Skip to comments.Black service, on both sides, in the Civil War
Posted on 02/21/2004 5:47:02 AM PST by aomagrat
On March 30, 1865, John W. Riley, the Confederate adjutant general in Richmond, Va., gave Capt. Edward Bostick of the 26th South Carolina Volunteers these orders: You are authorized to raise a battalion of four companies of Negro troops in the state of South Carolina. You are allowed sixty days to raise the battalion.
This order during the last weeks of the Civil War has often been debated by historians and laypersons alike. Did South Carolina ever raise these four black battalions in defense of the Confederacy? The immediate answer is no. But several individual blacks did fight for the Confederacy, as the following cases attest.
John Wilson Buckner, the grandson of black Confederate supporter William Ellison, was born in Sumter County. Buckner joined the 1st South Carolina Artillery in March 1863. He was wounded at Fort Wagner on July 12, 1863, in the battle against the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. After recovering, he was a regular in Capt. P.O. Gaillards company and later became a scout in Capt. Boykins company, both South Carolina regiments.
Tom Bing was a soldier in Bill Peebles Colcock Regiment from 1861 until he was mustered out in 1865. John McKinley was a private in the Charleston Riflemen, the 14th Regiment under the leadership of Capt. Joe Johnson. McKinley spent five years in the regiment. Tom Arch of Spartanburg County was a private in Company B, the lst Regimental Cavalry. He served from June 1861 until the end of the Civil War.
These are the only extant examples of blacks who served full-time in any South Carolina Confederate regiments, and among the four, Buckner was the only one who saw regular combat action in a gray uniform for South Carolina.
Confederate leadership began considering the use of slaves as troops following devastating defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863. Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his generals faced a dilemma: Arm slaves and possibly have them turn on the Confederacy, or continue to lose the war. While Davis and his officers debated the issue, Confederate losses continued, and by September 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman had begun his march to the sea.
By the time Davis and the Confederate Congress decided to impress slaves into military service on March 13, 1865, the Civil War essentially was over. Even so, Davis and his field commanders never promised to give slaves their freedom in return for their service. Thousands of South Carolina slaves were, however, used as cooks, nurses, body servants, teamsters, laborers and even spies, but they never were organized into combat units for the Confederate cause.
In contrast to blacks supporting the Confederacy, Robert Smalls stands as the best South Carolina example of an African-American joining the Union effort.
Born to a white master and slave mother, Smalls ran away from a Charleston plantation on May 13, 1862, with his wife, children and several other slaves. He commandeered a Confederate supply ship, The Planter, piloted it past enemy gunfire in Charleston harbor, and turned it over to the Union Navy. Later, Smalls became captain of The Planter.
When President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he hoped the document would discourage the use of slaves by the Confederacy. But, the Emancipation Proclamation did much more: It authorized the use of free blacks and runaway slaves in the Union Army. Lincoln did what Davis could not bring himself to do until too late use blacks in the army.
Slaves like Smalls clearly understood the importance of the conflict. They ran away but returned to help slaves still held in bondage. In still another example, the South Carolina Volunteer Regiment or the First Regiment of South Carolina Infantry (later the 33rd United States Colored Troops) were mostly ex-slaves from South Carolina who returned to fight, and later helped occupy the state.
Freedom, what the Confederacy could not offer, became the motivating factor for hundreds of slaves in South Carolina and elsewhere to fight for the Union cause.
Dr. Booker is chairman of the department of history and sociology at Claflin University in Orangeburg. For Black History Month, Dr. Booker will write about several aspects of the African-American experience.
There were already quite a few black Southerners serving the army and navy in various capacities including as soldiers. One of the most notable was Louis Napoleon Nelson, a black Southerner who had fought in several major battles including Shiloh. Likewise there had been a regiment of free blacks from Louisiana who had volunteered and marched off to join the Confederates in the war. At one point I had a copy of a photograph of them in their gray uniforms. Perhaps I can find that again and post a link to it.
These things are often overlooked. It would do us well to learn more about them.
It's a real shame that this part of history is overlooked and even mocked as a lie by many people. It always behooves us to know the truth, even when the truth is not popular.
Tell me what you think of the site after you see it if you wouldn't mind.
Unfortunately, this is a very un-PC topic and so it gets denied and looked over by most people.
Most Southern abolitionists supported a gradual emancipation of slavery not the sudden, catastrophic sort supported (and carried out) by radical abolitionists in the North. I say it was catastrophic because it suddenly left blacks with no master to provide for them and no jobs or education with which to provide for themselves. What little programs there were to help them were hastily put together programs that were less effective than a well-though-out program could have been. Also, the entire economic system of the South was suddenly thrown into complete disorder, which could possibly have been avoided if the shift from slave to free labor had been progressive but gradual.
If the advice of the gradual abolitionists of the South (and the North) had been followed then a successful emancipation similar to the one carried out in the late 1700's and early 1800's in New York (I think) would have occurred.
Little or no credit is given these days to Lee, Jackson and the other good men and women of the South who, unlike some of their neighbors (both North and South) wished to see a free but stable South.
Interesting post...I may use this article, as I am student teaching and will be doing the Civil War soon.
"When President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he hoped the document would discourage the use of slaves by the Confederacy."
He hoped no such thing! Lincoln could have cared less about blacks, and only instituted The Emancipation Proclamation to save his butt. I read all this in an older book. EP was ready to go much earlier but Lincoln saved it for a more politically advantageous time...