Did Blacks Typically Serve as Confederate Soldiers?
by Henry Robert Burke
Did "free blacks" and slaves serve voluntarily as soldiers with the Confederate Forces during the American Civil War? This is a subject that has been brought up from time to time by some American Civil War historians, namely ones who espouse the Confederate cause. The short answer is that the Confederate Forces barred the enlistment of blacks, slave or free, from serving as soldiers. Logic should prevail when this question is brought up.
Why would a person who had been subjugated and brutalized by the institution of slavery wanted to perpetuate their misery? Slaves were forced into service by Confederate military units as civilian laborers, teamsters, cooks, hospital personnel and other non-combat duties, but these people do not fit the description of soldiers. Soldiers are primarily citizens who are enlisted or commissioned by their government. Soldiers are required to take an oath of allegiance. Soldiers are trained to bear and use arms. The pension records of Confederate Forces simply do not show any significant number of black veterans.
While reviewing the Union Civil War records researched and documented by our esteemed local historian, the late Jerry Devol, I came across the name of an ex-slave named Charles Taylor, who enlisted with the Union Army and served with Company C, 27th United States Colored Troops (USCT). Taylor's experience, taken from his own words in his pension records, illustrates my point concerning blacks serving with the Confederate Forces.
The words of Charles Taylor, aged 52 in 1898, when he applied for his pension as a Veteran of the Union Army.- "I first served about 3 months as a cook in the Confederate Army during the summer of 1863. I was put into this service by Charley Jenkins, a son of my old master, Jefro Jenkins. During this time I was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia, but when General Butler ordered them to evacuate Norfolk, I went with the Confederate Army, which was in charge of General Longstreet, to Winchester, Virginia. I then got away from the Confederate Army, and went with (Union) General Cook's Army to Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. I remained with the Union Army until I volunteered in Company C, 27th USCT at Marietta, Ohio.
I was then sent to Camp Delaware, Ohio (Columbus) for training, and then back to Virginia, where our regiment and the 4th and 6th Maryland Regiment were brigaded together under General Payne in the 18th Army Corps at Deep Bottom, Virginia.
I had lived with my master, Jefro Jenkins for several years before I was put to cooking for the Confederate Army. I can't give the name of anyone who would have known me prior to my time with the Confederate Army.
I had no settled place to live from the time I came out of the Union Army until 1872, but stayed mostly near Cutler, in Washington County, Ohio. I was then a laborer in Jackson County, Ohio for one year, then I removed to Chillicothe, Ross County, Ohio. I moved to Athens, County Ohio in 1894, and have lived here since that."
There are several points in the story of Charles Taylor.
- He was a slave, and was sent by his master to cook for the Confederate Army, he was not a soldier.
- When he had the opportunity, he left the Confederate Army and went with the Union Army at Gulley Bridge, West Virginia.
- He finally did become a soldier when he joined the 27th USCT at Marietta, and he drew a pension for his service with the Union Army.
Charles Taylor's story is typical of many ex-slaves who were forced into service with the Confederate Forces. Would Confederates have felt comfortable arming people who had for generations been systematically brutalized under their hands? I do not think so!