The Black Confederate – A Few more… (Part 40) by Bill Vallante
"There are two world histories. One is the official and full of lies, destined to be taught in schools – the other is the secret history, which harbors the true causes and occurrences." –Honore de Balzac
All the criticisms that have been leveled at the concept of “The Black Confederate” boil down to one issue or question – Did these people serve willingly or were they coerced? Some of the articles in this series hopefully demonstrate that many indeed served willingly and honorably, and were proud of their service when it was completed. Washington Wills, a personal servant to George Wills is one such example. The following excerpts are taken from “Rebel Boast, First at Bethel, Last at Appomattox,” by Manly Wade Wellman, (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1956). The book is a narrative based on the wartime correspondences of a group of young North Carolinians.
Page 18 – This passage gives the reader a look into the past, specifically, what the personal servant brought to the table insofar as the white soldiers are concerned, as well as the relationships that often existed between the men and the servants who accompanied them to war:
“The company of Wash as his (George Wills’) personal servant was like part of the home atmosphere. Wash was really brother Richard’s property. They were of the same age, Wash and Richard, and as boys had rambled and played together on terms of affectionate equality, while Wash had alternately petted and supervised the younger George. Wash still supervised at times. That was a natural consideration in assigning Wash to “look after” the young soldier.”
Page 34 – The passion of these men often rivaled that of the white soldiers. I suppose the idea of a slave wanting to pick up a gun and shoot Yankees is enough to make modern day Yankees squirm. So be it:
“If any of you fall, I want the gun,” Wash pleaded. “I feel as if I could kill a few Yankees before I go home.””
Pages 93-94 – Wash’s response to a Pennsylvania farmer’s wife who, during the Gettysburg campaign, suggested he desert is also enough to make any Yankee squirm. It also yields perhaps, some insight into why some of these men considered their service important and why they were willing to do what they at least viewed as their duty. I submit that the operative word in Wash’s response, is the word “home.”
“And as flavory as any conversation between Carolinian and Pennsylvanian was that of Wash with a buxom old farm wife. She suggested that he slip away from his master and the Confederacy and stay in Pennsylvania as a free man. “Are you well treated?” she asked solicitously. “I live as I wish,” was the brown man’s reply, courteous but boldly prompt. “And if I did not, I think I couldn’t better myself by stopping here. This is beautiful country, but it doesn’t come up to home in my eyes.””
Pages 176-177 – George Wills was killed at the battle of Winchester in 1864. After bringing his body home, Wash writes a lengthy letter to George’s older brother Richard. Below is an excerpt from that letter. Note the statement with regard to his “struggling country.”
Dear Master Richard,
…I am home, I don’t know for how long. Master Eddie says he wants me to go with him, I will go and do the best I can for him. I am willing to do anything I can to help out our struggling country. I desire to see you and talk with you, have a long talk about one thing or another. If we ever be so fortunate as to be able to do it so it will afford me a great consolation certainly Master Richard. I know something about trouble….”
“A TRIBUTE TO THE MAN IN BLACK”
The following story can be found in the Confederate Veteran Magazine, May 1896 issue, page 154, and was written by Sgt. Major C.C. Cummings about his personal servant George. Cummings had been wounded at Gettysburg and had to be left behind to the tender mercies of the Yankees, being too injured to travel. I mentioned the incident in an earlier article, “Lee’s Great Slave Raid.” This is the story in its entirety.
“…This revives the memory of a faithful man in black who followed me through from First Manassas, Leesburg, where he assisted in capturing the guns we took from Baker, to the Peninsular, the Seven Days before Ricnmond, Fredericksburg, the bombardment of the city December 11, and the battle, two days after, at Marye’s Heights, to Chancellorsville, the storming of Harper’s Ferry, and the terrible struggle at Sharpsburg (Antietam now), and last, Gettysburg. Here he lost his life by his fidelity to me his ‘young marster" and companion. We were reared together on ‘de ole plantation" in "Massippi."
I was wounded in the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg on the second day. The fourth day found us retreating in a cold, drizzling rain. George had found an ambulance, in which I, Sergeant Major of the Seventeenth Mississippi, and Col. Holder of that regiment, still on this side of the river, and an officer of the Twenty first Mississippi, whose name escapes me, embarked for the happy land of Dixie. All day long we moved slower than any funeral train over the pike, only getting eight miles to Cashtown. When night camel had to dismount from loss of blood and became a prisoner in a strange land. On the next day about sundown faithful George, who still clung lo me, told me that the Yankees were coming down the road from Gettysburg and were separating the "black folks from dar marsters," that he didn’t want to be separated from me and for me to go on to prison and he’d slip over the mountains and join the regiment in retreat, and we’d meet again "ober de ribber," meaning the Potomac. We had crossed at Williamsport.
