Black History Month and “Civil War Memory”

by Bill Vallante

“The Un-Reconstructed”, “Twarn’t a fair fight, they starved us out!” :


Remarkably, though perhaps not surprisingly, accounts of black men who had served in confederate armies often mirrored the strongest sentiments expressed by some of the whites who served. These men left absolutely no question as to where their loyalties lay. Once again, contemporary historical “wisdom”, which usually asserts that black men served because they had no choice, is happily left with egg on its face.

“Black Southerners in Confederate Armies”, Segars and Barrow
“Uncle Richmond Tells Why the Yankees Won”, Page 153-154

“We all could er whipped dat fight easy enough”, he said, “ef we jes had the Yankees demselves ter fight, but when dy went out en picked up Irishmen en Dutchmen en dingoes en Cubians en all de other nations ter help ’em, dey wuz too many fer us, en das whut I tole Gineral Lee one day”.

Gus Brown, Alabama, (from the Slave Narratives)

"Then de war came and we all went to fight the Yankees. I was a body servant to the master, and once a bullet took off his hat. We all thought he was shot but he wasn’t, and I was standin’ by his side all the time. "I remember Stonewall Jackson. He was a big man with long whiskers, and very brave. We all fought wid him until his death. We wa’n’t beaten, we was starved out! Sometimes we had perched corn to eat and sometimes we didn’t have a bite o’ nothin’, because the Union mens come and tuk all de food for theirselves….

Wiley Brewer, Mississippi, (from the Slave Narratives)

"Yas’m, I went to de war. Marster took me wid him, and I fit, too, I killed a thousand Yankees… You look like you don’t believe dat, Miss, but it’s de truth. Mistis always told me to tell the truth, and I ain’t never told nobody no lies. Some ub dem Yankees I shot and some uv ’em I drowned…

….Marster always told me Yankees was de worst friends I had, so when dey come round after de war telling me de Government was gonna give us 40 acres and a mule, I knowed it wan’t so and went back to Marster. He let me work for him, part de time as wage hand and part as sharecropper till he died. I saved my money and bought me a mule, and en about 32 years ago I bought me a farm. Dat’s where me and my wife lives now, just a few miles from Columbus.

Isaac Stier, Mississippi, (from the Slave Narratives)

When de big war broke out I sho’ stuck by my marster. I*fit de Yankees same as he did. I went in de battles ‘long side o’ him an’ both fit under Marse Robert E. Lee. I reckon ever’body has heard ’bout him. I seen more folks dan anybody could count. Heaps of ’em was all tore to pieces an’ cryin’ to God to let ’em die. I toted water to dem in blue de same as dem in gray. Folks wouldn’ b’lieve de truf if I was to tell all I knows ’bout dem ongodly times. "Fore de war I never knowed what it was to go empty. My marster sho’ set a fine table an’ fed his people de highes’. De hungriest I ever been was at de Siege o’ Vicksburg. Dat was a time I’d lak to forgit. De folks et up all de cats an’ dogs an’ den went to devourin’ de mules an’ hosses. Even de wimmin an’ little chillun was a-starvin’. Dey stummicks was stickin’ to dey backbones. Us Niggers was sufferin’ so us took de sweaty hoss blankets an’ soaked ’em in mudholes where de hosses tromped. Den us wrung ’em out in buckets an’ drunk dat dirty water for pot-likker. It tasted kinda salty an’ was strength’nin’, lak weak soup…..

…."I tell you, dem Yankees took us by starvation. Twant a fair fight. Dey called it a vict’ry an’ bragged ‘ bout Vicksburg a-fallin’, but hongry folks aint got no fight lef’ in ’em. Us folks was starved into surrenderin’.

Lewis Adams, Mississippi, (from the Slave Narratives)

The War Between the States, according to Uncle Lewis, was as follows:
"I was wid de South, I loved her ways. My best friends was Southern boys. But de hardships and de trubbles, hongry, an’ sich, an’so’n – little bit er grub an’ fightin’ guns – I says it can’t last long. I sits down an’ thinks very sad like, ass my friens’ dead er dyin’, and I study; Captain Seibe frum ma home town an’ his boy, Jake Seibe, shot thu’ de haid; Lieutenant Carl Lindsay killed in battle; an’ I says whut de use er fighting; den months er hell an’ dat fine old man, General Robert E. Lee, say ‘Let’s quit.’

Doc Quinn, Arkansas (from the Slave Narratives)

"I was born March 15, 1843, in Monroe County, Mississippi, near Aberdeen, Mah Mahster was Colonel Ogburn, one ob de bigges’ planters in de state of Mississippi. Manys de time he raised so much cotton dat dem big steamers just couldnt carry it all down to N’Awlins in one year. But den along came de Civil War an’ we didn’t raise nothin’ fo’ several years. Why? Becase most uf us jined the Confederate Army in Colonel Ogburn’s regiment as servants and bodyguards. An’ let me tell yo’ somethin’, whitefolks. Dere never was a war like dis war. Why I ‘member dat after de battle of Corinth, Miss., a five acre field was so thickly covered wid de dead and wounded dat yo’ couldn’t touch de ground in walkin’ across it. And de onliest way to bury dem was to cut a deep furrow wid a plow, lay de soldiers head to head, an’ plow de dirt back on dem."

"About a year after de war started de Mahster got one ob dese A.W.O.L.’s frum de Army so we could come to Miller County, where he bought de place on Red River now known as de Adams Farm…

…..Mah young marster was Joe Ogburn. Me and him growed up togedder an’ I was his boddy guard durin’ de wahr. Many’s de day I’ze watched de smoke ob battle clear away an’ wait fo’ de return ob mah marster. All de time I felt we was born to win dat wahr, out God knowed bes’ an’ you know de result.

The Confederate Negro

Page 177, “Black Southerners in Confederate Armies”, Segars and Barrow
By Joseph A. Mudd, Hyattsville, Md., for the Confederate Veteran, Vol XXIII, 1905

The Confederate Negro is the proudest being on the earth. A few weeks ago I was standing at the counter of the water office, Municipal Building in Washington when in came a Negro, who, standing near by, began his business with one of the clerks. He was rather shabbily dressed, but evidently one of the “old stock”, as black as ink and as ugly as Satan, eyes beaming with intelligence and a great depth of human sympathy, a countenance one loves to rest one’s gaze upon, and with a bearing of modest and courteous dignity.

His business over, I said to him, “Where did you come from”? I could see his chest swelling, and I knew the answer before it was spoken, “From Ferginny suh.” Were your people in the war? “Yes suh”, with a smile of enthusiasm and a bow that bespoke reverence for the memories of the olden days”. They tell me you people “fit” some. I could almost see the lightening dart from his eyes as he straightened himself up – “Fit? Why they outfit the world suh. Never did whip us, suh. If dey hadn’t starved us out, we’d be fightin’ yit”. As he passed me going ot of the office he said” “I was wid’em foh years suh,. I cahd my young master off de field once when I din’t think he’d live till I got him to de doctor, but he’s living yit”. I did not tell him I was a Confederate soldier and he didn’t seem to care. He knew what he was and that was enough…..