The story of “Black Confederates”

A Black cook tends to large kettles set over a fire. In parts of the picture cropped out, White Confederate soldiers enjoy leisure time. This again supports the assertion that Blacks served as laborers of varying kinds, not as soldiers for the Confederates.

The story of Black Confederates is one that needs to be told accurately and correctly. I first heard of it when I visited Richard Stewart’s Pocahontas Island Black History Museum some years ago. I come back to it again after writing about Blacks who supported the British Crown in last week’s post.

Images like this one of Marlboro Jones would be twisted by the distorters of history to support the claim that Blacks fought as soldiers in the Confederate lines, although he was a “manservant of Confederate captain Randal F. Jones of the 7th Georgia Cavalry,” only dressed in a Confederate uniform for that role. Hence, he was not free in any sense of the word.

The Civil War Trust makes it abundantly clear: there were no Black Confederate soldiers, considering that “Vast columns of escaped slaves followed almost every major Union army at one point or another” while Confederate armies captured and enslaved “free black people during their brief occupations of Northern territories.” They add that while “black soldiers made up 10% of the Union Army and had suffered more than 10,000 combat casualties” some Blacks aided the Confederacy, many who were “forced to accompany their masters or were forced to toil behind the lines” since they were prohibited from serving “combat soldiers in the Confederate Army.” Hence, they were “cooks, teamsters, and manual laborers” with no documentation for Black Confederate units of any type during the Civil War. While some black men may have fired at Union soldiers, such soldiers never encountered “an all-black line of battle or anything close to it.” In contrast, the Union Army had the United States Colored Troops, among other units, which fought as part of the said army.

The Civil War Trust adds that not only did no Confederate ever reference “black soldiers under his command or in his unit,” but did reference Black laborers, with the rejection of black combat units until March 13, 1865 when the Confederate Congress allowed Black men to serve in combat roles. However, this came with a caveat: “black soldiers would still be slaves.” With the end of the war three weeks after this law was passed, no evidence seems to indicate that “any black units were accepted into the Confederate Army as a result of the law.” No other primary source of Confederates “mentions serving with black soldiers.” [1] The Civil War Trust ends by saying that the “notion of widespread black combat service has only arisen within the past 25 years or so,” with the baseless claims that as many as ” 80,000 black soldiers” fought for the Confederacy.

The Civil War Trust is not the only one that has said this. When one author made a shotty claim that “thousands” of Blacks fought for the Confederacy they were derided when the sources for their book were web links all tied back to the pro-Confederate Sons of Confederate Veterans, and it was shown they didn’t know what they were talking about. Later they removed the badly sourced material. This is part of the general distortion of the topic. Claims by respected historians, whether their words or associated photographs with their work, are twisted to claim that Blacks fought for the Confederacy in large numbers. [2]

Separating myth from reality

The Root is a good place to continue this discussion. They note that most Civil War historians repudiate “the idea of thousands of blacks fighting for the South.” Adding to this, it seems evident that a “few blacks, slave and free, supported the Confederacy” and while The Root author estimates that “between 3,000 and 6,000 served as Confederate soldiers,” nothing seems to support that estimation if you use the sources cited by the Civil War Trust, as noted earlier. [3] However, it seems more evident, and more supported by evidence, that “another 100,000 or so blacks, mostly slaves, supported the Confederacy as laborers, servants and teamsters…[doing] the Confederacy’s dirty work.” Adding to this, the article notes how Frederick Douglass said that at the Battle of Manassas “among rebels were black troops, no doubt pressed into service by their tyrant masters,” although this account is highly disputed with Douglass’s sources on this subject likely faulty. It claims there are sources “proving” that Blacks fought for the confederacy at the battle, however, this seems to be suspect since no existing sources prove such claims as real. After all, it seems evident that “Confederates impressed slaves as laborers and at times forced them to fight,” putting guns in their hands, forcing them to fire on Union soldiers.

There was the Louisiana Native Guards. They were a black unit “accepted as part of the Louisiana militia in May 1862” but they “never saw combat while in Confederate service,” and were just for “public display” with the unit surrendering to Union troops in April 1862, later serving in the Union Army. So, that again, cannot be used to support a claim of Blacks fighting for the Confederacy. For those who were part of the Native Guards, they said that “By serving the Confederates, [they hoped] to advance a little nearer to equality with whites,” seeing that they would gain more rights. While later in the war, in 1863,  “masters increasingly refused to allow slaves to be impressed by the Confederacy” and Northern papers continued to print rumors of Blacks serving as soldiers.

