A salute to black confederates
By Lance Spradlin
We at the Colonel Thomas Alonzo Napier Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp #2040 and the Mrs. Mary Ann Forrest Order of Confederate Rose Society #3 would like to honor all those who took up arms and fought for the Confederate Army in all branches of the Confederate States of America during the 1861-65 period in “the war of northern aggression”.
Although this is documented throughout the War of the Rebellion Records from the first shot fired till then end of the war, it is not brought up by many who teach history or discuss history. This is a tragic loss to future generations who study American History and to those who like to learn about history.
There is a book at the Humphreys County Library titled Forgotten Confederates – An Anthology About Black Southerners. It contains names of black confederates from Tennessee and other states as well.
Many black southerners were actually free and even those who were slaves would ask to take their masters place and stay home with their families or they would go with their master(s).
Some would stay to take care of the farm or plantation land and protect and even die in defense of the land they worked and lived on as well when homes were invaded by the northern soldiers.
Black Confederates were also paid, clothed, ate and furnished the same weapons as their white, Native American Indian tribes (the Cherokee being the largest), Irish, Jew, Hispanic and Scottish counterparts.
They all shared the same amount of work load in preparing for an attack or preparing defense lines, bridges, etc. Southern generals such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Gen. Patrick Cleburne to name a few all pushed to enlist blacks early on in the war because so many in the Confederation were joining the army – many as teamsters, cooks, blacksmiths, etc.
They would also volunteer to go behind enemy lines to try and get either information on the Union Army, retrieve food or get messages back home to loved ones when someone was killed during battle.
Some of the most honored black confederates were with Gen. Forrest Escort and rode with him throughout the war and were granted their freedom two years before the war was over. They continued to ride with him until Gen. Forrest’s surrender in Selma, Alabama on May 10, 1865.
Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s cook was given the highest honor of leading Gen. Jackson’s horse, Little Sorel, at his funeral procession on May 10, 1863 in Lexington, Virginia where the Virginia Military Institute still stands today.
At the end of the war many could be seen at confederate veterans’ reunions and would always draw a crowd to pay tribute to them and would have a feast ready for them to eat.
One of the best attributes recorded after the war was in Memphis, TN which was written on July 4, 1876 by the Memphis Avalanche and printed on July 6, 1876. Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was invited to speak by the Jubilee of Pole Bearers, a political and social organization in the post-war era comprised of black southerners.
Miss Lou Lewis was introduced to Lt. Gen. Forrest and then presented him with a bouquet of flowers and said, “Mr. Forrest, allow me to present you this bouquet as a token of reconciliation, an offering of peace and goodwill.”
Gen. Forrest received the flowers with a bow and replied, “Miss Lewis, ladies and gentlemen, I accept these flowers as a token of reconciliation between the white and black races in the south. I accept them more particularly, since they come from a lady, for if there is any one on God’s great earth who loves the ladies, it is myself.
“This is a proud day for me. Having occupied the position I have for 13 years, and being misunderstood by the colored race, I take this occasion to say that I am your friend. I am here as the representative of the southern people – one that has been more maligned than other. I assure you that every man who was in the confederate army is your friend. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, live in the same land, and why should be not be brothers and sisters.
“When the war broke out I believed it to be my duty to fight for my country, and did so. I came here with the jeers and sneers of a few white people, who did not think it right.
“I think it is right, and will do all I can to bring harmony, peace and unity. I want to elevate every man, and to see your shops, stores, but I want you to do as I do – go to the polls and select the best men to vote for.
“I feel that you are free men, I am a free man, and we can do as we please. I came here as a friend and whenever I can serve any of you I will do so. We have one Union, one flag, one country; therefore, let us stand together.
“Although we may differ in color, we should not differ in sentiment. Many things have been said in regard to myself, and many reports circulated, which may perhaps be believed by some of you, but there are many around me who can contradict them.
“I have been many times in the heat of battle – oftener, perhaps, than any within the sound of my voice.
“Men have come to ask me for quarter, both black and white, and I have shielded them. Do your duty as citizens, and if any are oppressed, I will be your friend. I thank you for the flowers, and assure you than I am with you in heart and hand.”
We take this month to bow our heads to remember those who fought for their belief in defending the land they lived, worked, owned and the State of Tennessee, and their country.