Well, another February, Black History Month, has come and gone. There were plenty of opportunities during this shortest month of the year to hear all about the civil rights movement, and “Roots”, and “Glory”, and “buffalo soldiers”. But, somehow that other side – that embarrassing Confederate side – didn’t get shown. One recent book took 290 pages to discuss Union black troops but a mere 4 to discuss Confederate blacks.
We heard all about slave states of the Confederacy, with “loyal” Kentucky and Maryland and Missouri carefully excluded. Also excluded were the northern slave states, New Jersey and Delaware, whose slaves remained slaves until ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. According to the 1860 Census, there were 240,747 free blacks in the slave states, but only 225,224 in the free states. Somehow I missed the discussion of the Corwin Amendment, the proposed Thirteenth Amendment, which would have guaranteed slavery in the United States forever.
We heard all about slavery in the South, about the ownership of people, but you didn’t hear about blacks owning blacks. You didn’t hear about one of the largest plantations in Louisiana being black-owned, complete with slaves. You didn’t hear about the delegates to the Democratic National Convention of 1860 staying at black-owned hotels in Charleston, hotels where the servants were also owned by the hotel owner.
We also didn’t hear about Indians owning slaves. Indians supporting the Confederacy owned more than 8000 slaves. The Seminoles, who welcomed escaped slaves into their encampments, had “several of the most prominent chiefs, the most distinguished in war and council [who] were full-blood negroes. These Indians were in alliance with the late Confederate States,” according to T. J. Mackey, a former Confederate officer. What was one of the arguments showing the Cherokees were civilized when they appealed their removal? Cherokees were slaveowners, a point made by Chief Justice John Marshall.
We heard all about the former Senator from Illinois, Carole Moseley-Brown, and her fight to keep such “racist” trademarks as the UDC logo from the American public’s sight, but we didn’t hear how Illinois – home to Abraham Lincoln – was one of the worst of the racist Northern states. Illinois didn’t want to exclude slaves - it wanted to exclude any black person. In 1853 the Illinois legislature enacted a law that prohibited black immigration. Every black person entering the state with intent to settle was subjected to a heavy fine. The penalty for not paying the fine was to be sold at public auction to the person bidding the shortest period of servitude in exchange for payment of the fine. As late as 1863 – after the Emancipation Proclamation – eight blacks were convicted of entering the state illegally and seven were sold into slavery to pay their fines.
In Chapter 10 of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America he notes: “The prejudice rejecting the Negroes seems to increase in proportion to their emancipation, and inequality cuts deep into mores as it is effaced from the laws.... In the United States people abolish slavery for the sake not of the Negroes but of the white men.” De Tocqueville continues: “Race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known.... In the North the white man no longer clearly sees the barrier that separates him from the degraded race, and he keeps the Negro at a distance all the more carefully because he fears lest one day they be confounded together.” [Emphasis added.]
We heard all about that great antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriett Beecher Stowe (Henry Ward Beecher’s sister) and the horrors of slavery. She herself knew only second- and third-hand about slavery, having never been in the South, but most people have never read the novel and don’t know the truth or the characters. The cruel slavemaster, Simon Legree, is a Yankee, not a Southerner. Ophelia, yet another New Englander, rails against mistreatment of “Negroes” but, true to her liberal heart, wants nothing to do with them herself.
We heard all about the 54th Massachusetts and the movie Glory, but few people will learn that the movie recruitment of former slaves did not happen. In fact, a good deal of the members of the 54th was second- and third-generation free blacks, not ex-slaves. We didn’t hear about Yankee contempt of blacks, or how some Union units threatened to go home if the War were being fought to free the slaves. And you probably didn’t hear of Sherman’s contempt of black soldiers, whose units he put in the rear of his army on the march, where they persisted in giving their rations to burned-out Southerners. (Units at the rear of an army on the march awoke and prepared with all the other troops, but they were last to leave the old camp, the last to arrive at waterholes along the march, the last to march through dust or mud, the last to arrive at camp where they got the worst positions and worst firewood, and the last to pull guard duty. In case of a battle, they had to “double time” to the front, sometimes miles away.)
Ignored, of course, were Confederate blacks, who seem to be perpetually ignored. “Almost fifty years before the [Civil] War,” writes Lt. Col. [Ret] Michael Lee Lanning in The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell, “the South was already enlisting and utilizing Black manpower, including Black commissioned officers, for the defense of their respective states. Therefore, the fact that Free and slave Black Southerners served and fought for their states in the Confederacy cannot be considered an unusual instance, rather continuation of an established practice with verifiable historical precedence.”
Black Union soldier Christian A. Fleetwood wrote after the War that “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. . . . The immense addition to their fighting forces, the quick recognition of them by Great Britain, to which slavery was the greatest bar, and the fact that the heart of the Negro was with the South but for slavery, and [what would have happened] stands clear.”
