Recently, I was reading the most recent issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era, and I
found a mention of “a racially integrated Confederate military.” The author of
the essay does not believe that the Confederate army was integrated to any
degree, and that the idea of tens of thousands of black Confederate soldiers
served beside their masters or former masters within the ranks. As I have
stated before, I’ve never believed there were hundreds of thousands of black
Confederate soldiers. But at the same time, I have come to believe the
Confederate army was far more integrated that most people want to believe.
The only way to back up the belief of an integrated
Confederate army is to look at Confederate regiments on a company level. This
type of research does not come easily, and is probably beyond the interest of
the academic historian. To accomplish this type of research, you really need to
be a family historian.
I’m not a family historian. But I know of lot of them. So, I
formulated a test. I pulled out all of the men in Company B, 37th
North Carolina Troops, who came from Watauga County and who originally enlisted
in September 1861. Located in the mountains of western North Carolina, and by
looking at the 1860 Federal census, Watauga might be considered one of the
least ethnically diverse counties, at least in North Carolina. According to this
census, there were 4,821 white people, 104 slaves, and 32 free persons of color
in Watauga County. The county furnished several companies to the Confederate
army in 1861 and 1862, along with a handful who joined the Federal army, and
another group who used the guise of the Federal uniform to wage a dirty war on
Back to our test company: Company B was originally recruited
from Watauga County in September 1861 and entered Confederate service in
November 1861. Of that initial group of 98 men, we find 21 mixed race people.
The most famous would be the Cozzens (or Cousins) brothers. They considered themselves
Melungeons or descendants of the Portuguese.
The government considered them either mulattos or Negroes. We understand
that Melungeons are today considered descendants of sub-Saharan African men and
white women of northern or central European origin. The Cozzens were two
members of Company B who were free blacks. They voluntarily enlisted in Company
B on September 14, 1861. Franklin was killed in the fighting at Second Manassas
on August 29, 1862. William Henry Cozzens served as a teamster for much of the
war, a more traditional role for a black person in the Confederate army. He was
captured on April 2, 1865, and spent a couple of months at Point Lookout,
And then there is the story of Larkin Oxentine, born in
Sumter District, South Carolina. He, and his family, claimed that he was a
Lumbee Indian and a recent arrival to
the Watauga County area. After the war was over, Oxentine headed one more
county west, settling in Carter County, Tennessee.
All of the rest of 21 men's families claim to have some degree
of Native American ancestry. This is probably not the most scientific way to conduct
such a study, but at the same time, even a DNA study would not tell us when the
Native American ancestry entered into a person's family background. It should also be
remembered that Native Americans were not considered citizens. Anyone with Native
ancestry, in the mid-19th century, hid it, or faced possible forced relocation.
So, at least 21 percent of the original enlistees of Company
B, 37th North Carolina Troops, could be considered racially mixed in some form
or fashion. This is just one test case. I wonder what additional research into
the subject might show? Maybe that the Confederate army was little more "racially
integrated" than some folks might want to admit?