Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blacks Loyally Fought For The Confederacy

The Massacre at Poison Spring, 1864

First, let's talk about the Massacre at Poison Spring which took place during the American Civil War on April 18, 1864, in Ouachita County, Arkansas, during what became known as the Camden Expedition.

The battle itself, the Battle of Poison Spring, is infamous for the Confederates' slaughter and mutilation of black soldiers with the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.

Depending on what we read, what the Battle of Poison Springs was either a plunder or part of a plan that went wrong very badly.

Some sources say that the Battle of Poison Spring was part of broad Union offensive in the region of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

General Nathaniel Banks had led a 14,000 Yankee force through Louisiana in March and April, but a defeat in northwestern Louisiana at the Battle of Mansfield on April 8 sent Banks in retreat.

Union forces nearby in Arkansas were moving towards Banks' projected thrust into Texas with the intention of securing southwestern Arkansas for the Federals.

Union General Frederick Steele occupied Camden, Arkansas, on April 15th.

Supposedly because of dwindling food supplies for his army at Camden, Arkansas forced Union Army Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele to send out a foraging party to gather corn that the Confederates had stored about twenty miles up the Prairie D’Ane-Camden Road on White Oak Creek.

All of the sources that I could find agree that two days after arriving, he sent Colonel John Williams and 1,100 men to gather up the 5,000 bushels of corn west of Camden.

The party loaded the corn into wagons, and on April 18, Col. James M. Williams started his return to Camden.

It is believed that the force arrived to find that a handful of Confederate marauders had destroyed half of the store, but the Yankees loaded the rest into some 200 wagons and prepared to return to Camden.

On the way back 3,600 Confederates intercepted them.

Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke’s and Brig. Gen. Samuel B. Maxey’s Confederate forces arrived at Lee Plantation, about fifteen miles from Camden, where they engaged Williams.

Gen. Maxey placed Gen. Marmaduke in charge of the attack that ensued.

Col. Williams positioned part of his Union force, the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, between the wagon train and the Confederate lines.

The regiment was the first black unit in the army, comprised primarily of ex-slaves.

The determined soldiers of the 1st Kansas stopped the first two Rebel attacks, but they were running low on ammunition.

The Confederates attacked Col. Williams' force from the front and rear, forcing him to retreat north into a marsh where his men regrouped and then fell back to Camden.

Yes, a third assault overwhelmed the Kansans -- and the rout was on. Williams tried to gather the remnants of his force and retreated from the abandoned wagons.

More than 300 Yankee troops were killed, wounded, or captured, while the Confederates lost just 13 killed and 81 wounded.

The Confederate treatment of the Union black troops would be considered a War Crime today as no black Union troops were taken prisoner of war, and those left wounded on the battlefield were brutally killed, scalped, and stripped.

During the fight, Col. Williams positioned the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, a regiment made up of mostly ex-slaves, between the wagon train and Confederate lines -- those black troops fought bravely and repelled the first two Confederate offenses. Soon though, they ran low on ammunition and were beaten back.

The Confederates refused to take the wounded black soldiers as prisoners, and instead brutally slaughtered them, stripped them naked, and then scalped them. In all, the regiment lost nearly half of its numbers.

The Washington Telegraph, the major Confederate newspaper in Arkansas, justified the atrocity by declaring:

"We cannot treat Negroes taken in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of social system for which we contend."

Their hypocrisy speaks volumes since Blacks loyally served the Confederacy.

Yes,  while white Southerners were concerned with slaves having access to firearms and that blacks would turn against them and use those firearms to kill whites -- and while initially, Confederate law prohibited enlisting blacks into the Army and Navy as anything other than "musicians" -- many Confederate units, both regular army and militia enlisted blacks.

Here's how they got around the law, the blacks that fought in the Confederate Army were not listed in record books as soldiers -- instead the word soldier was crossed out and body servant, teamster, cook, guard, musician, was inserted in its place.

It is believed that more than 65,000 Southern blacks served as fighting Confederate soldiers in the Confederate Army -- even as guards and scouts.

Isn't is interesting that black Confederate musicians, cooks, soldiers and teamsters earned the same pay as white Confederate privates, yet this was not the case in the Union Army where blacks did not receive equal pay.

At the Confederate Buffalo Forge in Rockbridge County, Virginia, skilled black workers earned on average three times the wages of white Confederate soldiers and more than most Confederate Army officers -- about $350 to $600 a year.

While many try to say that it was only when the South could see that it was in danger of losing the war, that the Confederacy created the "Confederate States Colored Troops" to add more regiments to their dwindling Army -- but that wasn't true.

Early on, the Confederacy set a quota for 300,000 black soldiers for the Confederate States Colored Troops.

Since 83% of Richmond's male slave population volunteered for duty, believe it or not, a special ball is said to have been held in Richmond to raise money for uniforms for these men.

While black regiments were segregated from white regiments, the black units were usually sent off into dangerous situations because they were seen as expendable.

And yes, while the massacre at Poison Spring in 1864 demonstrates how white Confederate troops viewed black Union troops -- blacks who were just yesterday their slaves now in their own uniforms was equally met with disdain by white Confederate troops. 

To say the impact of the Confederate States Colored Troops was only slight would be an understatement. The impact of black soldiers fighting for the Confederacy should not be overlooked because of the impact that their enlistment had on Southern morale and white enlistment.

With the creation of Confederate States Colored Troops enlistment numbers among white Southern sympathizers dropped like a rock -- proving that everyone was not for blacks fighting for the Confederacy.

It is said that demoralized white Southerners could not believe their eyes when they saw black Confederate soldiers in gray uniforms drilling in the streets of Richmond just before it fell.

