Demystifying the myth of black Confederates


Guest columnist
January 17, 2018


I have read with great interest works of noted historians examining the positions of those who claim that blacks who served in the Confederacy were not soldiers. Some have even suggested there are no records verifying blacks served in the Confederate army; and if they served, they were enslaved against their will. These fallacious premises are very disturbing. I question their credibility as reliable authorities on African-Americans involvement in the Confederacy.


The critics claim black Confederates were not actual soldiers, nor they were armed. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English language, a soldier is one who serves in an army, an enlisted person or a noncommissioned officer, or an active, loyal, or militant follower of an organization. Notice the definition did not mentioned that a soldier is one who carries an armed weapon. Therefore, infantryman, cooks, nurses, musicians and laborers are considered soldiers. Some of these critics would never question whether blacks served as soldiers in the Union because they were on the victor’s side. To question the legitimacy of black Confederates as soldiers is outright hypocritical and folly.


The critics claim that records of black Confederates are not verifiable.


There is overwhelming evidence that black Confederates served in many capacities verified by primary and secondary source documents. There are accounts of black Confederates who were armed; such as the account in the Charlotte Western Democrat on July 29, 1861. A black Confederate soldier was captured by the Union, drew a pistol and shot the officer dead.


In the Douglass Monthly on September 1861, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote, “It is now pretty well established, that there are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may to destroy the Federal Government and build up that of the traitors and rebels. There were such soldiers at Manassas, and they are probably there still.”


There are books, like “Black Confederates” by Charles Kelly Barrow, J.H. Segars, R.B. Rosenburg, “South Carolina’s African-American Confederate Pensioners” by Alexia Jones Helsley, “The Confederate Negro” by James H. Brewer, and many other sources on the subject. To question the verifiability of records of black Confederates is delusional.


The critics claimed poignantly that black Confederates who served were enslaved.


The evidence show there were black Confederates who were freedmen. A freedman named Henry “Dad” Brown, an African-American Confederate soldier from Darlington, served as a drummer in the 1st, 8th and 21st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry during the war. There is an historical marker memorializing his service, and he was given full Confederate military honors by 37th Texas Calvary Pee Dee Rifles, SVC Camp 1419 8th S.C. Infantry.


According to Isabel Vandervelde’s book, “Aiken County: The Only South Carolina County Founded During Reconstruction,” which was published in 1999, a freedman named Charles D. Haynes was conscripted and joined the Confederate army as a private in company B, 32nd Georgia Regiment under Col. Georgia P. Harrison, commanding. He later became South Carolina state legislator and one of the three African-American founders of Aiken County. The S.C. House of Representatives passed a resolution, H.3729, on March 10, 1915 recognizing “Aiken Founders Day in South Carolina” honoring Haynes, a slave named Prince Rivers who served in the Union Army and Samuel J. Lee.


I would like for the critics to provide their definition of a soldier. I would like for the critics to tell black families who have Confederate ancestry that their ancestors are not worthy of recognition. I would like for the critics to measure their arguments against the 2017 American Historical Association Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct which states that historians “should report their findings as accurately as possible and not omit evidence that runs counter to their own interpretation.” In the final analysis, black Confederates were not a myth, but were real.


© 2018, Aiken Standard


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