Black Confederates often overlooked in American history
By Pamela Wood and Barbara Parsons
Chronicle contributors Feb 25, 2008
Our nation celebrates Black History Month in February each year. Many African-Americans who contributed to our nation’s history are recognized. Probably the most overlooked group of African-Americans is the Black Confederates.
Black Confederates served within Confederate regiments alongside their white brothers. Black rebels served as body servants, musicians, teamsters, sentries, cooks, quartermasters, hospital stewards, chaplains, and engineers. An estimated 40,000 served in combat. Seventy-five Black Confederates rode in General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry, and a number rode with General John Hunt Morgan into Ohio.
At least one of the Black Confederates captured with General Morgan was murdered in cold blood as he was brought into the Union Prison. The Union Army did not know how to explain black soldiers in the Confederacy to the people of the north. Capture for a Black Confederate many times was a death sentence.
Perhaps you think this story would have no relevance in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee. In fact, within the past four years the Highland Brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Captain Sally Tompkins 2123, United Daughters of the Confederacy have marked the graves of two men in our area who received Tennessee Black Confederate pensions from the state of Tennessee.
Pvt. Sam Cullom of Overton County (Livingston), a slave of the Cullom family, went to war with his owner’s son, Jim Cullom. They were among the first unit to leave for Confederate duty from Overton County. They fought together in numerous campaigns until Jim Cullom was killed in the battles of the Atlanta campaign. Sam Cullom buried Jim and continued to fight with the unit until the end of the war, when he returned to Overton County. Sam Cullom’s application for a Tennessee Black Confederate pension was approved in three days of its arrival at the Confederate Pension Board in Nashville. Sam is buried in the Bethlehem Methodist Church cemetery just outside Livingston, in an area where Sam and his family were major landowners. Land in the area where the Overton County Fairgrounds sits once belonged to Sam Cullom, Black Confederate. There is also a family story that at one time Sam Cullom was threatened by a group of men and the KKK came to rescue him. Four granddaughters of Sam Cullom, three of whom live in the Livingston area, attended the historic grave marking held to honor his service to the Confederate States of America. The fourth granddaughter is a retired college professor, Dr. Althea Armstrong, who lives in Detroit, Michigan.
At the age of twelve years, Henry Henderson of North Carolina went to war with his owner, William Henderson. Henry settled in the River Hill community of White County after the war and raised his family there. Upon receiving proper certification of this service to the Confederate Army, Henry Henderson was granted a Tennessee Black Confederate pension. Henry, his wife, and other family members are buried in the Old Union Cemetery in White County. Approximately 50 descendants of Henry Henderson, several from Indiana, attended his historic grave marking. A granddaughter who still lives in Sparta assisted with the arrangements for his grave marking.
Benjamin Watson, a free man of color, enlisted in the 25th Tennessee Infantry on Sept. 15, 1861, at Camp Myers (Overton County). At the time he was 55 years of age! No record of Benjamin Watson can be located after the war and it is possible that he died during that time.
Churchwell Randalls, another free man of color from White County, also joined the 25th Tennessee Infantry at Camp Myers. The only way to locate the “free men of color” who served in the Confederacy is to research through every single original Confederate service record as their military service was not listed separately. These men’s names are on the rosters with all other regular Confederate soldiers with merely a notation on the bottom of their card that states, “Free Man of Color.”
The Confederate Burial Mound at Camp Morton, Indianapolis, Indiana, has bronze tablets which list nearly 1,200 Confederates who died there. Among the names are 26 black Southerners. At a time when they could have walked into the camp commander’s office and taken the Oath of Allegiance at any time they chose instead to stay with their fellow Confederates even unto death.
The intent of this article is not to give a complete history of the Black Confederate, but to peak your interest enough in this “politically incorrect” history to urge you to research for yourself. Too long has our national history ignored the service and sacrifices of these forgotten soldiers whose contributions to our country’s history is not only valid but worthy. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This certainly extends to the honorable service of the Black Confederate soldiers, sailors, and marines of the War Between the States.