The Washington Post today has an article concerning the gift of a WBS era tintype to the Smithsonian Black History museum The picture is of two young men from Mississippi who went to war together in 1861. They went into the Confederate Army. The author of the article interviews the director of the museum who offers the opinion that the vast majority of Blacks who served with the Confederates were "coerced." I have spent a long time studying this matter and I think that view is incorrect. I wrote this post in 2010 and I think it worth looking at again. pl
These photographs contain images of Black Confederate veterans. Most of these were made at UCV conventions. The man on the lower right Is Jeff Shields one of Stonewall Jackson's camp cooks.
There was a story in the Washington Post today raising hell over a school book in Virginia in which the author wrote a paragraph in which she had the temerity to say that quite a few Black Southerners sided with the South in the "great unpleasantness."
Oh, no! That can't be is the cry among "mainstream historians." That can't be!
Unfortunately for that point of view, there is now a developed literature on the subject. Try "Googling" my title in this post. There are a lot of records, newspaper stories, obituaries, photographs of Black Confederates at post war veterans meetings, etc.
The real situation seems to me to have been that there were a few Blacks enlisted as soldiers by commanding officers who, like Bedford Forrest, just didn't give a damn about the law and who enlisted people from "home" in defiance of the law. How many of these were there? I don't know. Some serious scholarship on the subject would be merited.
In this post, I am not discussing work gangs called out in emergencies to dig fortifications. Such people were normally levied on the Black population, were committed to this work involuntarily and were sent home when the crisis passed.
More significant, I think, were the several thousand Black contract employees of the Confederate Army who served with field armies. Some of these were slaves and some were free. They were more or less uniformed. They were armed and paid. Slaves with skills were often paid in the antebellum South. The records of the their employment exist in the US Archives as part of the Confederate records collection. Many of them were paid Confederate pensions by the several states as were White Confederate veterans. The Whites were paid more.
The Blacks served as teamsters, cooks, labor troops in "pioneer" units under White Engineer officers, musicians in regimental bands, hospital orderlies and officers' valets.
They were repeatedly described by captured federal officers, newspaper men, etc. They had plenty of opportunity to defect or desert if you prefer. That is in the nature of life in the field in an army in contact with its enemies. Strange things happened because of their presence. After Gettysburg Lee assembled several hundred of these men and had them march large numbers of Union prisoners back to Virginia.
Were they not soldiers in fact if not in law?
There is a great sensitivity about this subject. It is easy to see why that is so. pl