There was another factor to keep in mind. There were “some partial companies of slaves training as soldiers discovered by Union forces after the fall of Richmond” but they never fought in a combat capacity since, until the end of the war, “the Confederate Congress expressly forbade arming enslaved African Americans,” for fears of a slave uprising. Still, it is accounts like this that are used to support the claim of Black soldiers on the side of the Confederacy by people such as John J. Dwyer. This is despite the fact that it was not “until March 1865—after a contentious debate that took place throughout the Confederacy—that the Confederate Congress passed legislation authorizing the enlistment of slaves who were first freed by their masters,” with such individuals re-enslaved after their service ended.

There are a number of other articles on this subject. A Civil War Era blog, Dead Confederates confronts this issue head on. In one post they write about how claims that Stonewall Jackson had a “regiment of negroes” to be faulty, a letter by a White Southerner saying that Blacks may “may be made an efficient body in this war of self-defence” while led by White officers, and claims that cannot be corroborated anywhere else. Then there are the false claims that Robert Small was a “Black Confederate,” a mess-up by the engravers that called a Black Union soldier a member of the Confederate Army, and disproving the claim that Crock Davis was a “Black Confederate.” This is only a small sampling of the posts he has written on the subject, which accompany those assembled in a post by historian Kevin Levin on Civil War Memory. [4]

Even some more sympathetic to the Black Confederate Soldiers idea note that “first-hand evidence abundantly demonstrates that black men were present in great numbers with Confederate armies at all times.” It is added that “a great deal of the cook­ing, wagon driving, tending wounded, and camp work was done by these men.” While they push the idea of Black Confederate Soldiers, which is dubious, they have to admit that the Blacks within Confederate ranks were basically laborers, with others noted earlier in this post. As Hari Jones, assistant director/curator of the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC., argued “calling slaves soldiers is propaganda, not history. The labor force of the Confederacy was a majority of African American enslaved persons. In order for [the Confederates] to fight the war, they had to use enslaved labor. The Confederate Army could not have moved one-tenth of its equipment without enslaved labor.”

There is more to the story. The National Archives points out that “on July 17, 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, freeing slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army” and only “two days later, slavery was abolished in the territories of the United States.”Adding to this is that

Recruitment was slow until black leaders such as Frederick Douglass…encouraged black men to become soldiers to ensure eventual full citizenship…Volunteers began to respond, and in May 1863 the Government established the Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the burgeoning numbers of black soldiers. By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war—30,000 of infection or disease. Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army, as well. Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters also contributed to the war cause. There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers. Black women, who could not formally join the Army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies, and scouts…Because of prejudice against them, black units were not used in combat as extensively as they might have been. Nevertheless, the soldiers served with distinction in a number of battles. Black infantrymen fought gallantly at Milliken’s Bend, LA; Port Hudson, LA; Petersburg, VA; and Nashville, TN…. In June 1864 Congress granted equal pay to the U.S. Colored Troops and made the action retroactive. Black soldiers received the same rations and supplies. In addition, they received comparable medical care…Although the threat generally restrained the Confederates, black captives were typically treated more harshly than white captives. In perhaps the most heinous known example of abuse, Confederate soldiers shot to death black Union soldiers captured at the Fort Pillow, TN, engagement of 1864.

The fact that Confederates treated Blacks within the Union Army as people to be abused, killed, or tortured, further punctures the idea of the Confederacy as “progressive” for letting (actually forcing) Blacks to serve in their ranks.

The present

To this day, debate continues on this issue, between those historians who want to revive the racist, pro-slavery Confederacy as “glorious” and the majority of Civil War historians who indicate that the Confederacy and slavery were wrong, telling the reality of the war. Even some, who are in the second group, seem to accept the idea of Black Confederate soldiers, saying historians like Levin are using “21st century standards” to determine what happened in the 19th century (if he is even doing this, which is debatable). It is silly to say this because historians in the present should not be required to use the standards of that time to make their historical interpretations, as that would limit them, and new standards allow them to avoid mistakes which were made in the past.

Such debates obscure the fact that Neo-Confederates today use the Black Confederate narrative to their advantage. While the black Confederate narrative may threaten assertions by such individuals “that the “southern nation” consists solely of “anglo-celtic” Christians,” it also seems to apologize for action by the Confederacy. While Blacks provided “physical and material support to the CSA throughout its existence by performing tasks normally associated with chattel slavery in that period, and in scattered instances toward the close of the war” they took up arms, the core truth is that “black Confederates were operating in a system of coercion and oppression where the penalty for non-compliance was corporal punishment or death.” So, to hold this up as an example is to mean that one has become an apologist for slavery. Hence, the idea of Black Confederates fighting as soldiers is clearly a myth. Adding to this is the fact stated by the Mariner’s Museum in a post on the subject:

There were of course no integrated units in the South…there may have actually been a few units of black troops that organized for the Confederates. Professor John Stauffer of Harvard has recently done research on just this subject, and estimates that there may have been a bit over 3,000 black soldiers formed on the Confederate side…many of these black soldiers were not accepted by the Confederate government and were not issued firearms: still more of these soldiers were coerced into joining the military, and others joined to escape miserable poverty….The greatest single example of black Confederate soldiers – the Louisiana Native Guards, composed of black and mixed-race men from the New Orleans area – was not accepted by the Confederate military despite their wish to fight for the south when the war broke out…As a result, when the Union took New Orleans in spring of 1862, the Louisiana Native Guards joined the Union when General Butler called for reinforcements. On a side note, over 4,000 black and mixed-race men joined the Union army in New Orleans that spring, which outnumbers those that may have joined the Confederacy over the course of the entire war.

