The Black Confederate Soldier




Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery


I have always thought it to be an interesting task to present the “Black Confederate Soldier” as a truthful topic. There are those whose response has been, “Are you kidding me?” There are those that might even say: “Maybe it’s possible but only in rare instances.” We’ve all heard the rhetoric. The best response I have found, especially in our contemporary society is given to us from Dr. Leonard Haynes when he was at Southern University – he says, “When you eliminate the black Confederate Soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.” 1


Many historians would have you believe that all Blacks hated the Confederacy and what it stood for. This is completely untrue according to records. So, the questions needs to be asked: “why then have we not heard of these soldiers in history books?” I believe the answer is easy. History books have been written by people who are either ignorant of the situation or by those bent on covering up the true history of the past. Dr. Haynes statement is very important here, “When you eliminate the black Confederate Soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.” So it is here that we discover the tool or the motive in the dismantling of the history of the Southern Confederacy culture. The battle today is not on the field of physical hand to hand combat for the battle is the tool of teaching of facts for both the North and the South. But as we keenly need to be reminded of, “it is to the victor who interprets history.” That has been the problem and the battle.


A. Loyalty To The Confederacy.


If you were to tell someone today that there were blacks or negroes or slaves, who were loyal to Confederacy, their response will likely be pretty brutal. But there were those, who in fact, had a deep loyalty to the Confederate States. One such man was Levi Miller, who was born in Rockbridge County Virginia, who accompanied his owner as a body servant. During the course of time Levi Miller nursed his owner backed to health after a near fatal wounding in the Wilderness Campaign and was voted by the regiment to be a full fledge soldier. In his book, Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia, Erwin L. Jordan, Jr. tells us about Levi Miller: “During his final years


Miller resided in Frederick County and worked as a water dipper for mineral springs tourist at Capon Springs and Rock Enon. He never married and by frugal living was able to purchase land at Opequon where in one year his orchard crop earned him $1,000. He was a member of the Methodist church for fifty years and was held in high regard by members of both races. After his death on 25th February 1921, the Winchester Evening Star published a rhapsodic tribute: ‘…was affectionately known among the white as well as the colored people of this section as the grand old man of his race. He always had a deep love for everything southern, and although born a slave, it was his loyalty to his state that led him to enter the southern army and fight through the four entire years of the war.’ Miller’s coffin was reverently draped withe the Stars and Bars and taken to Lexington for a hero’s burial in its black cemetery.” 2


In the Memphis Daily Avalanche, dated May 3, 1861, page 3, column 3, entitled “Free Colored Men” said this, “A List of thirty-two worthy free negroes of this city, who have offered their services in the work of defense, or in any other capacity required, has been sent in to the Captain of the Woodis Rifles (of the Sixth Virginia Infantry).They express an earnest desire to meet their Yankee enemies, or miserable sable brothers of the North, in a regular hand-to-hand fight. Some of those who have offered to serve in the cause of Southern honor have fought under the old flag…A large number of free negroes of Petersburg have expressed a desire to fight for the South, and we learn that 500 will come down as soon as the word is given…We noticed yesterday several colored men in uniform. They came as musicians with the gallant Georgia troops.” 3


Lieutenant Colonel Parkhurst’s of the Ninth Michigan Infantry, gave a report on General Forrest’s attack at Murfreesboro dated Tennessee, July 13, 1862 – stating, “There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.” 4


In the Indianapolis Daily Evening Gazette, dated February 12, 1863, offers a description of the fighting around Thompson’s Station near Franklin, Tennessee. In the article – the Eighty Fifth Indiana Volunteer Infantry reported, “During the fight the battery in charge of the 85th Indiana was attacked by two rebel negro regiments. Our artillerists double-shotted their guns and cut the black regiments to pieces, and brought their battery safely off. . . . It has been stated, repeatedly, for two weeks past, that a large number, perhaps one-fourth, of Van Dorn’s force were negro soldiers, and the statement is fully confirmed by this unfortunate engagement.” 5


