Alabama: Black Confederate Soldiers’ Stories Must Be Told

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — An attempt to squelch a little known part of African American history gave Edwin Kennedy a bigger microphone than he ever imagined 13 years ago.

At the time, he had just seen a history display he helped arranged at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., removed from the Combined Arms Research Library because it was perceived as offensive, Kennedy recalled.

The display, which the command post said lacked historic balance, shared part of the story of blacks who fought for the Confederate army during the Civil War, not as body servants for their owners or impressed cooks and general laborers, but as actual soldiers shouldering muskets.

Andrew Chandler served in the 44th Mississippi Infantry, and his friend, a black slave named Silas, right, ran away from home to look after his friend, Edwin Kennedy said.

Andrew Chandler served in the 44th Mississippi Infantry, and his friend, a black slave named Silas, right, ran away from home to look after his friend, Edwin Kennedy said.

“It’s not politically correct to talk about it,” said Kennedy, a retired lieutenant colonel now teaching at the Army Command and General Staff College’s satellite campus on Redstone Arsenal, “but you can’t ignore it.”

Kennedy has had numerous opportunities to talk about black confederate soldiers since 2000, and said he generally gets the most requests during Black History Month, which concludes today. But despite the amount of evidence he produces and similar statements by black historians and descendants of black soldiers, he said there is still strong opposition to accept the truth.

His program, which he shared last week with the Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in Athens, built an argument with photographs, government documents and newspaper clippings that show blacks not only served alongside white soldiers in the rebel army, but also earned the enduring respect of officers and eventually veteran pensions paid by southern states.

Kennedy said the black soldiers in the Confederate army are no different from soldiers during any other conflict in that they served for various personal reasons, with patriotism just one possibility. Ask a service member today why they joined up and many will likely say for college benefits, he said.

“I don’t care which reason they serve, they did it and deserve credit for it,” Kennedy said.

Common reasons black men fought for the South include patriotism, expectation of reward, economic ties to South, emotional attachment, resentment to criminal treatment from Union troops and personal subjectives, he said.

  • Patriotism – The South was the only home they knew, and they naturally could fear the unknown invader from the North. Also there were free blacks who stayed in the South before and during the war.

Kennedy shared a quote from Roland Young, a black historian, who said black soldiers who fought for the South “were demonstrating that it was possible to hate the system of slavery and love one’s country.”

Black soldiers served honorably in World War I and II, Kennedy said, when African Americans still lacked many basic civil rights, including being able to serve in unsegregated military units.

  • Expectation of reward – Many black soldiers, including slaves who fought for Nathan Bedford Forrest, served because they were promised freedom. Also, whether or not they received their pay or it went to their owners, black Confederate soldiers received the same pay as white soldiers, unlike the Union army.
  • Economic ties to the South – There were black-owned businesses in the South, including the largest rental property holder in Charleston. And according to the federal census of 1830, free blacks owned more than 10,000 slaves in four southern states, mostly in Louisiana.
  • Emotional attachment – House slaves in particular, felt a kinship with their white owners. One instance was Andrew Chandler and the black boy he grew up with named Silas. Silas ran away from home to join Andrew in the 44th Mississippi Infantry and brought Andrew home after he was wounded, turning his back on the chance to run away. In gratitude the Chandler family gave Silas some land, which he used to build a church.

Those who say African Americans never willingly served or were engaged in battle point to Southern laws that banned black people, slaves or freemen, to bear arms and that all impressment acts clearly mandated slaves could only be used as teamsters, laborers, hospital orderlies, cooks and similar non-combat roles.

The Confederate government did approve raising black troops, but not until the last month of the war. And the legislative act did not grant freedom to slaves who fought, leaving it up to their owners to let them serve.

Kennedy said there are repeated references during the Civil War by Union officers and even abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, acknowledging black soldiers carrying muskets in the Confederate Army.After the war, there are photographs of black soldiers attending reunions with their Confederate comrades, government records of them receiving veteran benefits and living in old veterans homes and monuments standing in recognition to their service, he said.

“You can say (Southern slave holders) forced them to fight, but why would they attend reunions,” Kennedy asked.

In recent years, Kennedy said he has met African Americans participating in Civil War re-enactments portraying their Confederate ancestors, as well as people who learned of their Confederate history after conducting genealogy searches. One of those is Peggy Towns, a black author from Decatur, who recently published a book, “Duty Driven: The Plight of North Alabama’s African Americans During the Civil War.”

Her family search revealed she had ancestors who fought for both the Union and Confederate armies.

“I was shocked, more or less,” she said, until further research revealed they fought in exchange for freedom.

