remained with the army until the close of the war unless legally relieved from service. They must be indigent. Unless you come clearly under the law, it is useless to file an application.”
Of those Black Southerners who wore Confederate Gray, only those surviving to pension age, or were fortunate enough to overcome postwar anti-Negro prejudice, even stood a chance of receiving a pension. The pension files were controlled by State authority and were often subject to a local county review board. Of the 290 people represented on the Tennessee Colored Pension Application for CSA Service, apparently 267 pensions were granted. The following 14 pension applications were from Rutherford County:
Avant, Alfred Scott -born in Rutherford County, in 1852; application rejected
Averitt, Albert – born in Rutherford County, in 1843, claimed service with the 18th Tennessee Infantry Co. C, application accepted
Clayton, Sam – born in Rutherford County, about 1848, claimed service with the 23rd Inf., application disposition unknown
Kirk, Sam – born in Rutherford County, claimed Hospital service, application accepted
Ledbetter, Ralph – born in Rutherford County, application disposition unknown
Maney, James – born Murfreesboro in 1843, claimed service with General Money’s Headquarters, application accepted
McCulloch, Ned – born. in Rutherford County, claimed service with the 17th Tennessee Inf., application accepted
Miller, William – born in Rutherford County, in 1847, claimed service with the 11th Tennessee Cavalry, application rejected
Nelson, Henry – born in Rutherford County, in 1842, claimed service with the 19th and 20th Tennessee Cavalry, application disposition unknown
Ransom, Alexander – born in Rutherford County, in 1840, claimed service with the 24th Tennessee Infantry, Co. A, application accepted
Ready, Albert – born in Rutherford County, in 1848, claimed service with the 23rd Tennessee Infantry, application accepted
Rucker, William – born in Rutherford County, in 1842, claimed service with the 2nd Tennessee Infantry, application accepted
Seay, Frank M., born in Rutherford County, on Jan. 25, 1843; claimed service with the 24th Tennessee Infantry, Co C., application accepted
Windrow, Wyatt, born in Rutherford County, , organization unknown, application accepted
Another pension granted, though not from Rutherford County, was that of Louis Napoleon Nelson, a member of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry, which was part of Forrest’s command. Louis Nelson was born in Lauderdale County and originally went off to war as a bodyguard for E. R. and Sydney Oldham. E. R. Oldham became a general in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry, Co. M.
According to his grandson, Nelson Winbush, a native of Ripley, Tennessee, and a retired high school assistant principal now living in Florida, his grandfather died when he was five years old at the age of 88.
“He was buried with great ceremony, dressed in full Confederate uniform with a Battle Flag draping his coffin. Sons of Confederate Veterans members came from three states to see him off on his last campaign. … He had been to 39 SCV reunions before he died.”
Nelson Winbush, like his grandfather and himself a member of SCV, speaks proudly of having the flag, which draped his grandfather’s coffin, in his possession. “My grandfather was there … 1861 -1865 … at Shiloh, Lookout Mountain, Brice’s Crossroads, and Vicksburg. He was originally a cook and forager, … but when they needed him, he fought just like anybody else.”
The “Richmond Howitzers” were partially manned by black militiamen. They saw action at 1st Manassas (aka 1st Battle of Bull Run) where they operated battery no. 2. In addition two black “regiments,” one free and one slave, participated in the battle on behalf of the South. “Many colored people were killed in the action,” recorded John Parker, a former slave.
At least one Black Confederate was a non-commissioned officer. James Washington, Co. D 35th Texas Cavalry, Confederate States Army, became it’s 3rd Sergeant. Higher ranking black commissioned officers served in militia units, but this was on the State militia level (Louisiana) and not in the regular C.S. Army.
Free black musicians, cooks, soldiers and teamsters earned the same pay as white confederate privates. This was not the case in the Union army where blacks did not receive equal pay. At the Confederate Buffalo Forge in Rockbridge County, Virginia, skilled black workers “earned on average three times the wages of white Confederate soldiers and more than most Confederate army officers” ($350- $600 a year).
Dr. Lewis Steiner, Chief Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission while observing Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson’s occupation of Frederick, Maryland, in 1862: “Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this number [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.”
Frederick Douglas reported, “There are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants, and laborers, but real soldiers, having musket on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the rebels.”
