Black soldier shares battlefield, his history

By VICKIE WELBORN
PLEASANT HILL, La.

Among the sea of blue and gray coats at the recent re-enactment of the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Pleasant Hill was the face of at least one black man.

When the Battle of Pleasant Hill was actually fought 140 years ago, there perhaps were many, many more. The role of the black Confederate in the Civil War has been the subject of much debate, but not for Stan Armstrong, a Las Vegas film producer and University at Nevada Las Vegas teacher with strong roots to the historic battle and to Louisiana.

Armstrong’s desire to get the word about the little discussed participation of black soldiers in the war – some estimating the numbers as high as 100,000 – coupled with love for the South led Armstrong to research and then produce a documentary, Black Confederates: The Forgotten Men in Gray, which recently won honorable mention at the New York Institute’s Film Festival.

It wasn’t hard for Armstrong to trace his connection to the Civil War. His great-great-grandfather, John David Herndon, was a Confederate captain of a Louisiana regiment and fought at the Battle of Mansfield.

He also was white.

Herndon had a relationship with a black slave mistress, which was not uncommon in that day. The union produced two children, Joseph and Fannie Herndon. Joseph Herndon was black.

Herndon Magnet School in Shreveport gets its name from the same Herndon family.

Armstrong’s now deceased parents were native Louisianans; his father was from Shreveport and his mother from Rodessa. About 180 acres in Rodessa passed down through the generations from John David Herndon remain in the family’s possession.

"I made my first visit to Louisiana in 1994. My mom died in 1995. She loved this land so much. … She said to never sell that land," Armstrong said shortly before he pulled on a soldier’s outfit to join his counterparts out on the battlefield.

Armstrong is no stranger to re-enactments. Taking the advice of a college professor, he attended his first about five years ago commemorating the Battle of Fort Pillow in Tennessee. He ended up doing a documentary on that battle and now holds membership in the Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp No. 215 Sons of Confederate Veterans.

"It’s funny how times have changed," Armstrong said. "My father moved out West in the ’30s. A lot of blacks did then. But now, a lot of blacks my age – I’m in my 40s – are starting to embrace their Southern heritage more."

Armstrong’s documentary on the black Confederates includes interviews from historians and with blacks who say their ancestors fought in the Civil War.

He’s now working on another documentary, scheduled for release this summer, which details the role of the Native American in the Civil War.

Working with Armstrong as production assistant is self-described "history buff" Greg Givens of Shreveport. Their paths crossed about three years ago when Givens, who helped start the Bonnie & Clyde Festival in Arcadia and even portrayed Clyde Barrow in festival re-enactments, was told about Armstrong, who did his college thesis on the notorious Bonnie and Clyde.

They also have another connection in that Givens also had an ancestor, his great-grandfather, T.S. Givens, who fought in the Battle of Mansfield.

T.S. Givens was accompanied in the battle by several black Confederate bodyguards.

Jim Kelley of Gilmer, Texas, bought copies of Armstrong’s documentaries and looks forward to watching them when he returns home.

"You hear a lot of controversy about it being a racist thing. But it’s not; it’s heritage."

Originally published at http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040410/APN/404100712.