Again, let us restate that Black men were not legally allowed to serve as combat soldiers in the Confederate Army, “they were cooks, teamsters, and manual laborers. There were no black Confederate combat units in service during the war.” Other sources confirm this reality.

For now, it seems this case is closed. It is better to focus on those Blacks who fought for the British Crown during the Revolutionary War, those who fought for the Union during the Civil War, or those who fought for the British during the War of 1812.


[1] The Civil War Trust says “whatever black combat service might have occurred during the war, it was not sanctioned by the Confederate government.” But, based on their own article, this sentence has no basis in reality.

[2] Ta-Nehisi Coates covers this briefly, linking to varying resources in his two articles on the subject in The Atlantic.

[3] The Root author seems to accept the idea of Black Confederate soldiers (why), saying that “the total number of black Confederate soldiers is statistically insignificant: They made up less than 1 percent of the 800,000 black men of military age (17-50) living in the Confederate states, based on 1860 U.S. census figures, and less than 1 percent of at least 750,000 Confederate soldiers.” But again, this is not supported by evidence.

[4] The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV)even has a whole page on their website titled “Black Confederates,” claiming that “over 65,000 Southern blacks were in the Confederate ranks,” citing books such as Charles Kelly Barrow’s Forgotten Confederates: An Anthology About Black Southerners, Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.’s Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia, Richard Rollins’s Black Southerners in Gray, accounts of Frederick Douglass, and Dr. Lewis Steiner, Chief Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission, although the latter two cannot be independently verified, along with an “excellent educational video.” They claim that there were varying Black units (“Richmond Howitzers” (partially), a “non-commissioned officer” named James Washington, “skilled black workers”, “Black and white militiamen…at the Battle of Griswoldsville”, “Jackson Battalion” (partially), “Confederate States Colored Troops” (unknown number), “confederate supply train was exclusively manned and guarded by black Infantry”, “black seamen served in the Confederate Navy”, “180,000 Black Southerners, from Virginia alone, provided logistical support for the Confederate military”). Of these claims, these claims are undoubtedly. distortions of history but are using the numbers of those Blacks who served as laborers and claiming they are soldiers, which is not the case. They also seem to assume that when someone talks about Blacks joining the “ranks” of the Confederates it was down willingly and that they were soldiers rather than laborers. Similar claims are made by Walter E. Williams in “Black Confederates” (Jan. 21, 2000).



From the Revolutionary War to the 1790s: the Creek Nation in the Southern Gulf Region

A map of indigenous nations before the ‘Trail of Tears’ courtesy of Pinterest.

Where we last left off, I wrote about how Gaither, a veteran of the Maryland 400, had served “seven years on the Georgian frontier, and two years in the Mississippi Territory as a U.S. Army officer” in which he was involved in numerous incidents on the frontier of Georgia, with disputes between the Creek Nation (Muskogee), other indigenous nations, and Georgian inhabitants. Specifically I told the stories of an incident in 1793 at the fork of the Tallahatchie River, reports of  robbery and murder of two Whites on the St. Mary’s River later that year and anger among the Creek Nation after James Seagrove, US Ambassador to the Creek Nation, called for retribution. Beyond this, I told the story of Major General Elijah Clarke’s failed expedition to invade Spanish territory in Louisiana in mid-1794, alarming even George Washington’s government, and Gaither at the end of his life, serving on the Mississippi River, and dying in 1811, at age 61 on a Washington D.C. plantation. A relatively new book by Early American/”North American borderlands” historian Kathleen DuVal titled Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution sheds light on the Creek Nation, which is even reviewed positively in the New York Times by Woody Holton and the post-war environment on the new frontier.