Black and white militiamen returned heavy fire on Union troops at the Battle of Griswoldsville (near Macon, GA). Approximately 600 boys and elderly men were killed in this skirmish. In 1864, President Jefferson Davis approved a plan that proposed the emancipation of slaves, in return for the official recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France. France showed interest but Britain refused.
The Jackson Battalion included two companies of black soldiers. They saw combat at Petersburg under Col. Shipp. “My men acted with the utmost promptness and goodwill…Allow me to state sir that they behaved in an extraordinary acceptable manner.”
Recently the National Park Service, with a recent discovery, recognized that blacks were asked to help defend the city of Petersburg, Virginia, and were offered their freedom if they did so. Regardless of their official classification, black Americans performed support functions that in today’s army many would be classified as official military service. The successes of white Confederate troops in battle could only have been achieved with the support of these loyal black Southerners.
Confederate General John B. Gordon (Army of Northern Virginia) reported that all of his troops were in favor of Colored troops and that its adoption would have “greatly encouraged the army”. Gen. Lee was anxious to receive the regiments of black soldiers. The Richmond Sentinel reported on 24 March 1864, “None will deny that our servants are more worthy of respect than the motley hordes which come against us.” “Bad faith [to black Confederates] must be avoided as an indelible dishonor.”
In March 1865, Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary Of State, promised freedom for blacks who served from the State of Virginia. Authority for this was finally received from the State of Virginia and on April 1st 1865, $100 bounties were offered to black soldiers. Benjamin exclaimed, “Let us say to every Negro who wants to go into the ranks, go and fight, and you are free Fight for your masters and you shall have your freedom.” Confederate Officers were ordered to treat them humanely and protect them from “injustice and oppression”.
A quota was set for 300,000 black soldiers for the Confederate States Colored Troops. 83% of Richmond’s male slave population volunteered for duty. A special ball was held in Richmond to raise money for uniforms for these men. Before Richmond fell, black Confederates in gray uniforms drilled in the streets. Due to the war ending, it is believed only companies or squads of these troops ever saw any action. Many more black soldiers fought for the North, but that difference was simply a difference because the North instituted this progressive policy more sooner than the more conservative South. Black soldiers from both sides received discrimination from whites who opposed the concept.
Union General U. S. Grant in Feb 1865 ordered the capture of “all the Negro men before the enemy can put them in their ranks.” Frederick Douglass warned Lincoln that unless slaves were guaranteed freedom (those in Union-controlled areas were still slaves) and land bounties, “they would take up arms for the rebels.”
On April 4, 1865, (Amelia County, VA) a Confederate supply train was exclusively manned and guarded by black Infantry. When attacked by Federal Cavalry, they stood their ground and fought off the charge, but on the second charge, they were overwhelmed. These soldiers are believed to be from “Major Turner’s” Confederate command.
A Black Confederate, George _____, when captured by Federals was bribed to desert to the other side. He defiantly spoke, “Sir, you want me to desert, and I ain’t no deserter. Down South, deserters disgrace their families and I am never going to do that.”
Former slave, Horace King, accumulated great wealth as a contractor to the Confederate Navy. He was also an expert engineer and became known as the “Bridge builder of the Confederacy.” One of his bridges was burned in a Yankee raid. His home was pillaged by Union troops, as his wife pleaded for mercy.
As of Feb. 1865, 1,150 black seamen served in the Confederate Navy. One of these was among the last Confederates to surrender, aboard the CSS Shenandoah, six months after the war ended. This surrender took place in England.
Nearly 180,000 Black Southerners, from Virginia alone, provided logistical support for the Confederate military. Many were highly skilled workers. These included a wide range of jobs: nurses, military engineers, teamsters, ordnance department workers, brakemen, firemen, harness makers, blacksmiths, wagon makers, boatmen, mechanics, wheelwrights, etc. In the 1920s, Confederate pensions were finally allowed to some of those workers that were still living. Many thousands more served in the other Confederate States.
During the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913, arrangements were made for a joint reunion of Union and Confederate veterans. The commission in charge of the event made sure they had enough accommodations for the black Union veterans but were completely surprised when unexpected black Confederates arrived. The white Confederates immediately welcomed their old comrades, gave them one of their tents, and “saw to their every need.” Nearly every Confederate reunion including those blacks that served with them, wearing the gray.