Now here is a twist, when looking at the black Confederate soldier, especially when you identify, this is the opposite of what we have been taught. In his book Ervin L. Jordan gives a narrative of a infantry of Black Confederate soldiers: “A white courier witnessed a bizarre skirmish on April 4 in Amelia County: ‘I saw a wagon train guarded by Confederate negro soldiers, a novel sight for me.’ This supply train, protected and manned exclusively by Afro-Confederate infantry, came under attack by Federal cavalry. The blacks formed a battle line and successfully fought off the first charge of their foes. A second charged proved to be too much; the Afro-Confederates were captured and led away. Who were these ‘Confederate negro soldiers?’ ‘Were they commanded by black noncommissioned officers? How were they armed and trained? What became of them? What happened to their military records? These and similar questions may never be answered. But it is obvious that on this occasion one group of Afro-Virginians in uniforms of gray accepted their duty and fought against the Union army for a cause they believed in.” 6


We are not use to this kind of historical narratives – black Confederate soldiers fighting “Blue Bellies” and then taken as prisoners of war as Southern soldiers. Yes, it is true that there were black individuals forced to labor in the Confederate Army, but it cannot be denied that the Union Army did the same. But for anyone to say that there were no black Confederate soldiers fighting with a driven loyalty are just mistaken.


B. Pensions And Black Confederates.
It is true – we really don’t know the actual number of Black Confederate soldiers. But one major reason for this is the changing of records that began in the latter months of the war and during the Reconstruction Period. Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. calls it a “cover-up” and goes on to say, “During my research, I came across instances where Black men stated they were soldiers, but you can plainly see where ‘soldier’ is crossed out and ‘body servant’ inserted, or ‘teamster’ on pension applications.” 7


But fortunately not all pension applications were destroyed. One of the most misunderstood aspects of this debate is the existence of black Confederate soldiers and their existing pensions that were given to them by former Confederate states based of their Confederate service. But it must be said to those who are uninformed or for those who are working from a narrow agenda, just know, the existence of these pensions is proof positive of the existence of black soldiers and the multi-racial Confederate Army that it was. In addition, we need to remember, there were Native America’s, Latino’s, Jewish, and Irish who served the Confederacy.


There is an old story – an anecdotal story that “General Lee used to tell with decided relish of the old negro (a cook of one of his officers) who called to see him at his headquarters. He was shown into the general’s presence, and, pulling off his hat, he said, ‘General Lee, I been wanting to see you a long time. I’m a soldier.’ ‘Ah? To what army do you belong—to the Union army or to the Southern army?’ ‘Oh, general, I belong to your army.’ ‘Well, have you been shot?’ ‘No, sir; I ain’t been shot yet.’ ‘How is that? Nearly all of our men get shot.’ ‘Why, general, I ain’t been shot ‘cause I stays back whar de generals stay.’” 8


This story was given to us by General John Brown Gordon in his book entitled “Reminiscences of the Civil War.” Interesting today is that many define this phrase, anecdotal story, as something that may or may not be true. But “anecdotal story” is defined this way in the 1845 and 1884 Webster’s Dictionary this way: “Anecdote – Noun: In it’s original sense, secret history or facts not generally known. But in more common usage, a particular or detached incident or fact of an interesting nature; a biographical incident; a single passage of private life.” 9 So when General Lee told this story as an anecdotal story, it was used as single passage of private life.


Now I come back to the point, and with great satisfaction, to inform you that there was a large number of Black Confederates, who left a record of their service after the war, that has been collected and has been verified by witnesses. That source of information – is their applications for Confederate pensions after the war.


Initially, Confederate pensions were limited to disabled veterans, but it was not long before eligibility was expanded to include veterans who were indigent. North Carolina and Florida led the way in 1885 and by 1898, all of the states that had seceded from the Union offered pensions to indigent Confederate veterans. Missouri and Kentucky followed suit in 1911 and 1912, respectively.


Up to this point, African Americans, who had served with the Confederate Army were not included. But that change came in 1921 when Tennessee decided to offer pensions to African Americans who went to war as servants or cooks, The 1921 Issue of the Confederate Veterans Magazine said, “A new feature in the pension appropriation of Tennessee makes an allowance for pensions to the faithful negroes who were in the war with their masters and served them to the end.” But it goes on to say, “Doubtless other States of the South will make similar provision for their old negroes, whose loyalty under the circumstances showed a fine sense of honor not apparent in later generations of the race.” 10 Within six years, three other states followed suit: South Carolina in 1923; Virginia in 1924 and; North Carolina in 1927. Almost three thousand applications from black pensioners gives us some idea on what they did to support the Confederate war effort but these documents fail to answer many of the most important questions, raised about African Americans service in the Confederate Army during the War for Southern Independence.


