The Third Greatest Myth of the Civil War Yes Virigina, Black Confederates Did Exist


I found this excellent musical slide show of black Confederate images on You-Tube, I enjoyed it so much I decided to included it with my article.

As a part of our ongoing efforts to ensure that the history and legacy of the Missouri guerrillas is promoted in a fair, equitable, and true manner, we are presenting a series of  articles in this venue intended to expose some of the basic accepted "facts" paraded in many current histories on the Civil War and Border War that are in fact not true. 

Although there are numerous examples of disinformation about the Civil War that are accepted as gospel truth, it was surprisingly easy to select the top misrepresentation. It is in the pervasive distortion of truth related to the role played by Black Southerners in the Civil War.                                                                                                            

In his book "Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia,"(1995), historian, Erwin L. Jordan, Jr, identifies "a cover-up beginning as early as 1865."He writes, "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' [added] on pension applications."

Such deliberate falsifications of postwar records combined with destruction of many Confederate records has made it extremely difficult to determine exactly how many blacks fought under the Stars and Bars.                                                                       

In an article published in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Civil War Historian Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr. states, "seven to eight percent of the Confederate forces may have been Black." (1) Below is an image of  Zack Rube wearing a Yankee coat.                                     

Other sources have cited numbers reaching over 65,000, with at least 13,000 partaking in armed conflict. According to Kennedy, the black Confederates "were a combination of free blacks and slaves who were house servants accompanying white masters. "(2) Black Confederates were present as early as the First Battle of Bull Run; "Battery # 2 of the Richmond Howitzers was partially manned by black militiamen." (3) Some Black Confederate soldiers, moreover, did not surrender until well after the conflict ended; "Among the last Confederates to surrender [after the Civil War ended] was a black seaman servingon board the CSS Shenandoah." (4)

Although the Confederate Congress did not approve blacks  to be officially enlisted as soldiers until late in the Civil War, the facts show many officers and State governments simply ignored the regulations and utilized them anyhow.

The evidence for this is found in the numerous references to black confederates attributed to various high-ranking Federal military officers. General U.S. Grant, for instance, in February 1865, ordered the capture of "all the Negro men before the enemy can put them in their ranks." This reference by Grant implies that black men were used as part of the Confederate forces, and Grant's cautionary statement is an implicit admittance of the fact. Black Confederates are also mentioned in multiple references by political and social leaders.

Dr. Lewis Steiner, Chief Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission while observing Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson's occupation of Frederick, Maryland, in 1862 said: "Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this number [of Confederate troops]... These [their] (uniforms) were shabby, but not shabbier or seedier than those worn by white men in the rebel ranks. Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc...and [they] were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army." (5)

The image to the left is of John Noland during the War.

Clearly, Dr. Steiner's account removes all doubt concerning the existence of black troops in large numbers in the Confederate ranks. Additionally, former slave and abolitionist icon Frederick Douglas reported: "There are at the present moment many Colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal [Union] troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the rebels." (6)

Again, Douglas' testimony makes it quite clear that well-armed black soldiers fought in the Confederate Army and performed creditable service in that army.  

According to Paul Petersen in Quantrill of Missouri,: "Many slaves and freedmen took up arms on both sides during the border war.  The usual practice was for Jay-hawkers to seize slaves from Missouri slave owners and force them into Union service. The reason James Lane was an advocate of recruiting blacks during the Civil War was that he had very early sensed that the first Federal commander to enlist black troops would be a hero of the radicals and abolitionists, whose support might carry him to the White House." (7)

But perhaps the most shocking twist to this incredible tale of misrepresentation in the popular histories in reference to black Confederate soldiers is when one discovers among the ranks of the "infamous" Confederate guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill were various men of color. Henry Wilson was a black man who loyally served as Quantrill's bodyguard and spy. When offered a chance to go to Kansas with the jay-hawkers, he replied "Hell no! I don't want to have nothing to do with such robbers and thieves ."