I insisted on George accepting his freedom and joining a settlement of free negroes in the vicinity of Gettysburg, which we had passed through in going up to the battle. But he would have none of it, he wanted to stay with me always. I had him hide my sword, break it off at the hilt and stick it in a crack of the barn (that yet stands in the village) to the left of the road going away from Gettysburg, where I, with about thirty other wounded, lay. I can yet see that faithful black face and the glint of the blade as the dying rays of that day’s sun flashed upon them. A canteen of water and some hard tack was the last token of his kindly care for me.
In the spring of 1865, I saw a messmate from whom I was separated on that battlefield, and he told me the fate of poor, faithful George. He had gotten through the lines safely and was marching in the rear of our retreating command, when met by a Northern lady, who had a son in our command, whom George, by chance, happened to know. He was telling her of her son, who was safe as a prisoner, when some men in blue came up. George ran and they shot and killed him. He was dressed in gray and they took him for a combatant. The lady had him buried and then joined her son in prison. She told my messmate of this and he told to the boys in camp the fate of the truest and best friend I ever had. George’s prediction will come true I feel we will meet again "over the river."”
“NAMING CAMPS FOR THE LIVING”
The following story can be found in the May 1901 edition of the Confederate Veteran Magazine on page 218, and provides yet more insight into the question of whether or not the service of slaves was “willing” in spite of their status as “slaves.” Once again, Yankees everywhere are squirming:
“…With the batteries of Capt. John W. Morton, Gen. Forrest’s chief of artillery, there were two negroes, Bob Morton, a cook, and Ed Patterson, the hostler for the captain, both of whom served with the artillery throughout the war. Ed Patterson, whose fidelity and loyalty stoutly withstood the test of battle and even of capture, still survives. He is a respected householder and property owner, near Nashville, and delights to recall the time when he wore the gray in Morton’s Battery. Everybody in the artillery service of Forrest knew and liked Ed. He took good care of the horses, and performed his duties with unflagging good humor.
On one occasion it was feared that Ed was lost to the battery. In the terrific fight at Parker’s Cross Roads, when Morton’s men, behind the guns, were almost overwhelmed by superior numbers of the enemy in a sudden charge, about twenty members of the battery were run over and captured. Ed was among them. He was missed, notwithstanding the confusion of the disaster, and the temporary reverse of the almost invariably successful artillerists was regarded by them as aggravated by the loss of their diligent hostler. Capt. Morton particularly mourned his absence. One morning, a few days after the battle, he rode into the camp of the battery, mounted upon a superb horse, whose caparison denoted it the property of an officer of no mean rank.
“Hallo. Ed! Where did you come from?” was the artillery chief’s greeting.
”I des come f’om de Yankees, responded Ed complacently, as he dismounted and stood proudly eyeing the steed.”
”How did you get away, and where did you get that horse?”
”Wall, sah, dey taken us all along. When we got out o’ sight o’ y’ all, I notice dat dey didn’t ‘pear to notice me, an’ when dey got to whar dey was gwine into camp, I sort o’ got away. De Yankees des seed me ridin’ ‘roun’, an’ I ‘spec’ maybe dey thought I was waitin’ on some o’ de officers. I des went on th’ough de woods. I seed a heap o’ dead men wid blue coats on, an’ a heap of ’em what was live, too. D’rectly I come to a big road. I seed one o’ our boys walkin’ what ‘ad done los’ his horse. I axed him which erway Marse John went. He knowed me, an’ said de artillery done gone down dis road. I kep’ on, an’ passed a heap o’ our men walkin’. I axed ’em which er way de artillery done gone, an’ dey said, ‘Down dis road.’ I kep’ on an’ kep’ on ’til I got here, an’ dat’s why I’m here, Marse John. Dey took yo’ horse away f’om me, but I done got you a better one, sho. No, sah, dey didn’t ‘pear to notice me at all. When I was comin’ on I seed some mighty nice lookin’ bosses tied in de bushes, an’ ez dey wan’ nobody noticin’ I tuck ‘n’ pick me out one, an’ des got on dis ‘n’ and rid him to hunt y’ all. I seed a blue overcoat layin’ on de groun’, an’ I took ‘n’ put it on. An’ it’s a good one, too, Marse John.””
The following account is from a friend and compatriot. Earlier articles in this series, I hope, will go some ways toward dispelling the popular belief that the Yankee armies were the saviors of black folks. This story is yet one more nail (I hope) in the Yankee coffin.
Reading third hand accounts of people like this in books is one thing. Actually knowing someone who is connected to the person in question makes the story take on a whole new meaning.