C. Black Confederates As Soldiers.
A gentleman, who is no longer with us, Dr. James Nathaniel Eaton (1930-2004) was the founder and first director of the Black Archives in the Carnegie Library at Florida A&M University. Dr. Eaton is said to have made this powerful statement: “Black men did fight on both sides… There’s been a whole lot of credible work done about the side of the Union, but they have not given any scholarly research to the Confederate side.”


From the genesis of the “War for Southern Independence,” there were Black Confederate soldiers all through the war until the end. From the forming of the very first Black Confederate Regiment, which was raised in New Orleans, to the Black Confederate soldiers who were at Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865 when General Robert E. Lee surrendered. In his book African Americans at War: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, Jonathan Sutherland says, “After taking part in the Petersburg and Richmond campaigns, African Americans are present to witness Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Among the Confederates paroled in the aftermath are thirty-six African Americans.” 11


That may not sound like many but that’s not the issue because the issue is that there were Black Confederates. Sutherland also says in his book, “It has been estimated that some 65,000 black soldiers were enlisted in the Confederate army, of whom 13,000 fought in combat. The larger contributions was made by the tens of thousands of slave and freeman who provided the logistical support for the Confederate throughout the war.” 12


A former black Union soldier, Christian Abraham Fleetwood, Sergeant-Major in the 4th United States Colored Troops said, “It seems a little singular that in the tremendous struggle between the States in 1861-1865, the south should have been the first to take steps toward the enlistment of Negroes. Yet such is the fact. Two weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter, the Charleston Mercury records the passing through Augusta of several companies of the 3rd and 4th Georgia Regt. and of sixteen well-drilled companies and one Negro company from Nashville, Tenn. The Memphis Avalanche and The Memphis Appeal of May 9, 10, and 11, 1861, give notice of the appointment by the ‘Committee of Safety’ of a committee of three persons ‘to organize a volunteer company composed of our patriotic freemen of color of the city of Memphis, for the service of our common defense.’


A telegram from New Orleans dated November 23, 1861, notes the review by Gov. Moore of over 28,000 troops, and that one regiment comprised ‘1,400 colored men.’ The New Orleans Picayune [pic·a·yune ], referring to a review held February 9, 1862, says: ‘We must also pay a deserved compliment to the companies of free colored men, all very well drilled and comfortably equipped.’” 13


In a letter published in the Indianapolis Star, December 1861, a Union soldier stated, that his unit was attacked by black Confederate soldiers and reported this, “A body of seven hundred [Confederate] Negro infantry opened fire on our men, wounding two lieutenants and two privates. The wounded men testify positively that they were shot by Negroes, and that not less than seven hundred were present, armed with muskets. This is, indeed a new feature in the war. We have heard of a regiment of [Confederate] Negroes at Manassas, and another at Memphis, and still another at New Orleans, but did not believe it till it came so near home and attacked our men.” 14


From The Journal Of Negro History, Volume 4, published in 1919, we are reminded of this narrative, “An observer in Charleston at the outbreak of the war noted the preparation for war, and called particular attention to ‘the thousand Negroes who, so far from inclining to insurrections, were grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of shooting the Yankees.’ In the same city, one of the daily papers stated that on January 2, 150 free colored men had gratuitously offered their services to hasten the work of throwing up redoubts along the coast. At Nashville, Tennessee, April, 1861, a company of free Negroes offered their services to the Confederate Government and at Memphis a recruiting office was opened. The Legislature of Tennessee authorized Governor Harris, on June 28, 1861, to receive into the State military service all male persons of color between the ages of fifteen and fifty. These soldiers would receive eight dollars a month with clothing and rations.” 15


Another report from “The Charleston Mercury of Jan. 3d, 1861 said: ‘We learn that 150 able-bodied free colored men, of Charleston, yesterday offered their services gratuitously to the Governor, to hasten forward the important work of throwing up redoubts wherever needed along our coast.’” 16


Also, from “The Memphis Avalanche joyously proclaimed that—‘A procession of several hundred stout negro men, members of the domestic institution, marched through our streets yesterday in military order, under command of Confederate officers. They were all armed and equipped with shovels, axes, blankets, and a merrier set were never seen. They were brimful of patriotism, shouting for Jeff Davis and singing war songs.’” 17


