Monroe Gooch, 45th Tenn. Infantry Regiment, CSA
This article is taken from a Sons of Confederate Veterans website. While some of the comments are provable and others anecdotal, it's fair to say that slightly
less than 1% of the manpower serving in the Confederate military were African-Americans. A number of Confederate militia groups and privateers under the Confederate Navy enlisted blacks from the beginning of the war. Many state units were not enlisted
into national service but remained under governors' control. These units tended to have more blacks in them than the national Confederate military. I had the opportunity to learn about blacks serving with the Confederacy during the early 1970s when I studied
the Civil War and Reconstruction in Mississippi while attending Colby College in Maine. It was surprising to me that so many African-Americans and Native Americans supported the South's struggle.
What I learned is the argument that "the South went to war to protect slavery" is more complicated than what you might think." And service by black Confederates should not be overlooked. The question should be asked, "Why did they serve?"
For the record, my ancestors were in Canada and Italy at the time of the Civil War, so I have no personal stake in the arguments surrounding the war. However, I do believe the nation is better off as one country versus two. Therefore, I have never been a
supporter of the Confederacy as a separate nation or the Confederate cause. Peter Rinaldi
It has been estimated that over 65,000 Southern blacks were in the Confederate ranks. Over 13,000 of these, “saw the elephant” also known as meeting the enemy in combat. These Black Confederates included both slave
and free. The Confederate Congress did not approve blacks to be officially enlisted as soldiers (except as musicians), until late in the war. But in the ranks it was a different story. Many Confederate officers did not obey the mandates of
politicians, they frequently enlisted blacks with the simple criteria; “Will you fight?” Historian Ervin Jordan, explains that “biracial units” were frequently organized “by
local Confederate and State militia Commanders in response to immediate threats in the form of Union raids…”. Dr. Leonard Haynes, an African-American professor at Southern University, stated, “When you eliminate the black Confederate
soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.”
The “Richmond Howitzers” were partially manned by black militiamen. They
saw action at 1st Manassas (or 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 34th Texas Cavalry, “Terrell’s Texas Cavalry” became it’s 3rd Sergeant. In comparison, The highest-ranking Black Union soldier during the war was a Sergeant Major.
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
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 utmost promptness and goodwill…Allow me to state sir that they behaved in an extraordinary acceptable manner.”
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 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 it’s adoption would have “greatly encouraged the army”. Gen. Lee was anxious to receive regiments of black soldiers. The Richmond Sentinel reported on 24 Mar 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 that 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 soon than the more conservative South. Black soldiers from both sides received discrimination from whites that opposed the concept.
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 Douglas 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, wagonmakers, boatmen, mechanics, wheelwrights, etc. In the 1920’S Confederate pensions were finally allowed to those workers that were still living. Many thousands more served in other Confederate
During the early 1900’s, many members of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) advocated awarding former slaves rural acreage and a home. There was
hope that justice could be given those slaves that were once promised “forty acres and a mule” but never received any. In the 1913 Confederate Veteran magazine published by the UCV, it was printed that this plan “If not Democratic, it is
[the] Confederate” thing to do. There was much gratitude toward former slaves, which “thousands were loyal, to the last degree”, now living with total poverty of the big cities. Unfortunately, their proposal fell on deaf ears
on Capitol Hill.
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 US Capitol that honors an African-American soldier is the Confederate monument at Arlington National cemetery. The monument was designed 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, D.C.
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…It 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.”
Charles Kelly Barrow, et. al. Forgotten Confederates: An Anthology About Black Southerners (1995). Currently the best book on the subject.
Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia (1995). Well researched and very good source of information on Black Confederates, but has a strong
Richard Rollins. Black Southerners in Gray (1994). Also an excellent source.
Edward Smith and Nelson Winbush, “Black Southern Heritage”. An excellent educational video. Mr. Winbush is a descendent of a Black Confederate and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).
This fact sheet is provided by Scott Williams. It is not an all-inclusive list of Black Confederates, only a small sampling of accounts. For more information about the SCV or “Confederates of Color” contact Mr.
Williams at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.