“My mother was born in central Georgia in 1889 and grew up in Sumter County, not far from that notorious Confederate prison camp, Andersonville. When she was a child, her mother was often ill, and she was taught to cook and sew by an old former slave lady whom they affectionately called Aunt Tinny.
Aunt Tinny had also grown up in central Georgia not far from Andersonville and told my mother about how the locals would take food–whenever they had any–to share with the prisoners at the camp. As any extra food they may have was often sent to feed the troops, they rarely had more than enough for themselves, and yet they still shared whatever they could with the prisoners.
Aunt Tinny told my mother another thing–something the court historians wouldn’t at all like to hear.
Although Sherman bypassed Andersonville, his foragers and bummers did not. That is, they didn’t pass up any food they could find, and that included food belonging to black families as well as that belonging to white families. And so the one recollection Aunt Tinny had of Sherman’s "march to the sea" was when she and her mother hid in the woods and watched as his bummers took their chickens, ducks, pigs, and food and then killed her father and uncle when they tried to put the fire out when they burned their house. They were thus set free–free from everyone and every thing, free to starve to death while Sherman’s men marched on with their forage wagons filled with provisions.
This, of course, isn’t fit material for the present-day textbook or classroom, is it!”
Capt. Walter M. Bryson-George Mills Camp 70, SCV
Jason Boone – “I fought to defend what was mine.”
Once again, we have a story about someone whose descendent I personally know or have met. Katherine Hamilton, a math teacher from Suffolk, Virginia, is a regular at the annual Dick Poplar Day ceremonies each September in Petersburg Va. The following is a reprint from a story about her ancestor, Jason Boone, a free black Virginian who served in the Confederate forces. There were initially some questions as to what exactly his duties were. What exactly his function was in the army is never specified in this story. The word “soldier” is used and he carried a gun. However, to be fair, these things, in and of themselves don’t necessarily mean he carried a military rank and or that it was his job to stand in the line of battle and shoot at the enemy. Black men, both slaves and free, in support positions, were known to refer to themselves or be referred to as “soldiers” while not actually having been sworn in as such. And it was not unheard of for these men to be carrying weapons. Further investigation showed that he was a laborer with the 41st Virginia infantry and served honorably in that capacity from 1862 until the end of the war. The issue is less one of “was he a soldier,” and more one of how did he personally view his service?
Suffolk News Herald, Wednesday, March 29, 2006 6:43 PM CST
“Soldier Jason Boone (1831-1936)”
“An accurate account of the Civil War cannot be given without speaking of the notable contributions of the black confederate soldier. One such man was Jason Boone, a young, free-born black Virginian living in the Skeetertown area of Nansemond County (Suffolk) when he was called upon to defend that which he loved most, his family and home. It was rumored if the North won the war he would probably lose all they had worked so hard for.
Jason joined the Confederate States Army and left the area for Northern Virginia, where he served honorably for three years. In an interview at the turn of the century, he was asked why he fought for the South. His response was, "I fought to defend what was mine."
After the war ended Jason returned to Skeetertown and raised his family. He could have migrated north as hundreds of others did, but Jason chose to continue to farm the land he loved. His family had lived there for generations and he was connected to the community.
My father was 24 years old when his grandfather Jason Boone died, so he knew him well. We grew up hearing of this man who we believed to be larger then life. We heard of his house with the large porch, the horse he would enter in races, and the songs he like to sing. The gun he had during the Civil War was his most prized possession.
We were also told of some of his experiences during the war, which was a most difficult time for all. He passed these stories and experiences on to his children and grandchildren.
Today we still quote some of Jason’s sayings, which are as true today as they were in his time and will be a hundred years from now. – "Stand for what is right," "Do not meddle in other people’s business," "Treat others like you want to be treated." "Be your own person," "Buy, never rent," "Do not borrow from other people," as well as "Go to school." These are a few of his philosophies that I have implemented in my life.
People would seek his advice on matters because he was also known for his wisdom and integrity. Though he had a large family, he was always willing to help the less fortunate. The life lessons he instilled in his son, my grandfather, who in turn passed these virtues to my father, who then passed them on to me, which are not taught or learned in the classroom, have had a profound impact on who I am today.
My child and grandchildren are well aware of Jason Boone. My grandson wrote a brief history of his grandmother’s great-grandfather, who fought in the Civil War, and his teacher phoned from Denver to express her appreciation of an eight-year-old so well informed concerning his ancestors.
This man who I never met, yet who I feel I know, is worthy to be remembered. He fought for this nation as we know it today, and for what he believed in.”
Nell Boone Smith
Great-granddaughter of Jason Boone
Colorado Springs, CO
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