Also from The Journal Of Negro History, Volume 4: “Two weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter, several companies of volunteers of color passed through Augusta on their way to Virginia to engage in actual war. Sixteen well-drilled companies of volunteers and one Negro company from Nashville composed this group. In November of the same year, a military review was held in New Orleans. Twenty-eight thousand troops passed before Governor Moore, General Lowell and General Buggies. The line of march covered over seven miles in length. It is said that one regiment comprised 1,400 free colored men.” 18


From the “The Lynchburg Republican (Va.) had, so early as April, chronicled the volunteered enrollment of 70 of the free negroes of that place, to fight in defense of their State; closing with—‘Three cheers for the patriotic free negroes of Lynchburg!’” 19


Then from “NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 23, 1861. ‘Over 28,000 troops were reviewed to day by Gov. Moore, Maj. Gen. Lovell, and Brig.-Gen. Ruggles. The line was over seven miles long. One regiment comprised 1,400 free colored men.’” 20


To come to a conclusion on this topic, it would behoove the reader to become acquainted with Jerry W. May, a Confederate veteran who died in 1905. A memorial service was for him eighty-five years later in Georgia on August 20, 1990. The Sons of Confederate Veteran officials paid their respects by a twenty-one gun salute. Following that memorial service the edition of the Atlanta Journal quoted one of the attendees by printing this, “We’re not honoring this man because he is black. We’re honoring him because he was a Confederate soldier.” 21


One last quote given to us as a powerful exhortation from General Stephen Dill Lee: “To you, brave people of the South; to you, True-hearted Americans everywhere; to you, world-conquering race from which we sprung—to all men everywhere who prize in man the manliest deeds, who love in man the love of country, who praise fidelity and courage, who honor self-sacrifice and noble devotion, will be given an incomparable inheritance, the memory of our prince of men, the Confederate soldier.” 22




1 Charles Kelly Barrow & J. H. Segars (Editors), Black Southerners In Confederate Armies: A Collection of Historical Accounts (Pelican Publishing, 2001) 162.

2 Erwin L. Jordan, Jr., Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 1995), 197.

3 Memphis Daily Avalanche, May 3rd 1861, page 3, column 3.

4 Charles W. Bennett, Historical Sketches Of The Ninth Michigan Infantry (Coldwater, Mich.: Daily Courier Print, 1913), 21.

5 Indianapolis Daily Evening Gazette, February 12, 1863.

6 Ervin L. Jordan Jr., Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 1995), 250-251.

7 Samuel T. Francis, Race and the American Prospect: Essays on the Racial Realities of Our Nation and Our Time (Occidental Press, 2006), 220.

8 John Brown Gordon, Reminiscences of the Civil War (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904), 383–384.

9 Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845), 35.

10 Pensions for Faithful Negroes, Confederate Veteran, Volume 29 (August 1921), 284.

11 Jonathan Sutherland, African Americans at War: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (ABC-CLIO, 2003), 607.

12 Jonathan Sutherland, African Americans at War: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (ABC-CLIO, 2003), 40.

13 Christian A. Fleetwood, The Negro As A Soldier (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Print, 1895), p. 5-6.

14 Indianapolis Star, December 23, 1861.

15 Carter G. Woodson, The Journal Of Negro History, Volume 4 (Lancaster, Pa: The Association For The Study Of Negro Life And History, Inc.,1919), 244.

16 Horace Greeley, The American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-’64 (Hartford: O. D. Case & Company, 1866), 521.

17 William T. Alexander, History Of The Colored Race In America (Kansas City: Palmetto Publishing Company, 1890), 388.

18 Carter G. Woodson, The Journal Of Negro History, Volume 4 (Lancaster, Pa: The Association For The Study Of Negro Life And History, Inc.,1919), 245.

19 Horace Greeley, The American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-’64 (Hartford: O. D. Case & Company, 1866), 522.

20 Ibid., 1866), 522.

21 Charles Kelly Barrow, J. H. Segars & R. B. Rosenburg (Editors), Black Confederates (Pelican Publishing, 1995), 108.

22 S. A. Cunningham, Editor and Proprietor, Index: Confederate Veteran, Published Monthly In The Interest Of Confederate Veterans and Kindred Topics, Volume XIV (Nashville, 1906), 255.


Copyright 2013-2018. Richard Lee Montgomery


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