Towns also experienced some resentment and opposition to her findings, but she said she’s not worrying about it. She said it’s simply her duty to put the truth out there.

“I’ve gotten some flack about the Confederates in my book, but at the end of the day, that’s our history, it’s who we are.  I will continue to tell our story,” she said.

“I surmise that the war was not so much about slavery, but fear,” Towns added. “Fear of losing political, economic and social power. Fear of recognizing what came to be in the eyes of many an inferior people to be equal.  Fortunately, after the ultimate sacrifice of thousands of Confederate and Union soldiers, a people were freed in the process.

“Isn’t it something that 150 years later, our history is still tucked away into the recesses of time and no one wants to acknowledge the truth,” she said.

Kennedy said it was ironic that Fort Leavenworth, the “intellectual center” for the U.S. Army, was the site that forced him to remove an historic display, and that in doing so, it had the opposite effect of quieting the story.

The flap drew national attention, including an article in Army Times newspaper and it encouraged him to delve further into seeking evidence of black Confederate soldiers, he said.

The attention he received eventually brought him to be the keynote speaker at the 2005 Army Quarterly Equal Opportunity Conference at Fort Gordon, Ga. He said he continues to be asked to speak to school, civic and historic groups.

–Paul Huggins,


Florida: Re-enactment Brings Realism to Battle of Natural Bridge

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jay Welch is used to hearing the boom of cannon fire every year at the Natural Bridge Historic State Park, but he still flinches.

It’s hard to blame him. More than 1,000 attendees came out for the park’s 36th annual reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge. Everyone gasped, flinched or screamed once the cannons drowned out the calming drums and flutes from the Confederate and Union soldiers.

A Confederate battery blasts the Union charge on Sunday. The event commemorates the 148th anniversary of the Civil War battle, which took place 12 miles south of Tallahassee. Mike Ewen/Democrat

A Confederate battery blasts the Union charge on Sunday. The event commemorates the 148th anniversary of the Civil War battle, which took place 12 miles south of Tallahassee. Mike Ewen/Democrat

Families held each other tight. Friends shared nervous laughter as they tried not to look scared. Dog owners whispered reassurances to thoroughly frightened pets once the cannons blasted. Welch, a North Florida Community College professor, continued in his role as the leader of Union forces.

“This is pretty loud,” Welch said. “Especially with a lot of people who haven’t been to a lot of reenactment battles. The cannons will really surprise them. Most of the cannons we have out here aren’t full-scale either.”

The latest reenactment of the second-largest Civil War battle in Florida went off without a hitch Sunday afternoon, which was good news to first-time park manager Rob Lacy.

He manages several historic state park locations throughout Tallahassee and said Sunday’s reenactment was his first time viewing the Battle of Natural Bridge.

Park officials learned from last year’s battle, which was hindered by some poor visibility of the soldiers on the historic battlefield. This year the entire scene was rotated slightly so audience members in the bleachers could see the battle — which ended with the defeat of Union forces — in its entirety.

Once the smoke settled, spectators left the battle site. Lacy said the show, which consists of more than 200 Union and Confederate soldiers, was “awesome.”

“The artillery is impressive,” he said about hearing the canon fire. “When cannons go off, you really feel it. I think the crowd reacted whenever that happened.”

As always, the event also served as a history lesson for interested families and students. Yuanyuan Xing, an international exchange student from China to Florida State, said the reenactment was a fresh experience for her.

Dan Tarter, who frequently travels with his family to war reenactments, said Sunday’s event was one of the top he’s ever seen. It was also his first time watching the battle.

“It was very good,” he added. “I’ve been to about three or four reenactments so far and this is one of the best. Obviously it all sounded very realistic and it had some great percussion to it.”

 –Jordan Culver, Tallahassee Democrat


Georgia: New Civil War Marker Celebrates Macon’s Religious Life

MACON, Ga. — When Confederate Capt. Thomas Key arrived to help fortify Macon in 1864, he spent his first Sunday at the city’s largest church.

After visiting the Presbyterians and pew-hopping to visit Episcopalians and Methodists the next two weeks, he wrote: “How many privileges we are now enjoying stationed here, than we have had at any time during the war! Macon is truly a church-going city.”Across from First Presbyterian Church Wednesday morning, members of Macon’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee gathered to dedicate a new marker denoting the city’s religious history and Key’s observations.