Another man of color named John Lobb also served as a spy for Quantrill, and a Cherokee named Adam Wilson was a trusted member of the band. (9) Least we forget "Uncle Charlie" Baker, who served as the hostler for Bloody Bill Anderson's command.  Nor can we omit Rube (?) Zack formerly the black barber for Union General Blunt's command. After being liberated at Baxters Springs,he served as an orderly for Todd and Anderson. (10)

The most well-known black member of the unit was John Noland, who joined up because his family had been abused by the Jawhawkers. In the movie Ride With The Devil, Nolan was the basis for the character John Holt, the freed black man who rides along side his former owner. Our is a previously unpublished War vintage of John Noland, thanks to our sister website CANTEY-MYERS COLLECTION for allowing us to publish it.But in the movie, Holt's allegiance to the guerrilla cause is watered down compared to his unstinting loyalty during the Civil War to the guerrilla cause. Noland served Quantrill's command as a hostler and a spy. John was known for his bravery, and he was one of two men sent to scout Lawrence before the raid. John also took part as combatant's during the First Battle of Independence Missouri, which occurred on August 11, 1862.                                      

Noland turned down a Jay-hawker offer of $10,000 to betray his beloved Colonel  Quantrill. All of the pallbearers at his funeral were Caucasian former comrades-in-arms, who often referred to him as "a man among men." (11).                                                 

The image to the right is Henry Wilson.

Nothing is more upsetting to commonly accepted fabrications of the Civil War than the idea that Blacks willingly supported the Confederacy. It undermines the common, preconceived notions about slavery and the currently accepted assumptions about how Blacks should think and act. But the facts must prevail concerning this issue. Blacks all over the Confederacy, including Missouri, were ardent supporters of the South. A black historian, Roland Young, says he is not surprised that blacks fought for the South. He explains that "Some, if not most, Black Southerners would support their country" and that by doing, so they were demonstrating it's possible to hate the system of slavery and love one's country.""This is the very same reaction that most African Americans showed during the American Revolution, where they fought for the colonies, even though the British offered them freedom if they fought for them." (12).

Blacks have had a reputation for loyalty to America or that part of it where they have have lived, in some cases, the South, that may be over three hundred years old.  Fortunately, in no small part to the efforts of a small core of  historians dedicated to uncovering the truth, Black Confederate heritage is beginning to receive the attention it so richly deserves.

Thanks to the efforts of men like Charles Kelly Barrow, Ervin L. Jordan Jr., Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr., Richard Rollins, Dr. Edward Smith, and Nelson Winbush, the truth is no longer being hidden in largely forgotten volumes concerning the past, it is being proclaimed loudly and clear in print, at Civil War reenactments, as well as on the World Wide Web.And these efforts are beginning to make a difference. For instance, Terri Williams, a Black journalist for the Suffolk Virginia Pilot newspaper, wrote: "I've had to re-examine my feelings toward the [Confederate] flag when I read a newspaper article about an elderly black man whose ancestor worked with the Confederate forces.The man spoke with pride about his family member's contribution to the cause, was photographed with the [Confederate] flag draped over his lap: that's why I now have no definite stand on just what the flag symbolizes, because it no longer is their history, or my history,but our history." 

Bravo, gentlemen, bravo! Please keep fighting the good fight! You are leading the fight to eliminate one of the biggest lies connected with the conflict. I hope that every one who reads this article will take up the challenge to do the same.

Jean Cocteau may have said it best: "What is history after all? History is facts which become lies in the end; legends and lies which become history in the end."--Jean Cocteau, in The Observer, September 22, 1957. 

References:(1) Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr. Topeka Capital-Journal, September 27, 2001. (2).  Ibid. (3). Scott Williams, On Black Confederates * http://www.37thtexas.org (4). Ibid. (5). Ibid. (6). Ibid. (7). Paul Petersen,Quantrill of Missouri, Cumberland House, 2003 (8). Ibid. (9). Ibid. (10). Donald Hale, Branded As Rebels Vol. #1, 1993 (11). Paul Petersen, Quantrill of Missouri, Cumberland House, 2003 (12). Scott Williams, On Black Confederates* http://www.37thtexas.org *NOTE: The following is a fact page on black Confederates which sources  the following references: Charles Kelly Barrow, et.al. Forgotten  Confederates: An Anthology About Black Southerners." (1995). Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. " Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. (1995). Richard Rollins. Black Southerners in Gray. (1994).  Dr. Edward Smith and Nelson Winbush, producers  of the educational video, Black Southern Heritage. Mr. Winbush is a descendant of a Black Confederate and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).
Patrick R. Marquis© Quantrillsguerrillas.com. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay and or image." The mounted image is of John Lobb. the final image is of Henry Wilson.                      

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