Before the revolutionary war, the Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Nations spread from the Gulf Coast into the interior of the North American continent. [1] While these nations dominated the Southern Gulf (of Mexico) Coast region, the Choctaws likely had the biggest population, numbering, likely, twenty thousand by the early 1700s, in contrast to the five thousand Chickasaw and ten thousand Creek at the same time. [2] By the 1770s, Payamataha, chief of the Chickasaw, had made peace with the Choctaws, Cherokees, Catawbas, Creeks, and Quapaws, other nearby indigenous nations, while Creek-Chickasaw peace, starting in 1760s, continued to flourish. [3] As for the Creeks, the main focus of this story, they had a unique form of government. Living in the river valleys in a region that would become the present-day states of Alabama and Georgia, the Creeks, divided into the Lower Creeks and Upper Creeks comprised a loose confederation of 60 towns which had their own farms and lesser towns in their jurisdiction, with limited consultation on foreign policy and defense. [4] While this meant that each town or clan had the decision to go to war, engage in diplomacy, or create new towns,with a broad spread of governance, most of those in the towns spoke “related languages” and had “similar cultural practices and beliefs” to fellow members of the society. [5]

One man, named Alexander McGillivray, tried to change this. McGillivray, born into a matrilineal Creek society, with his mother, Sehoy Marchand, and maternal uncle, Red Shoes, was multi-racial because his father was a Scottish highlander and trader named Lachlan McGillivray. [6] He soon tried to gain an important role in the world of Creek politics and society. However, he had trouble persuading the Creek people as a whole to succeed against the British not only because “no one could dictate foreign policy to even one Creek town of clan, much less the loose Creek Confederacy” but he was not a Creek headman and proven warrior. [7] Additionally, the British, seemed be fighting against the Continental Army and pro-revolutionary individuals, but not against settlers, leading certain US individuals to try and sway the Creeks, complicating McGillivray’s attempts at diplomacy and persuasion of the Creek people. Apart from this changing aim, the Creek-British alliance seemed to go forward despite failed efforts at British-indigenous coordination, especially in 1778, leading to tension among the indigenous nations such as the Creeks and Chickasaws who fought alongside the British. [8] Additionally, the minds of the Creek people were taken off the war for a number of reasons. For one, the spread of smallpox across the continent limited the ability of the Creeks to contribute especially since they quarantined fellow indigenous (and British) towns infected by smallpox, and the involvement of the French and Spanish in the revolutionary war led to less inclination to be involved in an inter-empire conflict. [9]

By 1781, as the siege of Pensacola, then a town within colonial British Florida, seemed imminent, with the approach of a Spanish fleet, people’s hopes were scattered, depending on the groups of people affected. For McGillivray, who “hoped for personal glory and Creek victory,” he had trouble getting the Creeks to fight the Spaniards but succeeded by stressing stressed Creek interests in the war and “opportunities for glory on the Gulf coast.” [10] Not everyone was convinced, however, as some Creeks went to the Spanish as a show of strength and attempt an alliance, but this failed not only because of the unification on foreign policy, like the Chickasaws, and because the two parties (Spanish and Creek) could not come to an agreement. [11] In a united front, January 8, 1781, Maryland and Pennsylvania loyalists fought alongside hundreds of Lower Creeks and Choctaws on an attack on a Spanish post at the “Village, which was on the other side of bay from Mobile. [12] In the attack, ending in a clear Spanish victory, Daniel Higgins of Maryland Loyalist Regiment, could have been among those who fought, along with many other loyalists from Maryland and Pennsylvania. [13] There were two other complicating factors. For one, despite the fact that about 1,700 soldiers under the command of General John Campbell, who had been in British West Florida since 1778, the city’s defense depended on warriors from the Chickasaw, Creek, and Choctaw nations since reinforcements had not arrived. [14] The other factor was that many Creeks were tired of the British treating them poorly, with some questioning McGillivray’s motives, since he was paid as a British agent, but he was successful yet again in countering them by saying that “cultivating interdependence with the British would facilitate Creek protection of their eastern border, where the British were fighting the Creeks’ most hated enemies, Georgians and Virginians” as DuVal notes. [15]

On May 8, the Spanish, helped by the French, were victorious in their siege, as the city of Pensacola surrendered. Generally this meant that “the British had lost a colony that had not rebelled” and it would lead to a British decision to  “recognize American independence before things got any worse.” [16] As Ray Raphael has pointed out, even after the Battle of Yorktown, resulting in the British surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s almost 7,000 troops, on October 17, the war was far from over despite what “conventional wisdom” says. Not only was King George III not ready to capitulate, but Washington was worried of future British advances, and peace was not even proposed by British military commanders until August 1782, with a preliminary peace treaty signed on November 30 of the same year. [17] Compounding this was a total of 47,000 British soldiers stationed in New York, Canada, South Carolina, Georgia, and the West Indies, “four times as many as those serving in the Continental Army.” [18] It is worth also noting that Washington was worried about a separate peace treaty between British and France, dooming the colonies, that over 300 revolutionary soldiers dying after Yorktown, the global nature of the American Revolutionary War, the “strategic retreat” rather than surrender by the British, which tells more of the story than acting like the battle at Yorktown was the end of the war. [19]