Historic re-enactor Mia McKie, second from left, sings Amazing Grace backed by local clergy at the dedication Wednesday of the new Civil War historical marker at the corner of First Street and Mulberry Street in Macon Wednesday. The marker, the first of many to be unveiled around town in coming months, details the religious history of Macon during the Civil War era. GRANT BLANKENSHIP

Historic re-enactor Mia McKie, second from left, sings Amazing Grace backed by local clergy at the dedication Wednesday of the new Civil War historical marker at the corner of First Street and Mulberry Street in Macon Wednesday. The marker, the first of many to be unveiled around town in coming months, details the religious history of Macon during the Civil War era.

Macon historian Conie Mac Darnell researched and wrote the text for the sign, which sits on First Street near the First Presbyterian parking lot at the southwest corner of Mulberry Street.

“There were a lot of differences between the races in condition and servitude … 150 years ago,” Darnell said. “The one thing we had in common, that was our religious heritage.”

As the men of the South fought their brothers to the North, family members logged many hours in Macon churches that predated the War Between the States. Several white churches and three black congregations were established before the fighting began.

The local Presbyterian congregation was founded in 1825 and had erected an 800-person sanctuary just six years before Key spent his first Sunday there. It was the church’s third location, which is still in use today.

The Episcopal and Methodist congregations also organized in 1825, two years after Macon was chartered.

Blacks and whites worshipped together at the Baptist church organized in 1826, although separated by galleries until freedmen and slaves were provided their own church in 1845, 16 years before the Civil War began.

The new “colored” Baptist congregation at New and Cotton streets could recruit members, but they were led by a white pastor until emancipation.

Georgia’s oldest black Presbyterian church was birthed in Macon in 1839. As a freedman, the Rev. David Laney pastored Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church before, during and after the war.

Methodist freedmen and slaves worshipped in an old, wooden Mulberry Methodist sanctuary that was likely moved when the new sanctuary was built in 1849, the marker notes.

After emancipation, that fellowship rooted the Steward Chapel African Methodist Episcopal on Cotton Avenue and Holsey Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal on Washington Avenue.

Macon’s Catholic community came together in 1841 when the Rev. James Graham came to town.

In 1844, Macon’s United Hebrew Society organized — 17 years before the Civil War.

Rabbi Larry Schlesinger of Temple Beth Israel presided over the dedication of the first of six new markers the committee is unveiling this year to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the bitter conflict that brought people to their knees.

“We are all children of one father and our various denominations and churches that we come from are really an expression of that,” Schlesinger said after the ceremony. “I thank God for our diversity. I think diversity is our greatest strength as a community, and it’s nice to be able to recognize that in a ceremony like this.”

Current pastors from Macon’s antebellum congregations attended the ceremony, which included a rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung by Cannonball House historical interpreter Mia McKie, who was dressed in a Civil War period costume.

The Sesquicentennial Committee’s other markers will depict Macon’s Civil War heritage related to hospitals, Rose Hill Cemetery, contributions of the black community, foundries and the Union passenger station.

–Liz Fabian,


Georgia: Darien Observes Anniversary of Town’s Burning

DARIEN, Ga. (AP) — Evidence of the worst day in the city’s history rests in a black garbage bag at Fort King George State Historic Site.

Aside from tough tabby foundations, the brittle pieces of wood with charred edges are all that’s left of the warehouses that once stood on Darien River when the city was a thriving seaport. It went up in flames July 11, 1863, when the 54th Massachusetts, an all-black Union regiment, torched the town during the Civil War.

The Union troops burned the cotton and rice warehouses, homes, churches, the courthouse and anything else made of wood.

Fort King George Superintendent Steven Smith wants to put the timbers and other artifacts on display when Darien celebrates the 150th anniversary of the burning this year.

Archeologist Fred Cook found the timbers in 1990 during a dig among the tabby ruins of the foundations. He entrusted them to the state park and Smith wants to include them in a museum at the trail head building downtown.

As Georgia celebrates the sesquicentennial of the war, Smith thinks Darien will be the first out of the blocks.

“As nearly as I can tell, this is the first sesquicentennial observance in Georgia. Not much happened in Georgia until Sherman started his march to the sea,” Smith said.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the fire, said historian Buddy Sullivan, who will deliver two lectures during the observance.

“Everybody asks why Sherman burned Darien,” Sullivan said. “He didn’t.”

Sherman’s Georgia campaign didn’t start until the spring of 1864. He took and burned Atlanta and then marched to the coast, burning and pillaging as he went, Sullivan said.

“The closest he ever came was Savannah,” Sullivan said.

The 54th Massachusetts had been stationed on St. Simons Island until they came north and moved on Darien, he said. Because it was an important seaport, Darien was blockaded by the Union Navy, Sullivan said. When the Union troops arrived, there was no resistance.

