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Black Confederates: Myth or Reality?

In November 2022, The University of Dayton student newspaper ran an article about Al Arnold and his 2015 book, Robert E. Lee’s Orderly: A Modern Black Man’s Confederate Journey. Arnold, a devout Christian descended from a Black Confederate Veteran, has likely relied on his faith to shield himself from the backlash caused by deviating from the “government-approved narrative.” In reality, Black loyalty to the South was critical, as they ran or helped run small and large farms and plantations, traveled with the armies and engaged in fighting, digging fortifications, building bridges and breastworks, blacksmithing, scouting, etc. Of course, many were cooks and teamsters and critics argue that they were not really Confederate Veterans. If that were true, cooks and teamsters from other ethnic groups would not be Confederate (or Union) Veterans either.

As a lukewarm abolitionist, Abe Lincoln was criticized by the extreme abolitionists for proclaiming the goal of the war was “preservation of the union.” [As though forcing States in a union they voted to leave has anything to do with preservation.] These fanatics worked feverishly to convince Lincoln to change the goal to the abolition of slavery. One fly in this ointment was that, when you include West Virginia, five Slave States fought for the union.

The Black population in the South was roughly 3.6 million in the mid-1800s. There were approximately 262,000 free Blacks in the South. Henry Lewis Gates noted, prior to the war, the North never had more free Blacks than the South. Another complication arises from the fact that just under 3,800 slave owners were Black. Indeed, William Ellison, Justus Angel, and Mistress L. Horry were large slave owners in South Carolina, August Donato owned slaves in Louisiana, and the list goes on and on. John Hope Franklin wrote that there were 3,000 Black slave owners in New Orleans, equating to roughly 28 percent of the free Blacks living there. The actual situation was complicated and extended beyond Tom Woods’ renowned “Index Card of allowable opinion.”

At least 2,807 Blacks received Confederate Pensions. The post-war financial devastation of the Southern States diminished the number of qualified pensioners, regardless of their race or ethnicity. According to researcher James Hollandsworth, Jr., Blacks receiving Confederate pensions included: 1739 from Mississippi; 121 from North Carolina; 328 from South Carolina; 195 from Tennessee; and 424 from Virginia. If these individuals were not loyal and had no role in Southern Independence efforts, they would have been ineligible for pensions.

In 1863 Confederate General Patrick Cleburne understood the extreme manpower shortage the South faced. He also recognized a large percentage of Blacks were loyal and would fight for the South. Anyone who fought both expected and deserved something in return, specifically freedom and a chance to become self-sufficient. There were mixed opinions among those in the Confederate hierarchy. Initially the skeptics held sway but, over time, more Confederates understood using Blacks as Confederate soldiers was pivotal to gaining independence. Robert E. Lee supported it, stating: “I believe that with proper regulations they can be made efficient soldiers. They possess the physical qualifications in an eminent degree.” Lee felt they should be rewarded with “immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully (whether they survive or not), together with the privilege of residing at the South. To this might be added a bounty for faithful service.” Of course, the March 13, 1865, Confederate Congress authorization to recruit 300,000 Black Confederates was too late to make a significant impact.

Just a few Blacks who supported the Confederate cause in various capacities included: Thomas Williamson, Wheaton’s Battery, Georgia Light Artillery; Neptune, went to war with Captain Low King; James Clarke, free Negro, fifer in Company K, 28th Georgia Regiment; Private Levi Oxendine, Free Negro, age 53; friends Alexander Harris and George Dwell, First Volunteer Regiment of Georgia; Amos Rucker, 7th Georgia Regiment; Tim Billing, cook for the Columbus Guards; Bill Yopp, of Marietta, Georgia, went through the war with his master, Captain Thomas Yopp; Jim Lewis, servant to Stonewall Jackson and led Jackson’s horse, “Little Sorrell” in Jackson’s Richmond funeral procession; the Coney family of New Orleans who set up a home warning system beginning with “Damyankees a-comin”; Alex Street, member of Captain Claiborne’s expert bridge building crew; Allen Griffin and Emanuel Pinks, of Macon, Georgia…

The same old naysayers will claim Blacks who served the Confederacy were coerced when the actual records reveal a much more complicated situation. With “Lincoln Cultists” and “Righteous Cause Mythologizers” controlling the narrative, thousands of very real Black Confederate loyalists, such as Al Arnold’s great-great grandfather, Turner Hall, Jr., could be transformed into a myth.

Sources: “Author Al Arnold leans on faith to embrace his Confederate ancestry, asks UD students not to fear thinking differently about history,” Lucy Waskiewicz, from Flyer News at:

https://flyernews.com/campus/author-al-arnold-leans-on-faith-to-embrace-his-confederate-ancestry-asks-ud-students-not-to-fear-thinking-differently-about-history/11/02/2022/; War for What?, by Francis Springer; Union At All Costs: From Confederation to Consolidation, by John M. Taylor; “Looking for Bob: Black Confederate Pensioners after the Civil War,” by James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., Ph.D, from the winter 2007 edition of The Journal of Mississippi History, Vol. LXVIX, No. 4. Posted May 2008.

 

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