For the Creeks the was also not over. As the Creeks left Pensacola before Spanish victory, they instructed Alexander Cameron to describe Creek commitment and bravery during the siege, especially the “details of Creek and Choctaw participation,” in a letter to the British in Georgia. [20] Apart from this, the Creeks and their allies fought even harder. Hundreds of Continental soldiers were killed until the final peace agreement in 1783 and the fight against US settlers moving westward intensified as the British were pulling out of their colonies. [21] While the British, Spanish, French, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, had seemed like bigger players in the war in the Southern Gulf region than the revolutionaries/”rebels,” the postwar arrangement would change all that. [22]

The Treaty of Paris, actually negotiated, in part, in the Versailles Palace, was signed by the US and Britain, with France and Spain begrudgingly accepting it. Angriest of all were the Creeks, Chickasaws, and Cherokees. In a letter to the Spanish King,these indigenous chiefs, brought together by McGillivray, said that the Treaty was not valid. They argued that the British ceded land they never possessed and that the Creek, Chickasaw, and Cherokee were nations of indigenous people who had independence and natural rights. [23] To complete this insult, the US government under the Articles of Confederation, made a broad assertion. They declared that indigenous nations between the Appalachians and Mississippi were not sovereign nations but aggressors in the war. [24] Essentially, this denied “independent sovereignty” of indigenous nations, which had been accepted by the British and Spanish in their negotiations with such nations, especially during the Revolutionary War.

In the years after the war, there were a number of changes. For one, McGillivray  went back to the town his mother was living, staying there with his family as his   British connections had become irrelevant. [25] Around the same time, Hoboithle Miko, also called the Tame King, Tallassee King, and Halfway-House King, the latter which recognized his role in negotiating good terms for those on both sides, of Great Tallassee, an Upper Creek town, and Niko Miko of Cussita, a Lower Creek town, led the negotiations with North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia since the British gave St. Augustine to the Spanish, along with broadly removing themselves from the region. [26] In terms of diplomacy, McGillivray led the way, helping push forward an alliance and trade with the Spanish, at a time that large numbers of Americans settling in lands claimed by Spanish and indigenous people. [27] The Creeks also experienced the unfriendly nature of the new United States first hand. When Hoboithle Miko and Niko Miko attended a meeting of the Georgia legislature, in 1783, to try to maintain good relations with the United States, a treaty was quickly negotiated. [28] While Georgians thought it was valid, Creeks from only a few towns out of the 60 were there, meaning that it held no weight, but the Georgians did not realize this, possibly because of their ignorance of Creek customs, leading to tension. On the same token, while the idea of “advantageous independence,” which DuVal defines as people trying to “establish a balance in which they might have more control over dependent relationships,” expressed itself most strongly in the postwar period, just like during the war, a planter culture developed. [29] This culture, in which Creeks were slaveowners, created a disparity in the Creek Nation which hadn’t been seen before despite its existence in the nation for many years before.

In the following years, McGillivray tried to steer the Creek Nation in a more nationalist direction. First off, an alliance between the Creek and Spanish  recognized sovereignty on both sides and “mutually beneficial trade,” giving the Creeks a “European ally.” [30] Secondly, McGillivray tried to centralize the foreign policy of the Creek Nation, recognizing that  it would be more effective if this was implemented in “conjunction with other southeastern nations and even Indians to the north,” trying to create a Southern Confederacy, even as this proved exceedingly difficult. [31] Thirdly, McGillivray presented to the world, but especially to the Europeans and Americans, a strong nationalist statement. While he didn’t want the Creek Nation to become a U.S. state, he did develop “a language of independent nationhood that carried particular weight with late-eighteenth century Europeans and Americans” with his explicit claims that the Creeks governed their “own independent nation.” [32] This went beyond the arrangement in the past were issues of Creek governance were debated internally instead of projected to other governments.

As Western expansion continued, Creeks began to be nervous. With Georgians encroaching on Creek hunting lands, and they were harder to remove, the Creek National Council took up arms in their defense, along with beginning to engage in small-scale raids into Georgia starting in 1785. [33] Not only did this lead to tension, but the Georgians seemed aloof by the attacks, not understanding their role and they attempted to negotiate. Adding to this was the complications that Spain faced in white US settlers entering disputed lands in Creek Country since it was not technically Spanish land, and Georgians had major claims, even as they secretly funded the actions of the Creeks. [34]

Tension between the Spanish and Creek Nation began to grow. When the Spanish welcomed immigration from the newly created United States of America, with the Creeks seeing no value in this. [35] McGillivray was hurt by these developments as he worked on gaining connections in the United States, gaining a truce with Georgia, along with other diplomacy to force the hand of Spain. Due to these strained relations, the Creeks were glad to hear that the British were involved in the region again. As a result, they tried to gain British connections, with supplies to the Creek nation, but this faltered due to the false promises by William Augustus Bowles, a former member of the Maryland Loyalist Regiment. [36] By 1788, the situation had changed as the Spanish had reversed their previous decision. They had begun to supply the Creeks with weapons. They sent  weapons, which helped them wage “wars against the United States through the War of 1812 and beyond.” [37] It is worth noting that the Creek Nation was by no stretch a colony of the Spanish or the British, but engaged in their own independent foreign policy, like the other indigenous nations at the time.