“Darien was almost completely unpopulated. The population was only about 500, but they had left and moved farther inland because they were worried about being invaded,” he said.

The unit’s commander, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, strongly objected to his orders to burn Darien, but did so rather than be subject to court martial. Shaw died a month later during the siege of Fort Wagner near Charleston.

Smith doesn’t want the timbers to rest alone in the museum. He is hopeful people will loan some items they have found. After all, Darien goes back to the early 1700s and a lot of things are still found in yards and gardens.

“People dig up stuff all the time,” and bring it by the fort in hopes someone can identify it, Smith said.

He’s seen fully intact Indian pottery, a late 19th-century bayonet from a yard, pottery shards, old rice hoes and axe heads, he said.

Local sources, such as Darien Telephone, the Lower Altamaha Historical Society and the State Farm Foundation, donated a total of $3,500 to the Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, but it also recently received a $10,000 historic tourism grant. Sullivan will deliver lectures in May and June and there will be a new mural painted in the waterfront park under the U.S. 17 bridge.

The main event is the town festival on June 15 with a living history encampment on Butler Island on the southern side of the Darien River.

–Terry Dickson, Associated Press


Tennessee: Family of Confederate Captain Wants Bust Removed if Memorial Changed

MEMPHIS, Tn. — The family of a Confederate Civil War captain whose great grandfather’s bronze bust stands on a pedestal in Confederate Park wants to reclaim the bust and remove it from the park if the Memphis City Council follows through with renaming the park.

Capt. J. Harvey Mathes, who worked as a war correspondent and lost a leg in the Battle of Atlanta, also wrote a biography of his friend Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. It was Forrest, whose granite marker was removed by the city from Forrest Park, that ignited the naming controversy and led to a planned March 30 rally by the Ku Klux Klan on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse.

A bust of Captain J. Harvey Mathes in Confederate Park downtown. (Mike Maple/The Commercial Appeal)

A bust of Captain J. Harvey Mathes in Confederate Park downtown. (Mike Maple/The Commercial Appeal)

The Tennessee legislature later passed a “heritage” bill to restrict name changes to historic properties, but the Council passed its own name changes before the legislature could bring its bill to a vote. Forrest Park was renamed “Health Sciences Park,” while Confederate Park was renamed “Memphis Park” and Jefferson Davis Park was renamed “Mississippi River Park.” The Council then formed a renaming committee to recommend other possible names for the three parks.

“It’s so tragic that people are so afraid of our past,” said Rev. Ben Mathes of Dawsonville Ga., great grandson of Capt. J. Harvey Mathes.

J. Harvey Mathes wrote battle stories as he fought with the 37th Regiment of the Confederate forces. Some of those stories appeared in The Memphis Daily Appeal, a predecessor of The Commercial Appeal. The Army captain later became editor of The Memphis Evening Ledger.

His great grandson Rev. Mathes, left Memphis 35 years ago after attending Rhodes College and enrolling in seminary. Mathes is founder and past executive director of the Christian ministry Rivers of the World. “To my knowledge, my family was not part of the Klan,” he said.

Forrest’s role as a former imperial wizard of the Klan set off the controversy when the Sons of Confederate Veterans added a granite marker with his name on the Union Avenue side of Forrest Park. With no warning, Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little sent a city crane to remove the $10,400 marker with a concrete base and place it in storage. An imposing statue of Forrest on horseback remains as the centerpiece of the park.

The centerpiece of Confederate Park is a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. Just south of Davis, Capt. Mathes rests on his pedestal, tarnished by the weather into a greenish hue.

The park commemorates the 1862 Battle of Memphis in which Memphis was captured in one day by Union soldiers in what became the biggest inland naval battle in U.S. history.

“I don’t know why they want to rename the park,” said Aurelian Carrigan of Memphis was photographing the park’s landmarks this week, including the bust of Mathes, during a visit to meet friends Downtown. “It’s been that way so long. It’s history,” he said.

Rev. Mathes agreed. He said his family has enjoyed photographing each other alongside his great grandfather’s bust for 60 years. Mathes said he tried calling Memphis Park Services and received no response, then tried City Hall and could find no one with any idea how to arrange to move the bust.

Bobby White, chief of staff for Mayor A C Wharton, said the city is not sure yet about the process to remove a historic statute.

Lee Millar, past president of the Shelby County Historical Commission and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said there is no other appropriate park for the bust, and Rev. Mathes said he would prefer that if the name change remains permanent the bust be moved to his great grandfather’s gravesite at Elmwood Cemetery, donated to the Rendezvous restaurant or that it be placed “in my backyard in Georgia.” Otherwise, he said, it could end up “melted down or turned into scrap metal.

