January 16, 1862: Black Confederates?

Andrew and Silas Chandler

The myth of “thousands of black confederates” is very much alive today in some quarters, despite pretty thorough debunking. One item that I’ve seen quoted as “proof” that large numbers of black men fought as soldiers for the confederacy is a report in the Indianapolis Journal about an encounter with an entire black confederate regiment in Virginia. Here the Richmond Daily Dispatch of Jan. 16, 1862 reproduces that article, labeling it “absurd and ridicuulous”.

Attack on Yankee soldiers by armed negroes.(!)

A member of the Indiana 20th regiment, now encamped near Fortress Monroe, communicates the following absurd and ridicuulous [sic] story to the Indianapolis Journal, on the 23d ult.:

Yesterday morning, Gen. Mansfield, with Drake de Kay, Aide-de-camp, in command of seven companies of the 20th New York German Rifles, left Newport News on a reconnaissance. Just after passing Newmarket Bridge, seven miles from camp, they detached one company as an advance, and soon after their advance was attacked by 600 of the enemy’s cavalry.

The company formed to receive the cavalry, but the cavalry advancing deployed to the right and left when within musket shot, and unmasked a body of 700 negro infantry, all armed with muskets, who opened fire on our men, wounding two lieutenant is and two privates, and rushing forward surrounded the company of Germans, who cut their way through, killing six of the negroes and wounding several more. The main body, hearing the firing, advanced at a double- quick in time to recover their wounded and drive the enemy back, but did not succeed in taking any prisoners. The wounded men testify positively that they were shot by negroes, and that not less than seven hundred were present, armed with muskets.

Commenting upon the above, the same correspondent proceeds as follows:
This is, indeed, a new feature in the war. We have heard of a regiment of negroes at Manassas, another at Memphis, and still another in New Orleans, but did not believe it till it came so near home and attacked our men. There is no mistake about it. The 20th Germans were actually attacked and fired on and wounded by negroes.

It is time that this thing was understood, and if they fight us with negroes, why should not we fight them with negroes too. We have disbelieved these reports too long, and now let us fight the devil with fire. The feeling is intense among the men. They want to know if they came here to fight negroes, and if they did they would like to know it. The wounded men swear they will kill any negro they see, so excited are they at the dastardly act. It remains to be seen how long the Government will now hesitate when they learn these facts. One of the Lieutenants was shot in the back part of the neck, and is not expected to live.

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