By the 1790s, the McGillivray’s influence in the Creek Nation seemed to waning. While the Creeks continued truce with US [38], until a new government was inaugurated in 1791 with the end of ratification, McGillivray signed a Congressional treaty. The document set the border between the Creek Nation and Georgia at the Oconee River which many Creeks thought was too much of a compromise, as did Georgians about the terms put forward by the administration of George Washington. [39] There was additional tension. In 1791, a Creek and Cherokee delegation to London said that the Creeks and Cherokees were united into one with the Chickasaws and Choctaws also swayed by the Council’s measures. [40] However, the Choctaws and Chickasaws did not agree, leading to increased friction among the indigenous nations. On February 17, 1793, he died  in Pensacola, with his first and second wives mourning him and his plantations distributed among his children. [41]

DuVal’s book, in terms of historical narrative, basically ends there, with some exceptions. She notes that by 1814, few Creeks came to defend Pensacola because “a few months earlier Jackson’s forces had fought alongside one Creek faction to defeat another in a disastrous civil war.” [42] She also adds that in 1834, which may have seemed unthinkable in 1793, the US “forcibly removed most Creeks across the Mississippi” with the Chickasaws only held out a few years longer. [43] Near the end, she says that the remove of Creeks and Chickasaws from their homelands “in the 1830s took their county but not their nationhood” but that Native American sovereignty has had a resurgence in recent years. [44]

Some readers may be wondering how this all ties to Henry Chew Gaither, a revolutionary war veteran and Marylander who was a major of the First Regiment of the U.S. Army from 1791 to 1792 and Lieutenant Colonel Commandant of the Third Sub-Legion from 1793 to 1802. The truth is that he likely never met McGillivray, since he died in the sixth month of Gaither’s deployment. Even so, the history of this article is directly relevant to the experience of Gaither while spent time on the Georgian frontier, until he went to Fort Adams, which sat alongside the Mississippi River in 1800, staying until 1802, when he finally retired from the military for good. In the end, even though Gaither is not part of this story, the connections to the Maryland Loyalist Regiment and expansion of the history of the Southern Gulf Region makes DuVal’s book valuable for understanding the Early American period while informing the happenings of the present.


[1] Kathleen DuVal, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution (New York: Random House, 2015), xvii.

[2] Ibid, 9, 13.

[3] Ibid, 17, 19.

[4] Ibid, xviii,  xxii, 9, 25-26. The Upper Creeks lived “along the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa rivers in present-day Alabama” and the Lower Creeks  near “the Chattahoochee River, the present-day border between Alabama and Georgia” as DuVal notes.

[5] Ibid, 25-27.

[6] Ibid, xviii, 24-25.

[7] Ibid, 77-81.

[8] Ibid, 85-87, 99, 115.

[9] Ibid, 165-166, 176.

[10] Ibid, xxv-xxvi, 177-178.

[11] Ibid, 181, 185-186. DuVal writes that among the Choctaws there was broad disagreement with some joining the Spanish and others the British.

[12] Ibid, 167, 182.

[13] Higgins was related to Peter Higgins of the Fourth Independent Company, which had Archibald Anderson as its First Lieutenant and James Hindman as its Captain. While it is possible that Barnet Turner, a veteran of the Maryland 400, was part of the Maryland Loyalist Regiment, he had deserted in 1778, three years before the fighting near Pensacola. Looking this up more in-depth, the Maryland Historical Society seems to have the muster rolls of the Maryland Loyalist Regiment in 1782, the Canadian Archives seems to have some records, there’s a 1778 Orderly Book of the Maryland Loyalists (along with other Ancestry databases here and here), relevant documents on the regiment transcribed here, this muster list, parts of this book, this orderly book, bits and pieces noted here, some results in the Journal of the American Revolution, and so on.

[14] Ibid, 194, 196, 205; George C. Osborn, “Major-General John Campbell in British West Florida,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4, p. 318, 332, 339.

[15] Ibid, 206-208.

[16] Ibid, 218.

[17] Ray Raphael, Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past (New York: The New Press, 2004), 211-214.

[18] Ibid, 214.

[19] Ibid, 215-225.

[20] DuVal, 217.

[21] Ibid, 228-229.

[22] Ibid, 128.

[23] Ibid, 236.

[24] Ibid, 236-237.

[25] Ibid, 246-247.

[26] Ibid, 247, 251.

[27] Ibid, xv, 248.

[28] Ibid, 250-253.

[29] Ibid, xxi, 249.

[30] Ibid, 257-258, 260.

[31] Ibid, 295-296.

[32] Ibid, 254-255.

