Daughter of slave, Confederate soldier, dies at 91

Sep. 03, 2014
Emily Meeks

Mattie Clyburn Rice made her mark when she set out to get recognition for her slave father who fought in the Civil War. And she made sure of it before she died at the age of 91.

After a lifetime of discovery and achieving a long overdue recognition for her father, Rice died from congestive heart failure at the Hospice Home in High Point on Monday. A resident of Archdale, she lived just one year more than her father.

Rice grew up in Monroe listening to the war stories told by her father, Weary Clyburn, a slave whose heroic actions during the Civil War were documented but unrecognized. At least until July 18, 2008. On that day, a memorial marker dedicated to Clyburn’s faithful service as a “colored Confederate” was installed in Monroe, along with the unveiling of a new headstone in his honor. Monroe’s mayor also declared the day "Weary Clyburn Day."

It was a day Rice waited for for more than 50 years.

A lifetime member of the United Daughters of Confederacy, she sought to have her father’s story etched into history, giving him the credit he deserved. Clyburn was 74 when Rice was born, and he died at the age of 90. Rice was 8.

In a 2013 interview with The High Point Enterprise, Rice recalled her childhood memories of her father and his conversations with other Civil War veterans.

“I always say that I guess they thought I was playing, but I was listening,” Rice said. “It was fascinating to me how they lived a different life from me. I couldn’t figure out why they were slaves and why they had to do all this fighting. I said to myself that if I ever get old enough and have enough money, I’m going to find out where these people went and what they did.”

And she did.

Her journey began when she got a job working for the government and took notice of the color of her paycheck. She said she remembered her father also cashing green checks. Her curiosity piqued, she went to find out where those checks came from. Her search led her to her father’s old pension record, which was stored in the Union County Courthouse. The record confirmed the thrilling stories he told when she was just a child. A document dated Feb. 1, 1926, described her father’s heroic venture.

“Weary Clyburn, colored, was a bodyguard for Frank Clyburn, Company E, 12th Regiment of South Carolina volunteers; that he went to Columbia with his master to training camp,” the document read. “Thence to Charleston, Morris Island, Page’s Point and Hilton Head and other places throughout the war; that at Hilton Head, while under fire of the enemy, he carried his master out of the field of fire on his shoulder."

Rice, a mother of six, spent her vacation time discovering her father’s life as a slave and soldier, making faraway trips to find the truth. She went to St. Louis, the Pentagon, South Carolina, where her father was born, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Her tireless journey paid off and his story revealed itself.

Clyburn’s life began on a plantation in Lancaster as a slave. He grew up beside his slave master’s son, Frank Clyburn, of whom he followed into the Civil War, where they fought side by side for the Confederates. Not only did he carry a wounded Frank from the battlefield with bullets flying past him, a document also confirmed he performed personal services for Robert E. Lee. Although he was born a slave, Rice made sure that everyone knew her father died a hero.

© 2014 High Point Enterprise

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