"You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." --John 8:32
Black History Month & 'Civil War Memory' - The 33 Part Series
The Black Confederate and Modern Day Yankees (Part 4b) by Bill Vallante, 2/4/10
Those who question the existence of the “Black Confederate” level a variety of criticisms at the idea, i.e., how could black men fight for those who
would keep them in slavery, or, there is no mention of these men on the muster rolls, or, the Confederate army would never allow a black man to be
a soldier, or, they weren’t REAL soldiers as they were never officially enrolled as such, or, at best they were the equivalent of “civilian contractors”
today and at worst they were simply coerced into service, etc. etc. One Yankee blogger even likened the “search for black confederates” to the “search
for UFOs.” Well, that was sure creative if nothing else!?
One of the latest complaints against the “Black Confederate” story seems to be about how the SCV, UDC and others mislabel black men in Confederate
armies as “soldiers.” This attack was perhaps spurred by a number of newspaper stories in recent years about ceremonies honoring such men – ceremonies,
I might add, that the descendents of those black men actually participated in. According to the critics, we should not be labeling these men as
“soldiers,” but as Confederate “slaves” who were coerced into serving, because, according to the critics, there is no way that these men would have done
what they did of their own free will. In fact, some of these critics go so far as to accuse us of promoting deception insofar as the real stories of
these men are concerned. We are accused, in the words of one Yankee blogger, of “using and abusing the history of slavery,” apparently for our own
nefarious purposes, and indeed, of “blackwashing” the Confederacy.
With respect then, to the use of the word “soldier” in reference to “Black Confederates,” it is true that most of these men were not enrolled as
soldiers, and that their duties normally did not include participation in combat, and that indeed, the Confederate government (as well as the Union
government for the first two years of the war), technically prohibited their enrollment as such until 1865. There were a few like Holt Collier, for
example, who actually were enrolled as soldiers, however these instances were rare and constituted no more than a small handful of men. With this I
have no argument. Most black men in Confederate armies were actually support personnel, i.e., body servants, cooks, teamsters, musicians, etc. While
there are numerous instances of them taking up arms to participate in combat, and numerous instances as well of them coming under fire and performing
with as much courage as any white soldier, and numerous instances of these men expressing strong support for the South, the claim that there were 90,000
gun-toting black men in the Confederate armies who were functioning as actual soldiers or who were enrolled as such is simply incorrect.
So then, where did the use of the word “soldier” to describe these men come from?” Let me quote a few items from my research notes with respect to the
use of that word as well as other similar words such as “veteran.”
**The Story of Amos Rucker,
a Confederate body servant who “went with his master to war,” and who actually saw combat, though not officially enrolled
as a soldier, was reported on in the old “Confederate Veteran” magazine, page 496 of the October 1909 issue. The title of the article reads, “Amos Rucker,
the Negro Veteran,” and it reports that pallbearers at his funeral in 1909, “very tenderly carried the OLD VETERAN to his grave.”
**Dick Poplar, a free black man from Petersburg Virginia, was a chef in the Bollingbrook Hotel before the war.. At the start of the war he joined the
13th Va. Cavalry. Other than the fact that he was captured at Gettysburg and spent 19 months as a POW in Point Lookout, little is known of what his duties
were or what his official status was or what he did in that unit between 1861-63. A reasonable guess, in light of his culinary reputation, is that he
was a cook and not a sword-wielding/pistol packing trooper. However, when he died, the title of the article in the Petersburg Index-Appeal, dated May 23,
1886 read, “The Passing of Richard “Dick” Poplar, COLORED CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.” The article the following day in that same newspaper which reported on
his funeral used the same description, “COLORED CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.”
**Henry Warfield, of Mississippi, one of those interviewed in the “Slave Narratives, was a slave and one of the many body servants who accompanied
their masters to war. When the interviewer asked him if he went back to farming after the war he replied, “No ma’am, I didn't go back to de plow any
more after de war. I worked alright but my spirit was broken. When a man is a SOLDIER he ain't fit fur nothing else."
**The “Confederate Veteran” magazine, March 1903 issue, page 110, reported the passing of “A Faithful Negro, Frederick Pouncey,” who was a body servant
and slave. While “Faithful Negro” may seem patronizing and condescending to us today, the article in the magazine nonetheless describes Pouncey as
“A Christian and a SOLDIER.”
**The “Confederate Veteran” magazine, May 1902 issue, page 199, describes a reunion which was attended by one Henry Johnson, of Bossier Parish, La.
Johnson “went to war with his master, Joseph Hodges, and into the firing line with him and when his master was shot down, Johnson carried him on his
back for 4 miles to the rear.” The article says of Henry Johnson, “He is highly respected by his white friends and proud that he was a Confederate
I could give many more examples but I believe that these few should demonstrate my point, which is that while most black men serving in Confederate
armies were not officially enrolled as soldiers that they nonetheless, on occasion, referred to themselves as “soldiers” or “veterans.” And on occasion
as well, their white comrades also referred to them using those words, as did newspapers that reported on their service or on their passing. I don’t
expect that these men, or their white comrades, or the newspapers that reported on them, ever envisioned a day when certain people would get bent out
of shape over it and would stand, mightily huffing and puffing, on technicalities and semantics. Well, the huffers and puffers will just have to deal
with it. Use of the terms “soldier” or “veteran” when describing these men is not “Neo-Confederate” invention, no one is attempting to mislead anyone,
and no one is “blackwashing” anything. The words in question may not have been technically correct, but nonetheless, they were, on occasion, used by
the actual Confederates themselves! In short, the loose usage of the word “soldier” to describe these men is not a Neo-Confederate invention - it
is actually a CONFEDERATE invention!
The bottom line, (and this is what really irks the critics), is that black men did not universally look upon the Yankees as their saviors. I suppose
the thought of a black man, especially a slave, lending his support to the Confederacy while rejecting his alleged rescuers would have to be very
upsetting to the naysayers. Most of these naysayers are Yankees and we all know that Yankees have never dealt well with rejection. Just look at how
they reacted when the South rejected them and left the Union - they chastised the South for rejecting “the best government on earth” and then promptly
launched a protracted and bloody invasion. Some things never change – especially the Yankee psyche. I can therefore, completely understand the
incredulity that a modern day Yankee must feel when he finds that black men of the past sometimes rejected what he was peddling, or that some of their
descendents today still reject his advances. It must be so painful. Somebody call Dr. Phil!
Bill Vallante, email@example.com, is an associate member of the Jeb Stuart Camp 1506, a reenactor in
the 9th Va. Inf., Co. C, and is living "behind enemy lines" in Commack, N.Y.
Black History Month & 'Civil War Memory' - The 33 Part Series