BY F.M. WIGGINS
PETERSBURG — Richard Poplar worked in the Petersburg Bolling Brook Hotel as a cook both before the Civil War and after. During the war he fought with the Confederate Army attached to the Sussex Dragoons.
While the Confederates were retreating from Gettysburg, Pa., Poplar, along with several others from his unit, were captured and taken to Fort Delaware. After four months there, he was later transferred to Point Lookout Prison Camp in Maryland.
In total, Poplar served 19 months in prisoner of war camps. During his stays he helped his fellow prisoners and was given the opportunity to leave by simply taking a pledge of allegiance to the United States. He refused, saying simply, “I’m a Jeff Davis man.”
“He really demonstrated the maximum that could be asked of him as a prisoner of war,” said Ashleigh Moody, a member of the planning committee for a memorial service which will be held Saturday. “He helped his fellow man while he was imprisoned and stuck by his convictions.”
In 1884, Poplar passed away and was laid to rest in Petersburg.
“His pall bearers included Capt. E.A. Goodwyn, Capt. J.R. Patterson, Gen. Stith Bolling, Col. E.M. Field, and Mesrs. Jesse Newcomb and R.M. Dobie,” according to published reports from The Index-Appeal.
But unlike those who carried his body to its final resting place, Poplar was African-American.
Moody said that Poplar was a respected member of the community who was a recognized name at the time of his death.
“This is really some of our black history that had been lost,” said Moody. “It had been in the Petersburg Library the entire time, but it had been forgotten about.”
Richard Stewart, another member of the planning committee, feels that much of the history of black Confederates has been lost due to the association of some Confederate symbols with radical groups.
“The skinheads and others who use the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate have really made people shameful of their history,” said Stewart. “There were black Confederates and that’s a part of black history, and that can’t be left behind.”
Stewart said that he hopes more people come out to this year’s event and that they look at the educational nature of the event.
“We’re going to be celebrating the life of a black man,” said Stewart. “He did what he had to do. Black men in America have always done what they have to do in times of war and crisis, whether it was the War of 1812 or the Buffalo Soldiers.”
Poplar will be remembered Saturday in the third annual Richard “Dick” Poplar Day as part of an overall remembrance of prisoners of war from the city of Petersburg.
“It just happens to coincide with Prisoner of War Recognition Day,” said Moody.
“But it’s more than just history, we need to recognize more of what we have.”
The event will start at 4 p.m. at Blandford Church in Blandford Cemetery.
©The Progress-Index 2006