During our War of 1861, ex-slave Frederick Douglass observed, "There are at the present moment, many colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down . . . and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government."
Dr. Lewis Steiner, a Union Sanitary Commission employee who lived through the Confederate occupation of Frederick, Maryland said, "Most of the Negroes . . . were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy Army." Erwin L. Jordan's book Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia cites eyewitness accounts of the Antietam campaign of "armed blacks in rebel columns bearing rifles, sabers, and knives and carrying knapsacks and haversacks." After the Battle of Seven Pines in June 1862, Union soldiers said that "two black Confederate regiments not only fought but showed no mercy to the Yankee dead or wounded whom they mutilated, murdered and robbed."
In April 1861, a Petersburg, Virginia newspaper proposed "three cheers for the patriotic free Negroes of Lynchburg" after 70 blacks offered "to act in whatever capacity may be assigned to them" in defense of Virginia. Erwin L. Jordan cites one case where a captured group of white slave owners and blacks were offered freedom if they would take an oath of allegiance to the United States. One free black indignantly replied, "I can't take no such oaf as dat. I'm a secesh nigger." A slave in the group upon learning that his master refused to take the oath said, "I can't take no oath dat Massa won't take." A second slave said, "I ain't going out here on no dishonorable terms." One of the slave owners took the oath but his slave, who didn't take the oath, returning to Virginia under a flag of truce, expressed disgust at his master's disloyalty saying, "Massa had no principles."
Horace Greeley, in pointing out some differences between the two warring armies said, "For more than two years, Negroes have been extensively employed in belligerent operations by the Confederacy. They have been embodied and drilled as rebel soldiers and had paraded with white troops at a time when this would not have been tolerated in the armies of the Union." General Nathan Bedford Forrest had both slaves and freemen serving in units under his command. After the war, General Forrest said of the black men who served under him "[T]hese boys stayed with me . . . and better Confederates did not live." Southern generals owned slaves but northern generals owned them as well. General Ulysses Grant's slaves had to await for the Thirteenth Amendment for freedom. When asked why he didn't free his slaves earlier, General Grant said,"Good help is so hard to come by these days."
These are but a few examples of the important role that blacks served, both as slaves and freemen in the Confederacy during the War Between the States. The flap over the Confederate Flag is not quite as simple as the nation's race experts make it. They want us to believe the flag is a symbol of racism. Yes, racists have used the Confederate Flag, but racists have also used the Bible and the U.S. Flag. Should we get rid of the Bible and lower the U.S. Flag? Black civil rights activists and their white liberal supporters who're attacking the Confederate Flag have committed a deep, despicable dishonor to our patriotic black ancestors who marched, fought and died to protect their homeland from what they saw as Northern aggression. They don't deserve the dishonor.
Walter E. Williams
January 21, 2000
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