Old Southern enemy Horace Greeley, writing after the War in The American Conflict, Vol. II, p. 725, offered this observation: “Had [the Confederates] met Lincoln’s first Proclamation of Freedom to such slaves (only) as were not then within his jurisdiction, by an unqualified liberation of every slave in the South and a proffer of a homestead to each of them who would shoulder his musket and help achieve the independence of the Confederacy, it is by no means unlikely that their daring would have been crowned with success; since the passion of their adherents had, by this time, been so thoroughly aroused that they would have welcomed any resort that promised a triumph over the detested ‘Yankees’; while the Blacks must have realized that Emancipation, immediate and absolute, at the hands of those who had power not only to decree but to enforce, was preferable to the limited, contingent, as yet insubstantial freedom promised by the Federal Executive.”
One of the first companies organized in Virginia was a company of free blacks, complete with Confederate national flag. When the 3rd and 4th Georgia paraded through Augusta, Georgia, the parade included a company of free blacks from Nashville, Tennessee. In Petersburg, Virginia, a group of blacks volunteered to work on the fortifications. Their spokesman, Charles Tinsley, a bricklayer, accepted a Confederate flag and responded, “We are willing to aid Virginia’s cause to the utmost of our ability . . . and we promise unhesitating obedience to all orders that may be given us.”
Percentage-wise free blacks volunteered for the war effort moreso than whites, which was a constant embarrassment to white politicians. W. S. Turner, an Arkansas planter, offered an armed regiment of blacks, consisting of slaves from his own and neighbors’ plantations, in July 1861. Some of his neighbors were black plantation owners. As late as April 1865 a call for volunteers in Virginia to fight the Yankees produced 100 citizens, 40 of them free blacks. At Jackson Hospital in Richmond a call for volunteers to go into the trenches to fight the Yankees in April 1865 found 60 of the 72 hired slaves volunteering.
Also ignored will be two black regiments in Louisiana who offered their services to the Confederate States “to take arms at a moment’s notice and fight shoulder to shoulder with other citizens.” In Texas and Arkansas there were almost 5000 blacks fighting in Confederate cavalry units. Surgeon James B. McCaw, commandant of Chimborazo Hospital, stated “it was utterly impossible to continue to operate Chimborazo without the 256 Negro nurses and cooks employed to take care of nearly 4000 sick and wounded.” Some were even formed into a military unit and fought in April 1865. Professor Edward Smith, Director of American Studies at American University, says Stonewall Jackson had 3,000 fully equipped black troops scattered throughout his corps at Antietam. In fact, Smith has calculated that between 60,000 and 93,000 blacks served the Confederacy in some capacity.
Most ignored of all, though, is the Confederate black responsible for the death of the first Union officer to die in battle. This black man was a crack shot, and his owner, a member of the Wythe Rifles, bet him he couldn’t kill the white major leading the charging Yankees at Big Bethel. Major Theodore Winthrop was killed with one shot. It is ironic, for all Yankees, that the officer was an abolitionist from Massachusetts.
And what if Southerners seek to honor these blacks who fought for Southern independence, as the SCV recently did in Nottoway, Virginia? They were denounced by the local NAACP leader, Dr. Melvin Austin, a Yankee. “Maybe there were a handful of blacks who fought against the freedom of their brother,” he said, “but if they did, you don’t honor that. That’s a disgrace.” Yet throughout the South exist monuments “to the faithful slaves who, loyal to a sacred trust, toiled for the support of the Army with matchless devotion [and] guarded Our Confederate States of America.”
We heard all about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, but not about how it freed no one. Its effect in the South was nil because the Union did not control those “areas in rebellion”, but in the North had no effect since it did not purport to free Northern slaves. And, if those States in rebellion returned to the United States, no penalties would be enforced. In his State of the Union report in December 1862, Lincoln offered gradual compensated emancipation with slavery lasting until 1900. Gen. U. S. Grant stated in 1862 that “If I thought this war was to abolish Slavery, I would resign my commission, and offer my sword to the other side.” And he kept his three slaves until the 13th Amendment went into effect. In areas where the Union armies held sway – the coasts of South Carolina and Louisiana – blacks were relegated to their usual slave duties so cotton could be produced for Republican cotton speculators who flocked around the armies.
We heard about Lincoln freeing the slaves during his birth month, but not about how Lincoln felt about the slaves. “I will say, then, I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.... [T]here must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.... Send them to Liberia, to their own native land. But free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit this.” Roy Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Rutgers University Press, 1953. Lerone Bennett, Jr., an award-winning author on various black history topics and editor of Ebony magazine, wrote Abraham Lincoln: Forced Into Glory in which he exposed the Lincoln his contemporaries knew: a virulent racist whose vision included genocide of the Native Peoples (American Indians) and the forced exportation and colonization of all black Americans, free or slave. Bennett’s book was buried by politically correct reviewers.
