Black Confederate soldiers overlooked during Black History Month

Knoxville News Sentinel ^ | 2/27/5 | EDWARD A. BARDILL

The month of February has begun and so has the celebration of Black History Month in the nation, schools and communities. Throughout this time, many noteworthy leaders, citizens, scientists and soldiers who fought in wars and conflicts will be recognized.

However, there is one group of African Americans who will receive no recognition again this year during this month. I am speaking of black Confederates who served and fought to defend their homeland from what they believed to be an armed invasion.

The South was home to some 4 million who lived there and had roots going back more than 200 years. Deep devotion, love of homeland and strong Christian faith joined black with white Confederate soldiers in defense of their homes and families.

A conservative estimate is that between 50,000 to 60,000 served in the Confederate units. Both slave and free black soldiers served as cooks, musicians and even combatants. The first northern officer killed in battle was Maj. Theodore Winthrop, who was shot by a black sniper of the Wythe Rifles of Hampton, Va.

The most amazing fact concerning black Confederates is that they served within the Confederate units alongside their white brothers in arms while their Union counterparts were kept separate in all-black units led by white officers (as portrayed in the movie "Glory").

In fact, it was not until 1950 that the U.S. military integrated its units at the start of the Korean War.

On Jan. 22, H.K. Edgerton, a former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in North Carolina, was the keynote speaker for the annual Sons of Confederate Veterans dinner in Knoxville. Although his scheduled appearance to speak on southern heritage and black Confederates was published a week ahead in the local paper, not one representative of any established mainstream news media was present to record his comments.

Edgerton was the second African American to speak on black Confederates and other historical facts in the last five years whose comments were only heard by the attendees and went unpublished. Dr. Leonard Haynes, a professor at Southern University, stated: "When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South."

For those who have been taught or misled to think the people in the northern cities were more tolerant and supportive of their black population, look up the Draft Riots of 1863.

Maj. Arthur Fremantle of the British Army was an observer for Queen Victoria and spent three months with the Army of Northern Virginia and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Freemantle kept a diary and had arrived in New York City just in time to personally observe and witness the worst riots in our history.

He included in his diary seeing gangs of white men chasing, beating and even hanging blacks. Some black men and women were even pulled from their homes and beaten. Police and militias were called out, and more than 1,200 people lost their lives during the three days of riots.

The rioters resented free blacks being excluded from the draft since they were not considered citizens. The motion picture "Gangs of New York" shows some of this violence.

In closing, I have written this article in the hope that it will ignite people to research, read, study and discover the true historical facts. For me to remain silent as an American citizen, Southerner, retired soldier and living historian and ignore the service and sacrifices of these forgotten soldiers is unacceptable.

I quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

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