The Confederate Body Servant – War is Hell (Part 6) by Bill Vallante

Conventional historical “wisdom” has it that the body servant was an uninformed or coerced bootblack who performed only menial chores, and that unlike his USCT cousin, his life or well-being was seldom in danger. Yet, in reading the Slave Narratives, it seemed to me that these black men who spoke about their war experiences on the confederate side talked about them in much the same way as any old white soldier would who had experienced war and its attending horrors. The following are a few of the excerpts from the Slave Narratives which again demonstrate that conventional historical “wisdom” may not be so wise after all.

Henry Warfield, Mississippi, (The Slave Narratives)

Henry Warfield who claims to be ninety years old says that "Negroes were used by the Confederates long before they were used by the Union forces. Even before the war they were used in all kinds of rough work and a large number of these fought by the side of their masters or made it possible for the master to fight."

Henry claims to have been at the battle of Fort Hill and he describes the times as being terrible. He says, "Yes, I was right dere when Grant cut dat ditch river canal right thru to one battleground and we couldn’t do a thing about it."

Henry’s mind is rather blank as to what happened on the actual day but he says, "There was lots of blood, plenty of noise, big fires, and crowds of strange faces that he had not seen before."

Henry says his "eatings were scarce in those days prior to July 4, 1862. We et mule meat, saltless pone bread, and drunk coffee made of oak and hickory bark without sugar. Often we et raw meat, hogs, calves, or anything that we could plunder and get and raw meat makes men mean…

…"The people were not sad when the capture of the city took place as mothers who had sons still in the army know that the war continued their sons would either be wounded or slaughtered so they were glad to get over the worst day of all. The slaves were glad to have the guns cease firing as they didn’t know yet what it meant to their freedom," said Henry……..

… But he left the plow in the fields and went with his master to war at the age of sixteen. When he left, his mistress bade him stick to his master’s side. At first they went to Atlanta, Georgia and then to Montgomery, Alabama, then finally back to Vicksburg, Mississippi and it was at this point that his master was wounded and Henry carries a scar on his left ankle where a shell grazed him standing by his master’s side. It was to him that a broken master turned for help after the war and altho’ he was free he did not fail him.

…”No maam, I didn’t go back to de plow any more after de war. I worked alright but my spirit was broken. When a man is a soldier he ain’t fit fur nothing else."

Simon Durr, Mississippi, (The Slave Narratives)

When de war finally broke loose an’ kept a gwine on an’ on, Marse den he had to go. Dat was sad news fer all ob us. Things was a lookin’ bad ‘nuf’ wid out dat. De day come when he had to go, an’ he say to me, "Simon I’se a gwine to take yo’ wid me." I was glad an’ scart too, but I went wid him as a servant an’ stayed wid him ’till de war ended. I had a heap o ‘sperences durin’ dat time. I seed de men a marchin’ an’ drillin’. I seed ’em come foot sore an’ mos’ dead after de battle. I’se seed ’em go hungrey. I’se seed ’em kilt, an’ die from sickness an exposure. Dey was finally jes’ starved out. Dats’ what won de war….

…Sometimes dey would camp close to de union Army, one on one side ob a river an’ one on de uder side. At night dey would swim across an’ set wid each other ’round de camp fire, dey would tell jokes, wrestle an’ swap tobacco an’ food stuf. Dey would have fun an’ joke lak nothin’ was wrong, den dey would swim back across de river knowin’ dey would be a killin’ each other de nex day.

Jack Atkinson, Georgia, (The Slave Narratives)

Jack’s father, Tom, the body-servant of Mr. Atkinson, "tuck care of him" during the four years they were away at war. "Many’s the time I done heard my daddy tell ’bout biting his hands he was so hongry, and him and Moster drinking water outer the ruts of the road, they was so thirsty, during the war."

Dosia Harris, Georgia, (The Slave Narratives)

When Marse William went to de war, he tuk my pappy wid him. Dey come back home on one of dem flyloughs, (furloughs) or somepin lak dat, and you jus’ ought to have seed de way us chillun crowded ’round pappy when he got dar. One of his fingers had done got shot off in de fightin’, and us chillun thought it was one of de funniest lookin’ things us had ever seed, a man wid a short finger. He said dem yankees had done shot it off.

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