The first military monument in the U.S. Capitol that honors an African-American soldier is the Confederate monument at Arlington National cemetery. The monument was designed in 1914 by Moses Ezekiel, a Jewish Confederate, who wanted to correctly portray the “racial makeup” in the Confederate Army. A black Confederate soldier is depicted marching in step with white Confederate soldiers. Also shown is one “white soldier giving his child to a black woman for protection.” (source: Edward Smith, African American professor at the American University, Washington DC.)
Black Confederate heritage is beginning to receive the attention it deserves. For instance, Terri Williams, a black journalist for the Suffolk “Virginia Pilot” newspaper, writes: “I’ve had to re-examine my feelings toward the [Confederate] flag started when I read a newspaper article about an elderly black man whose ancestor worked with the Confederate forces. The man spoke with pride about his family member’s contribution to the cause, was photographed with the confederate flag draped over his lap that’s why I now have no definite stand on just what the flag symbolizes, because it no longer is their history, or my history, but our history.”
Confederates paroled at Appomattox Court House include 23 free blacks:
QUARTERMASTER’S DEPARTMENT OF THIRD CORPS ORDINANCE TRAIN: 16
EIGHTEENTH GEORGIA BATTALION: Musicians Enlisted for the War: Joe Parkman Co. A, Henry Williams Co. B, George Waddell Co. A, Louis Gardeen Co. C, Cooks Enlisted for the War: James Polk Co. B, William Read Co. C, Scipio Africanus Co. B, John Lery Co. A, QUARTERMASTER DEPT., GARY’S CAVALRY BRIGADE: James Barabsha, Guard Bob (slave of David Bridges), Thomas Bowen Teamster, Teamster Burress Bowen, Teamster Jim (slave of T.M. Dettrick), Teamster John Bowen, Teamster Jack Caldwell, Teamster Solomon Wright, Blacksmith DONALDSONVILLE ARTILLERY, COMPANY B: H. Blum, Cook, Jno. Mamply, Servant L. Leport, Servant Jno. Semple, Servant DETACHED NAVAL BRIGADE: Privates attached to Naval Brigade, Charles Cleoper, Joseph Johnson, James Hicks.
Eyewitness testimony from federal physician Louis Steiner -chief inspector for US sanitary commission- wrote of Stonewall Jackson’s troops in Frederick Maryland ” Over 3,000 blacks must be included in the number of Confederate troops ..these were clad in all kinds of uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons. most had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, and Bowie knives and were manifestly an integral part of the Confederate army.”
Levi Miller served in the the war, exhibiting bravery in battles in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. His former commander spoke highly of Miller’s combat record, giving a riveting account of his performance at Spotsylvania Courthouse. “About 4 p.m., the enemy made a rushing charge,” wrote Captain J. E. Anderson. “Levi Miller stood by my side– and man never fought harder and better than he did– and when the enemy tried to cross our little breastworks and we clubbed and bayoneted them off, no one used his bayonet with more skill, and effect, than Levi Miller.” Captain Anderson wrote: “During the fight, the shout of my men was ‘Give ’em hell, Lee!'”
In his letter of recommendation, Anderson dispelled any doubts as to whether Miller had fought for the South of his own free will. “He was in the Pennsylvania campaign, and at New Castle and Chambersburg he met several black folks whom he knew, and who had run away from Virginia,” wrote Anderson. “They tried to get Levi to desert — but he would not”.
After the war, Miller received a full pension from Virginia as a Confederate veteran. According to the Winchester Evening Star, “The pension was granted without trouble, and he had the distinction of drawing one of the largest amounts of any person in the state.” Upon his death in 1921, the Evening Star published a front-page obituary under the headline “Levi Miller, Colored War Veteran.” It was the sort of stirring tribute fit for a local hero.
Jordan, Jr., Ervin. (1995). Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. University Press of Virginia, Page 447
Private Louis Napoleon Nelson served in the Confederate army at Shiloh, lookout mountain, Bryce’s crossroads, and Vicksburg as soldier and chaplain of the 7th Tennessee calvalry under General Forrest. After the war, Nelson was good friends with Forrest in their farms ordered each other.
Of the 46 blacks that served under Forrest, four rode in his personal escort and were cited by Forrest as being some of the best soldiers to serve in the army.
Colonel John Gibson Parkhurst’s account of Forrest Black Confederates- ” The forces attacking my camp were the first regular Tennessee Rangers and a battalion of the first Georgia Rangers. And quite a number of blacks were attached to them and armed and equipped and took part in several engagements with my force today.”