[33] Ibid, 298-301.

[34] Ibid, 310-311.

[35] Ibid, 323, 326-327.

[36] Ibid, 327-329.

[37] Ibid, 341.

[38] Ibid, 332.

[39] Ibid, 342.

[40] Ibid, 304.

[41] Ibid, 343.

[42] Ibid, 340.

[43] Ibid, 343-344.

[44] Ibid, 350.

“Flecking the hedges with red”: Palmer’s Ballad on the Maryland 400

Editor’s note: this is an article I posted on September 28, 2016 on Finding the Maryland 400. Reposted from
A photograph of John Williamson Palmer who wrote ‘The Maryland Battalion’

In the past, we have written about poems and songs relating to the Maryland 400. [1] They were celebrated years after and during the Revolutionary War, with newspapers often containing poems and songs. Such poems included one about William Sterrett in 1776 and a song by Tom Wisner titled “The Old Line.” Poems and ballads, which are narrative poems, not only appeared in newspapers but also in books. This post analyzes the 1901 ballad titled “The Maryland Battalion in the Battle of Long Island” and its author. [2]

The ballad’s author was a native Baltimorean named John Williamson Palmer. He was a physician by profession, but later became a journalist, and served as a New York Tribune correspondent in Richmond, Virginia during the Civil War. [3] He traveled across the world to India and elsewhere in East Asia, worked for the East India Company, and warned acclaim after contributing to numerous periodicals. [4] During the Civil War, Palmer wrote the well-known ballad titled “Stonewall Jackson’s Way” during the Battle of Antietam in 1862. [5] This ballad became one of the South’s most popular lyrics. This is not surprising because Palmer joined the Confederate Army and later served on the staff of John C. Breckinridge, the Secretary of War of the Confederacy. [6] After the Civil War, he published a book of folk songs and numerous other books of note. He had become, as his former employer, the New York Tribune, called him, “a veteran balladist” who will “be long remembered” because of his good verse. [7] By the early twentieth century, some claimed that he become a writer with “vigorous lyric faculty.” [8]

“The Maryland Battalion” was originally printed in a 1902 book titled Every Day in the Year. The book was a “poetical anthology” which commemorated “the most striking events in history” and the men and women who “have left an imprint on their day and generation.” [9] The ballad was printed with an introduction making it clear it was about the Battle of Brooklyn. [10] His ballad fits with those he wrote about Stonewall Jackson and the Battle of the San Jacinto in 1836 by exhibiting a patriotic theme, from his point of view. [11]

The text of this ballad is reprinted below [12]:

Spruce Macaronis, and pretty to see,
Tidy and dapper and gallant were we;
Blooded fine gentlemen, proper and tall,
Bold in a fox-hunt and gay at a ball;
Prancing soldados so martial and bluff,
Billets for bullets, in scarlet and buff—
But our cockades were clasped with a mother’s low prayer
And the sweethearts that braided the sword-knots were
fair [13]

There was grummer of drums humming hoarse in the hills,
And the bugles sang fanfares down by the mills,
By Flatbush [14] the bagpipes were droning amain,
And keen cracked the rifles in Martense’s lane [15];
For the Hessians were flecking the hedges with red [16],
And the grenadiers’ tramp marked the roll of the dead

Three to one, flank and rear, flashed the files of St. George [17],
The fierce gleam of their steel as the glow of a forge.
The brutal boom-boom of their swart cannoneers
Was sweet music compared with the taunt of their cheers—
For the brunt of their onset, our crippled array,
And the light of God’s leading gone out in the fray.

Oh, the rout on the left and the tug on the right!
The mad plunge of the charge and the wreck of the flight!
When the cohorts of Grant [18] held stout Stirling [19] at strain,
And the mongrels of Hesse [20] went tearing the slain;
When at Freeke’s Mill the flumes and the sluices ran red,
And the dead choked the dike and the marsh choked the dead!

“Oh, Stirling, good Stirling, how long must we wait?
Shall the shout of your trumpet unleash us too late?
Have you never a dash for brave Mordecai Gist [21]
With his heart in his throat, and his blade in his fist?
Are we good for no more than to prance in a ball,
When the drums beat the charge and the clarions call?”

Tralára! Tralára! Now praise we the Lord
For the clang of His call and the flash of His sword!
Tralára! Tralára! Now forward to die;
For the banner, hurrah! and for sweethearts, good-by!
“Four hundred wild lads!” May be so. I’ll be bound
’T will be easy to count us, face up, on the ground.
If we hold the road open, though Death take the toll,
We’ll be missed on parade when the States call the roll—
When the flags meet in peace and the guns are at rest,
And fair Freedom is singing Sweet Home in the West. [22]

At the time, the ballad was positively received. Noted writer Rossiter Johnson said it reminded him of classic lyrics of another balladist, while the Chicago Tribune said that the ballad, along with his other writings, had become “familiar to the American people.” [23] The St. Louis Republic called it “blood-stirring” and the Baltimore Sun said it had no less “dash and ring” than his other ballads and would, which “rouse the blood to action and enthusiasm.” [24] Acclaimed poet Charles D. Roberts even praised it, calling it a “splendid piece of work, inevitable and unforgettable.” This flattery is not surprising because the ballad was written in style of that time by catering to a Victorian appetite for heroes and legends and preserving the Maryland 400’s story, while cultivating Maryland pride.

