part two of a series
In 2010, I went to the Virginia Civil War 150 Signature Conference at Norfolk State University.
This Conference was entitled, “Race, Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory.” One lecture was on the “Myth of the Black Confederate,” presented by Bruce Levine. He wrote the book, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War. His lecture discussed the reasons that there were very few black Confederate soldiers and the fact that they came just a couple of weeks before the war ended. He talked about the bitter and long-lasting debates in the Confederate government about the risks of arming slaves and free blacks.
Then at the lunch break, we had a choice of listening to other speakers not on the main program. I chose to hear Ervin Jordan. He spoke about Virginian African Americans in the Civil War. His discussion included black Confederates, but mainly these men were laborers and supporters of the Confederate government.
However, I took away from this conference that there were a very few black Confederate soldiers and some black people who really did support the South but not as soldiers.
Again, I thought that this topic was settled.
Then I co-founded the 23rd USCT and started participating in Civil War events in Virginia. We would be asked if we represented Union or Confederate soldiers. Of course, we were in blue Union uniforms with US on our buckles and brass plates; we also have a United States regimental flag. But we were asked that question with much regularity at these events. I guess that shows that our schools are failing to teach Civil War history. The more appearances we did, the more that I got asked about black Confederate soldiers.
Once, when we participated at an event at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News in 2012, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, Co. B, and the 23rd USCT discussed with several visitors that there were very few black Confederate soldiers. We were told that there was a black man inside the museum saying that there were 300,000 black soldiers in the Confederate army. At the end of the war, the Confederate government had hoped for 200,000-300,000 black soldiers when General Order 14 was issued on March 23, 1865. According to the Richmond Whig, dated April 29, 1865, 40 to 50 colored soldiers were enlisted in Richmond as a result of the act of Congress.
I attended another event in 2012, with Lou Carter, current President of the 54th Massachusetts, Co. B, in Suffolk, VA, and Gates County, NC. We went to the Sons of Union Veterans program honoring a soldier in the 1st United States Colored Cavalry who had received a new military headstone for his grave. One of the man’s descendants said that while he fought for the Union army, his brother fought for the Confederate army. For some reason, she questioned me about this “fact,” and I informed her that most blacks with the Confederate army were slaves or laborers, not soldiers. She followed me around so much, since I disputed her “fact,” and she got a scrap book of all of her activities with the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). I wrote down a few names of the men that she gave me and one even had a new gravestone, on which the SCV had given him the rank of private. I looked up these men when I got back to work and none were listed as a soldier—not even the one who had the gravestone.
In fact, I have learned from my most recent research that after the impressment laws went into effect starting in 1862, the Confederate government was to pay free black laborers the same amount as white laborers. After February 17, 1864, they were paid at the same rate as privates in the Confederate army. Maybe that is why some of the SCV are giving the private rank to some of the laborers, who were honored by the Confederate government for giving loyal service to the Confederate States of America (CSA).
To be continued….