Black History Month and “Civil War Memory”
by Bill Vallante
It has become quite fashionable to poke fun at the slaves who remained loyal, if one can bring oneself to admit that any were. And it is equally fashionable to castigate whites who expressed their thanks for that loyalty. It is the result I suppose, of our belief that we and our times are superior to anything which has gone before……
Well, maybe it’s time to come down off our “high horses” – maybe we need to try and understand. And for that understanding, it may be helpful to stop looking down our noses and instead turn to an excerpt from an editorial in the Natchez Mississippi Democrat, dated December 5th, 1923 – and remember what it was that those men gave, and what it was that was being honored…..
“The basic action of the legislature of the State of Mississippi in distributing pension to Confederate soldiers and servants was to honor fidelity to the cause of the Confederacy by whosoever, regardless of race or color; so as to inscribe in the history of the state a lasting memorial to the men who fought, bled and suffered for the cause. Fidelity was the keynote; Fidelity was the watchword – a principle which has actuated man from the dawn of civilization… It is honored in every shape and form the world over…. “
MASTER AND HIS FAITHFUL SLAVE.
BY SAMUEL COLEMAN SIXTH ALABAMA CAVALRY.
P.410 Confederate Veteran September 1912
Abercrombie and Tommy Judkins were killed. Bat Smith and the handful of boys close behind him kept on. In a few seconds Smith felt headlong upon his face and then turned over on his back. The effect of the enemy’s fire was appalling. Not one of that gallant little band was left standing. The charge was reckless in the extreme, but it illustrated the spirit and high courage of our soldiers. That feat of daring was followed by another of the lowliest and humblest: man there present. A tall, strapping, young negro named Griffin approached General Clanton and asked:. "General, where is Marse Bat?" The General pointed down the road and said: "There near the enemy’s line dead." Griffin at once started down the road. He was called back, but did not heed. He sped on in the face of that heavy fire, took up the wounded young officer, and carried him in his arms from the field. He came up the road for a few yards, then stepped into the woods and came out again on the road just where the General was standing. "Is he dead, Griffin?" asked General Clanton. "I don’t know, sir," he replied. "Mammy was his nurse, and I am the older. I promised mammy to take care of him and to bring him back to her, and I am going to carry him home."
Simple words, but how much do they convey! An untutored Negro slave carrying out his mother’s commands in behalf of her nurseling at the risk of his own life! I have often thought of that day, and the scene is vivid. I can see the deathly pale face of the unconscious and sorely wounded young officer as he was being carried to safety in the arms of his faithful slave. If some of our Northern neighbors could have witnessed this scene, they might form some conception of the devotion existing in the old days South between master and servant.
A TRIBUTE TO THE MAN IN BLACK – P.154 Confederate Veteran May 1896.
……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 came l 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."
BILL KING, A BLACK CONFEDERATE – P.294 Confederate Veteran June 1910
Bill King is dead. Members of the 20th Tennessee (Battle’s) Regiment will remember him. No more faithful Negro ever served a cause than did Bill King serve the boys of the old 20th. He went into the war as the body servant of the sons of Mr. Jack King, of Nolensville, Tenn., but he became the faithful servant of every member of this regiment. He went with the brave boys into the heat of battle, he nursed and cared for them in sickness, and assisted in burying the dead on the battlefields. He was as true to the cause of the South as any member of that gallant band under the intrepid leadership of Col. Joel A. Battle. In Shiloh’s bloody affray Colonel Battle was captured, and the leadership fell to young Col. Thomas Benton Smith.
When one of his young masters was killed in battle, Bill was one of the escort which tenderly bore the body back to his mother and father.
Since the war Bill King had been classed as an unreconstructed Rebel. He was a true and loyal Confederate until his death. He affiliated with old soldiers, attending every gathering within his reach. He was a member of Troop A, Confederate Veterans, Nashville. He lived on his old master’s farm, near Nolensville, but he died in Nashville at Vanderbilt Medical College, where he underwent a serious surgical operation.
Mr. William Waller, an undertaker, took the body back to Nolensville for burial. The body was clad in the Confederate uniform which he had during the past few years worn on all reunion occasions, according to his request. The funeral service was conducted in Mount Olivet Methodist Church (white) by the pastor, Rev. H. W. Carter.
Bill King was seventy three years old, and leaves a wife and ten or eleven children. He was a Baptist, but as there is no church of this denomination near his home, his friends decided to have the funeral in the Methodist church. He was buried in the Nolensville Cemetery.