–Michael Lollar, Memphis Commercial Appeal


Texas: Divisions Over Confederate Flag Memorial Simmer

ORANGE, Tx. — Protests against a Confederate Flag Memorial were raised during the Orange City Council Neighborhood meeting Feb. 26.

Residents have spoken out against the proposed park, which would be located five miles west of the Texas Louisiana state line on I-10, during the last two city council meetings and at Orange County Commissioners Court.

Residents have said they did not want the park at that location, which is near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Orange.

Texas Division Commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans Granvel Block purchased the land for the purpose of erecting a memorial.

Council members told residents Block provided building plans and met all minimum standards of ordinance when applying for the permit.

Council members said they have not received any calls supporting the project at this time.

The council said it has a legality issue because denying the permit would be a violation of first amendment rights.

The first amendment of the Constitution of the United States reads, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

The first part of the 14th amendment reads, ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’

Andrew Culpepper, a representative of Jack Smith, city attorney, said the city attorney is looking into the situation.

“The city had no other choice,” Culpepper said. “To deny it would cause the city to be subject to a lawsuit by suppressing viewpoints.”

Council member District 3 Essie Bellfield said there were competent lawyers for the city working on the matter and that TML would be able to help if required.

TML is the Texas Municipal League, established in 1913, exists solely to provide services to Texas cities.

“We have to be legally right,” Bellfield said. “Be sure the rest of us are fighting it.”

Annette Pernell, council member district 4, is a veteran and has several family members who are veterans.

“This is not a black and white issue. Sons of the Confederate Veterans have been going though the Southern states acting like idiots on the pole,” Pernell said. “Veterans need to be remembered  because we would not be where we are today without veterans. This is not a black and white issue. It is a right and wrong issue.”

Pernell also said that Orange is a city that wants to grow and this park will kill the city.

“Action will cause reaction,” Pernell said.

Pernell also said that Block does live in Orange County but not within the city of Orange.

“Our hands are essentially tied,” Pernell said. “We work for you. Help us help you. Write a letter for or against.”

–Dawn Burleigh, The Orange Leader


Virginia: Trees Tell Story of Civil War Soldiers

LEESBURG, VIRGINIA — The U.S. Civil War was the bloodiest war in American history.  From 1861 to 1865, at least 620,000 soldiers died in the fighting.

The war was fought between the states of the North – the Union, and the South – the Confederacy, which were divided over states’ rights, including slavery.

Now 150 years later, the soldiers who died are being memorialized through a tree planting project that will span four eastern states where many of the battles took place.

These are the faces of soldiers who were pitted against one another during the U.S. Civil War. More than half the soldiers died and most are no longer remembered.

Now the group Journey Through Hallowed Ground is keeping their memory alive by planting trees, or dedicating existing trees, to each of those soldiers.

Trees are being planted along a 290-kilometer road from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – where the most famous battle occurred – to the home in Virginia of Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president.  Beth Erickson is with the organization.

“Each tree is a life,” said Erickson. “As you see these trees one after another, it will truly make an impact.”

The first trees were planted in November on a former plantation calledOatlands in Leesburg, Virginia. Today, the early 19th century home is owned by a historic trust.

Andrea McGimsey, executive director of Oatlands, says the estate was a natural place to begin the tree project.

“Oatlands has some very old trees and they were here during the Civil War time. Many of them are actually going to be adopted as part of this project,” she said.

McGimsey says Oatlands was also part of civil war history. “Oatlands had 128 slaves in 1860, right before the Civil War started. And also the family who lived here had two sons who joined the Confederate Army.”

Richard Williams, the grandson of the last family that lived in the house, says one of his ancestors was a famous Confederate general.  His family still owns property next to Oatlands, and they too are involved in planting the trees.

“We’re hoping as private landowners we can also show it’s a great success and encourage some other private landowners,” Williams stated.

The $65 million project is being financed through private contributions, in which individuals can also help by donating $100 for a tree. The trees will be geotagged to allow Smart Phone users to learn the story of a soldier.

“These trees will have a number associated with a person.  They can use GPS technology to find out who these people were,” Erickson noted.

Eleanor Adams has contributed a tree to honor her ancestor, Joseph McGowin, a 23-year-old Confederate soldier from the southern state of Alabama who was shot and killed.  He fought, along with several brothers, only two of whom survived the war.

McGowin wrote letters to his family about the hardships on the battlefield.  “He talks about sickness, the heat in the summertime, the bad food – really a tough time being a soldier in those days,” she said.

Adams hopes other relatives will join her in planting trees for the rest of the brothers who died in the Civil War.

–Deborah Block,