Unsung Heroes: Black Confederate Soldiers of the Civil War - Part I
Author’s Notes & Credits:
Excerpts in this article have been taken from the website Black Confederates In the Civil War, authored by Scott K. Williams. This author found Mr. Williams writing and information exceptional and well researched and credits him with some of the information contained herein which when quoted appears in bold, italic type. Permission is granted on Mr. Scott’s website to use his work with the following provision: “Copyright 1998-2003, by Scott K. Williams, All Rights Reserved. Permission granted to reproduce this fact sheet for educational purposes only. Must include this statement on all copies.” The remainder of this article, which the author considers educational, is the work of the author and is her opinions, conclusions and writing in their entirety.
Beautiful East Texas. . .
The piney woods of East Texas are one of the shining stars in the State of Texas crown. An area of beautiful forests, historical sites and exceptional people; East Texas is high on any visitor to Texas list of “must see” and enjoys a steady influx of tourists. Palestine, Texas, the county seat of Anderson County, Texas is a growing and progressive town, and indicative of all East Texas has to offer. The railroad was instrumental in bringing folks to that area early on and remains a strong presence -- drawing railroad buffs from all over the world. The marvelous, historic houses/buildings of Palestine are beyond compare.
Palestine is surrounded by five – yep, count ‘em – five state prisons and employs an amazing number of people. Once a sleepy, little town, the area has become a beehive of activity with new businesses moving in, new buildings in place and being built and a growing population. The racial demographics of Palestine are interesting and ever changing due to employment opportunities, sufficient housing and good schools. Sound like an idyllic place to live and raise a family? Indeed it is! One problem, however, raises its head from time-to-time that concerns all citizens of this progressive East Texas town and that problem is once again waiting in the wings to make another unwelcome appearance.
Memorial to all Confederate Soldiers. . .
This author lived in Palestine, Texas, some years ago, still has many friends there, visits frequently and is therefore aware of what’s going on socially and politically. A recent visit just happened to coincide with racism raising its ugly head. . . again. . . as a result of a small, park-like memorial being constructed to honor Civil War veterans of the Confederacy.
The park – not yet completed, is close to the downtown area but in a rather obscure place, covers maybe one-fourth to one-half of a city block and appears to be very tasteful – not an “in your face” sort of tribute. It’s a fact, dear hearts: Texas fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War and that’s not going to go away. The ancestors of many Texans, both Black and White, fought and died in that war. Are the heroes of any war, regardless of race, to be ignored and forgotten because a segment of the population finds a war and/or the reason for it, repugnant? If that’s the benchmark for honoring men who died for their beliefs then history reflects many wars that should just be swept under the rug of time and forgotten.
Racism. . . again. . .
Last year, in honor of Confederate History Month (Texas State Senate Res. 526) the Sons of the Confederacy in Palestine asked permission to fly the Confederate flag on the Anderson County Courthouse lawn, to honor those who died in the Civil War. Permission was granted and the flag was flown along with the American and Texas flags. Palestine’s local chapter of the NAACP was outraged and demanded the flag not be flown . . . and so it was taken down. The entire incident went somewhat viral, made national headlines and created dissention among the general populace of Palestine, Texas . . . and therein lies the subject addressed herein.
Black Soldiers that fought honorably in the Civil War, on the side of the Confederate States of America have only been minimally recognized, throughout the South, for their valor and contribution. Palestine, Texas is making an attempt to honor ALL who fought for the southern cause by building their small park – and that includes Black Confederate soldiers who fought and died in a war that happened over 150 years ago.
The park – again, not yet completed – has once more drawn the ire of the NAACP who objects to the park, considers it an affront to Palestine’s Black citizens and has sent a letter polling businesses in Palestine as to whether or not they were consulted before construction began on the park. The letter suggests that the park, in and of itself, will cause dissention among the populace and divide the city into two camps – those “fer” and those “against.” Before the first verbal volley goes forth in this quandary; a bit of history and a touch of common sense should be considered by all concerned.
Although the Civil War boiled down to the question of slavery there was lots of plain, old politics involved and it would take a lifetime to cover all those bases in print so we’ll not go there other than to point out that President Abraham Lincoln, long heralded as the guiding light and savior of the United States of America, had to make some tough decisions that affected both sides. Truth is, he wasn’t actually all that enchanted with many of them. He personally had some ideas on the subject of slavery that did not endear him to either side of the question but as an unpopular president (at that time) he had to take a stand and stick with it – which he did – and which ultimately resulted in his assassination at the hands of a zealot. History now recognizes him as one of the greatest presidents that ever lived – and rightly so -- as he held together a citizenry that ascribed to two very different ideologies and lifestyles. Within that citizenry existed Black men and women who fought and died on the side of the South, both freemen and slaves, as well as the North. Is it necessary – or even prudent -- to keep fighting that war 150 years later?
How many black Confederates served the South in combat or direct battlefield support? The numbers vary wildly from 15,000 to 120,000. The truth remains that nobody has an accurate figure. My estimate is that 65,000 Blacks scattered across the entire South followed the Confederate armies from one battlefield to the next from 1861 to 1865. Larger numbers of Blacks loyally served the Confederacy, not as soldiers, but as employees of the Army, Navy, Confederate government or the individual State governments.
Unringing History's Bell. . .
Many of us, this author included, have ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War. There are many graves in my little, hometown cemetery (not in Anderson County) of Civil War soldiers and their service is honored by all. The amazing part of reading those grave stones and their dates is that many of those soldiers were very young boys – far too young to have ever owned slaves or even capable of discerning whether slavery was right or wrong as they were basically uneducated, country boys. There’s also no way to know how many died too far away for their bodies to be returned to their families for burial so the number who died is impossible to calculate but they all fought for the Confederacy – and some of those soldiers, both men and boys, were Black.
Men of all colors labor to protect what they know, have been brought up to understand and are comfortable with and human nature was no different during the period of the Civil War. As one reflects on the history of these United States there’s much that could have been done differently – but wasn’t – and none of us can change it now. If any segment of society chooses to use the past as a standard for the future there’s not much hope as the bell of history cannot be unrung.
"Will you fight. . . ?"
It has been estimated that over 65,000 Southern Blacks were in the Confederate ranks. Over 13,000 of these “saw the elephant” also known as meeting the enemy in combat. These Black Confederates included both slave and free. The Confederate Congress did not approve Blacks to be officially enlisted as soldiers (except as musicians) until late in the war. But in the ranks it was a different story. Many Confederate officers did not obey the mandates of politicians, they frequently enlisted Blacks with the simple criteria, “Will you fight?” Historian Ervin Jordan, explains that “biracial units” were frequently organized “by local Confederate and State militia Commanders in response to immediate threats in the form of Union raids. . .”. Dr. Leonard Haynes, an African-American professor at Southern University, stated, “When you eliminate the Black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.” -- (To be Continued)
Part I of a series entitled:
Unsung Heroes: Black Confederate Soldiers of the Civil War
Angela T. Blair© 2013