Due to the war ending, it is believed only companies or squads of these troops ever saw any action. But that i8s far from true.

Black soldiers fought for the North in larger numbers earlier because the North instituted their policy sooner than the South. But all in all, thousands upon thousand blacks in the South loyally fought for the Confederacy.

John Parker, a former slave reported that the Richmond Howitzers were regiment partially manned by black people.

They fought at the 1st Battle of Bull Run where they operated the second battery. A black regiment also fought for the confederates during that battle.

It is believed that a number of Southern blacks were killed in that action which was the first battle of the Civil War.

It is said that "lighter-complexioned" blacks were used in the Louisiana Native Guards, known in French as the Corps d’Afrique.

On Nov. 23, 1861, the Louisiana Native guards fought along the Mississippi next to the white regiments.

The Guards consisted of at least 33 black officers and 731 black enlisted men.

It was believed that black Confederates joined the Louisiana militia for varied reasons, including the thought that they would lose their property and economic self-interest.

Dr. Lewis Steiner, Chief Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission while observing Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson's occupation of Frederick, Maryland, in 1862:

"Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this number of Confederate troops. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. These 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 were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army."

On April 4, 1865, in Virginia, a Confederate supply train was exclusively manned and guarded by black Infantry.

When attacked by Federal Cavalry, they stood their ground and fought off the charge, but on the second charge they were overwhelmed.

In February of 1865, Union General U.S. Grant ordered the capture of "all the Negro men… before the enemy can put them in their ranks."

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 musket on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the rebels."

Frederick Douglas is also known to have warned President Abe Lincoln that unless slaves were guaranteed freedom as those in Union controlled areas were still slaves and land bounties, "they would take up arms for the rebels."

James Washington was a black confederate non-commissioned officer. He was the 4th Sergeant in a rec Co. D, 35th in the Texas Cavalry in the Confederate Army.
He served on the State militia level in Louisiana instead of in the regular Confederate States Army.

Former slave, Horace King, accumulated great wealth as a contractor to the Confederate Navy. He was also an expert engineer and became known as the “Bridge builder of the Confederacy.”

One of his bridges was burned in a Yankee raid. His home was pillaged by Union troops, and supposedly his wife pleaded for mercy.

It is estimated that nearly 180,000 Black Southerners, from Virginia alone, provided logistical support for the Confederate military.

Many were highly skilled workers, including nurses, military engineers, teamsters, ordnance department workers, brakemen, firemen, harness makers, blacksmiths, wagon makers, boatmen, mechanics, wheelwrights, etc.

One black Confederate Navy seaman was among the last Confederates to surrender, aboard the CSS Shenandoah, six months after the war ended.

At least two blacks served as Navy pilots with the rank of Warrant Officer. One, William Bugg, piloted the CSS Sampson, and another, Moses Dallas, was considered the best inland pilot of the Confederate Navy.

Dallas piloted the Savannah River squadron and was paid $100 a month until the time he was killed by a Union Marine during the capture of USS Water Witch.

After the war, in the North a veterans organization called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was established in 1866 for veterans who fought for the Union -- but it was strictly segregated.
It stayed segregated until the mid-1880s when the organization advocated federal pensions for veterans and allowed black veterans to join.

It is said that they did just that in significant numbers and organized local posts. The national organization, however, failed to press the case for pensions for black soldiers.
Most black troops never received any pension or remuneration for wounds incurred during their service with the Union.

Right after the establishment of th United Confederate Veterans (UCV) in 1889, that group advocated awarding former slaves rural acreage and a home.

There was hope that justice could be given those slaves that were once promised "forty acres and a mule" for volunteering to fight for the Confederacy -- but none received any.

In the 1913, the Confederate Veteran magazine published by the UCV printed an article stating that the plan was the right thing to do.

While the civilian populace in the South held on to its prejudices after the Civil War, there was much gratitude toward former slaves who fought for the South from other Conderate soldiers.

It was said, "Thousands were loyal, to the last degree," yet they were living in total poverty in big cities. Unfortunately, the proposal that the UCV put forward to try to rectify the situation fell on deaf ears.
The banner of the UCV is that of the Confederate Battle Flag.

Sadly, today the banner is seen by many as representing slavery -- instead of representing men, both black and white, who fought for States Rights.

representation in enamel of the Confederate battle-flag, on a plain metal surface of an inch square
The Banner of the
United Confederate Veterans


During the 5oth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913, arrangements were made for a joint reunion of Union and Confederate veterans.

The commission in charge of the event made sure they had enough accommodations for the black Union veterans, but were completely surprised when unexpected black Confederates arrived.

The white Confederates immediately welcomed their old comrades, gave them one of their tents, and “saw to their every need”. 

Nearly every Confederate reunion including those blacks that served with them, wearing the gray.

And yes, here's a bit of trivia, the first military monument in the United States Capitol that honors an African-American soldier is that of the Confederate monument at Arlington National cemetery whcih depicts a black Confederate soldier with his comrades.

To the left of the black woman and child is a black Confederate soldier. Yes, the monument depicts a black Confederate soldier marching in step with his white Confederate comrades.

Of course, shown is one "white soldier giving his child to a black woman for protection".

File:Confederate Monument - E frieze - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011.JPG

In the 1920'S Confederate pensions were finally allowed to some of those workers that were still living. Many thousands more served in other Confederate States.


So no, not all of the blacks in the South during the Civil War were slaves waiting to be free.

While it is estimated that at least 65,000 blacks fought for the Confederacy, it is believed that thousands upon thousands of blacks loyally served the Confederacy, not just in the Confederate Army and militias as soldiers but also in the Navy as sailors, and as employees of the Army, Navy, Confederate government and even individual State governments.

Yes, it's what we were told in school.

Tom Correa

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