We heard all about how blacks couldn’t wait to leave the plantation and go into Union lines, yet the contemporary records state otherwise. Early in the war Union officers regularly returned escaping blacks to their owners, especially in “loyal” areas. But the vast majority of blacks stayed on the plantations, and, according to a witness before a Congressional committee after the War, “there was no resistance to discipline and authority at home. That was so much the case that a single woman on a plantation with a hundred slaves carried on the place as before without trouble.” All during the War, according to E. Merton Coulter, “it became a custom for slaves to hold balls and concerts and give the money . . . to aid soldiers’ families and to other patriotic causes.”
“To the Confederate army goes the distinction of having the first black to minister to white troops,” reads an article in the Religious Herald, Richmond, VA, September 10, 1863. “A correspondent of the Soldier’s Friend mentions a Tennessee regiment which has no chaplain; but an old negro, Uncle Lewis, preaches two or three times a week at night. He is heard with respectful attention – and for earnestness, zeal and sincerity, can be surpassed by none. Two or three revivals have followed his preaching in the regiment. What will the wise Christian patriots out of the army, who denounce those who wish to see competent negroes allowed to preach, as tainted with anti-slaveryism, say with regard to the true Southern feeling of that regiment, which has fought unflinchingly from Shiloh to Murfreesboro?’”
We heard all about black units in the West after the War, called the “buffalo soldiers”, and how they’re finally getting respect today. But we didn’t hear about the discrimination faced by Confederate blacks after the War. At the reunion at Gettysburg, the United States Government had thoughtfully divided up the available camping areas into white Yankees, black Yankees, and white Confederates. When a group of black Confederates showed up, the organizers were unsure what to do with them and quartered them in a barn. Finally, a Confederate group from Tennessee, hearing of this, brought the black Confederates into their camping area, set aside a tent for them, and entertained them as their guests until the ceremonies were over.
Two names unheard in February are Amos Rucker and Bill Yopp. Amos Rucker, you’ll remember, was a black Confederate who called himself “the biggest chicken thief in the Confederacy” – but his Confederate boys never went hungry. He called the roll at his UCV camp from memory, stopping to note when one member had passed on over – quite a feat since Amos was illiterate. When he died, even the Governor of Georgia was a pallbearer. At his funeral was recited the then-famous poem, “When Amos Called The Roll”.
Bill Yopp – known as “Ten Cent Bill” to his Confederate comrades – became successful after the War. Every Christmas he made sure his boys at the Confederate Soldiers Home had money for presents – $10 each. That’s about $50 now. When he finally got too old to work, he too lived with his boys at the Home. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Marietta, the bugler leading the boys down the hill and into town.
There is a backlash afoot, however. This time black conservatives are at the forefront. One black radio commentator in Colorado, identifying himself as a Kennedy Democrat, asked on NBC’s Today show why blacks can’t be allowed to fail.
And Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., another Kennedy Democrat, in a recent interview, stated, “If some kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan wanted to devise an educational curriculum for the specific purpose of handicapping and disabling blacks, he would not be likely to come up with anything more diabolically effective than Afrocentrism. It is designed not to enable blacks to enter the larger mainstream of American life, but to keep them in the ghetto. . . . Self-esteem is a consequence – not the cause – of achievement. Will it increase their self-esteem when black children grow up and learn that many of the things Afrocentrists taught them are not true?”
Walter Williams, a black professor of economics at George Mason University in Virginia, recently stated: “Though it’s not politically correct for our history books to report, black slaves and free blacks were among the men who fought and died heroically for the cause of the Confederacy. They fought because their homeland was attacked and fought in the hope that the future would be better and they’d be rewarded for their patriotism. If the NAACP leadership just has to commit resources to issues surrounding the Confederacy, I’d like to see them make an effort to see to it that black Confederate soldiers are memorialized and honored.”
We heard all about politically correct black heroes, but little about the real black heroes of the South’s past. Imagine, black people actually wanting to fight their “emancipators”, actually loving the area and the people where they grew up, actually being loyal to their families and neighbors. Imagine a black Confederate telling his Union captors, “I had as much right to fight for my native State as you had to fight for your’n, and a blame sight more right than your furiners, what’s got no homes.” Imagine a black Confederate refusing a Union parole, even after his master had accepted one, saying, “Massa has no principles.” They’re just too embarrassing to the politically correct crowd.
And today – 2007 – where is slavery still alive and well? Africa. The U.S. Department of State recently issued a report stating, “As unimaginable as it seems, slavery and bondage still persist in the early 21st century. Millions of people around the world still suffer in silence in slave-like situations. . . . Trafficking in persons is one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time.” Children in Africa as young as 11 are kidnapped and forced to become soldiers. One 13-year-old former soldier from Liberia tells in the State Department report how he was kept under control with drugs. The National Geographic Magazine recently published a major article on one African boy who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Drugs, slavery, black-on-black crime, inner city slums, unmarried teen pregnancy, child abuse, school dropouts – what do we hear from the self-styled black leaders about these problems in their communities? Deafening silence. But about black Confederates and the Confederate battle flag? They’re vocal and always offended.
If there is one thing we should have learned in the 140+ years since the end of the War, it is that discrimination is reprehensible.
It’s doubly so when it’s being done by your own race.