Burkely Hermann, Maryland Society of the Sons of American Revolution Research Fellow, 2016.


[1] Another post on this blog also put the ‘Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’ into context as it relates to Maryland.

[2] Alan, a volunteer at the Baltimore County Historical Society, gave me a copy of this ballad this summer when I made a trip to this historical society. In order to be consistent, the word ballad is used even though some refer to it as a poem.

[3] Henry E. Shepard, The Representative Authors of Maryland: From the Earliest Time to the Present Day With Biographical Notes and Comments Upon Their Work (New York: Whitehall Publishing Company, 1911), 100; American History Told by Contemporaries: Welding of the Nation 1845-1900 (ed. Albert Bushnell Hart, Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2002, reprint of 1921 edition), 282.

[4] Rand Richards. Mud, Blood, and Gold: San Francisco in 1849 (San Francisco: Heritage House Publishers, 2008), 201; Shepard, 100; American History Told by Contemporaries282.

[5] Richards, 86, 101; Southern Life in Southern Literature: Selections of Representative Prose and Poetry (ed. Maurice Garland Fulton, New York: Ginn and Economy, 1917), 259-261.

[6] American History Told by Contemporaries, 282; “Words of the Hour”: A New Anthology of Civil War Poetry (ed. Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller, Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 389; Herman Melville, Correspondence (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1993), 516; Women reading Shakespeare 1660-1900: An anthology of criticism (ed. Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts, New York: Manchester University Press, 1997), 110; Shakespeare: The Critical Tradition. The Merchant of Venice (ed. William Baker and Brian Vickers, New York: Thoemes Continuum, 2005), 86; Shepard, 100-101; Southern Life in Southern Literature, 259. Before the war, in 1855, he married Henrietta Lee, a Baltimorean who was a prolific writer and reader of Shakespeare. Palmer also had correspondence with the acclaimed novelist Herman Melville after the Civil War.

[7] “A Southern Poet.” The Evangelical Episcopalian. Vol. 14, no. 1. March 1902. pp. 464; Every Day in the Year: A Poetical Epitome of the World’s History (ed. James L. Ford and Mary K. Ford, New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1902), v. Others called him “one of America’s real poets,” before his death in 1906.

[8] John Wanamaker, Book News: A Monthly Survey of General Literature. Vol. 19 (Philadelphia: John Wanamaker, 1901), 684.

[9] Every Day in the Year, 289.

[10] Ibid, 133, 157-158.

[11] Poetry of the People (ed. Charles Mills Gayley and Martin C. Flaherty, Boston: Ginn & Company Publishers, 1904), 238-239; The Home Book of Verse: American and English 1580-1918 Third Edition (ed. Burton Egbert Stevenson, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1918), 2429; Index of Current Literature (ed. Edward J. Wheeler). Vol. 40. New York: The Current Literature Publishing Company, Jan-June 1906, 449-450.

[12] The tune of this ballad is not known.

[13] “Scarlet and buff” is a reference to the uniforms Smallwood’s soldiers and said to have worn. In actuality they did not wear these uniforms. Instead, they wore white linen or hunting shirts, leather breeches, leather belts, stockings, leather shoes with buckles, and felt hats.

[14] General Sullivan was driven back by the Hessians, hired soldiers fighting for the British, and flanked by Clinton’s forces in Flatbush.

[15] Martenese’s lane was a road that was the Greenwood cemetery’s southern border in Brooklyn

[16] As a private of the Maryland  William McMillian put it in his description of the battle, “We were surrounded by Healanders [Scottish Highlanders] on one side, Hessians on the other.”

[17] The “files of St. George” are British soldiers.

[18] A British general named James Grant commanded the left wing during the battle.

[19] Lord Stirling, or William Alexander, was a veteran of the Seven Years War, and was a brigadier general during the battle.

[20] Refers to Hessians.

[21] Mordecai Gist was a native Baltimorean and commanded the Marylanders during the Battle.

[22] The last lines are saying that people should fight at any cost for their freedom and is challenging readers to fight and not be weak.

[23] The Missionary Review of the World vol. 24, part 2. Funk & Wagnalls, 1901, 160.

[24] The Missionary Review of the World, 115, 160, 181-182; The Literary Digest Vol. XXII, no. 25. June 22, 1901, 1A2.