Black Confederates

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Black Confederate snipers

Alfred Bellard, a white soldier of the 5th NJ Infantry, reported in his memoirs "Gone for a Soldier pg[24]" the shooting of two black Confederate snipers by member's of the Berdan's Sharpshooters in April of 1862.

"One of the Negro Confederates was only wounded, but the other was killed one afternoon after leaving the security of a hollow tree (probably to relieve himself). Two Confederates tried to get to his body but were driven away by the Union gunfire".

A letter by a Federal officer
Col. Giles Smith commanded the First Brigade and Col. T. Kilby Smith, Fifty-fourth Ohio, the Fourth. I communicated to these officers General Sherman's orders and charged Colonel Smith, Fifty-fourth Ohio, specially with the duty of clearing away the road to the crossing and getting it into the best condition for effecting our crossing that he possibly could. The work was vigorously pressed under his immediate supervision and orders, and he devoted himself to it with as much energy and activity as any living man could employ. It had to be prosecuted under the fire of the enemy's sharpshooters, protected as well as the men might be by our skirmishers on the bank, who were ordered to keep up so vigorous a fire that the enemy should not dare to lift their heads above their rifle-pits; but the enemy, and especially their armed negroes, did dare to rise and fire, and did serious execution upon our men. The casualties in the brigade were 11 killed, 40 wounded, and 4 missing; aggregate, 55. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Commanding."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Michael F. Easley, Governor Lisbeth C. Evans, Secretary
North Carolina
Department of Cultural Resources


RALEIGH – The North Carolina State Archives hold a number of surprises, not the least of which are records
of blacks in North Carolina who served the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

“Many people don’t realize that blacks served in the Confederate Army, and that some actually fought,”
says Earl Ijames, archivist for the Office of Archives and History in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

Ijames, who has researched black Confederate soldiers in North Carolina for more than a decade, said
both slaves and free blacks worked or fought for the Confederate cause. But, he said, it’s often difficult to
determine their exact activities because the social climate of the times did not value or recognize the
contributions of blacks.

No one knows how many blacks served the Confederate Army. It is known that some slaves
accompanied their masters into battle, but only as personal servants. Other slaves, sent by their masters, mainly
worked for the Confederacy to build forts or to transport materials, supplies or corpses. Some free blacks
enlisted and actually fought, while other free blacks worked in construction for the Confederate Army.

Official military service records of black soldier’s activities have not been found in the state archives.
But there are records in the archives that provide some names of black Confederate soldiers, but few details of
their service. No accounts exist of battles or valor, hardship or retreat, just the notation “Negro” beside a name.
Unofficial records are sketchy, if they survived the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras.

Among the records in North Carolina’s archives that document African Americans’ service are
newspaper enrollment notices that give times for free Negroes to enlist in the Confederate Army,
correspondence, Confederate pension applications, and depositions. Some military records note that slaves
helped to construct forts or do other work at military facilities. Other documentation can be found in the “North
Carolina Troops, 1861-1865,” a 15-volume set of reference books that chronicles Confederate servicemen and
includes the names of black soldiers.

In some instances, officials even denied the existence of black Confederate soldiers. For instance, Sarah
Venable, widow of John W. Venable, applied for a widow’s pension. Venable is listed in the “North Carolina
Troops, 1861-1865,” as a member of Company H, 21st Regiment N.C. Troops. The roster shows that he was

Office of Public Affairs Brenda Follmer, Director
109 E. Jones Street, 4604 MSC
Raleigh, NC 27699-4604

(919) 733-5722 FAX (919) 733-1620


Page 2

“Negro, enlisted June 5, 1861. No further records.” However, John Sawyer, a white Confederate veteran who
served with Venable, submitted a deposition as part of Sarah’s application stating that he knew John Venable,
and that Venable had “made a good soldier.” Yet the claim was disallowed with the notation, “No law for this.”

Another pension application came from an attorney in Spring Hope in 1924, on behalf of John Pulley.
Pulley had served in Company B under Capt. A. D. Crudup, who was deceased. State Auditor Baxter Durham
denied the claim, saying that the Confederacy had no Negro troops.

But some applications from blacks were approved, such as one from Billie Burrell, who said he was sent
by his master from Granville County to Fort Fisher, Fort Caswell and Baldhead Island. He may have helped
with fort construction and maintenance of the facilities and equipment, Ijames said. Burrell didn’t claim to be
in the Confederate Army, leading Ijames to speculate that Burrell’s application was approved because he didn’t
claim to be a soldier. In July 1939, Burrell received his pension approval; he was more than 90 years old at the

Depositions and correspondence record devoted service by slaves to their masters on the battlefield,
usually by providing food and personal care. There are accounts of slaves who might have escaped bondage in
the theater of war, but chose to remain and serve, sometimes even after the death of their master.

A particularly poignant example of this was written about the service of the slave George Mills to his
master, Walter Bryson. It recounts how George provided bodily comfort and went through several battles with
his master. But the greatest service came when Walter was killed in the Battle of Antietam, Md. George
recovered the body, then made the long trip home to Hendersonville, N.C., so that his master would not be
buried in a ditch with the 24,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who died in battle that day.

Slaves often did whatever needed doing. Ijames shares the story of some slaves who got an unusual
assignment at the city of Fayetteville’s armory. In a report to Gov. Henry Clark, Fayetteville Mayor Archibal
McLean named 27 slaves whose tasks included “police duties in the square, and rear grounds, hauling bricks for
the repair of roads, hauling wood for the engine, attending the carpenters, cleaning old flint muskets, packing
arms, etc. etc.”

“Many people ask why free blacks would join the Confederate Army,” Ijames observed. “There could
be many reasons. Many free blacks were literate and property owners, so it could have been in their interest to
be with the Confederates.”

Others factors Ijames sites are religion and loyalty among slaves, saying slaves and free blacks felt a
sense of kinship to the land and families that may have made them loyal to the Confederacy. He also pointed
out that slavery also had been practiced in the North, and that blacks in the North often found the racism just as
real and unwelcoming.

Ijames, who began searching his own roots years ago, learned of the black Confederate soldiers from a
co-worker who was entering the North Carolina Confederate pension applications in an electronic database. He
began researching the topic then, and has continued. He also makes presentations to civic groups; in 2001, he
was awarded the Jefferson Davis Medal by the United Daughters of the Confederacy for his research on black

Office of Public Affairs Brenda Follmer, Director
109 E. Jones Street, 4604 MSC
Raleigh, NC 27699-4604

(919) 733-5722 FAX (919) 733-1620

For information on black Confederates, call Earl Ijames at 919/733-3952.

Office of Public Affairs Brenda Follmer, Director
109 E. Jones Street, 4604 MSC
Raleigh, NC 27699-4604

(919) 733-5722 FAX (919) 733-1620
No Anonymous comments.
Be man enough to stand as one.

PoP Aaron
The Southern American


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