Let’s deal with this right up front: yes, this post is about an African-American man, a slave, who fought on behalf of the Confederacy. No, this is not one of those websites that trumps out every so-called “black Confederate” we can find to try to make some half-baked point about the fair treatment of black men in the CSA Army. That’s cheap politics, and that’s not how we play at RSM.
A quick Google search of “black Confederates” will return numerous sites claiming not only that thousands of black men took up arms for the Confederate cause, but were treated better than their Northern counterparts to boot. The truth is, most of the slaves who were with the Confederates were not enlisted soldiers, but cooks, body servants – you know, slaves.
One black man who did, by most accounts, serve as a soldier for the South was Levi Miller of Virginia. According to University of Virginia historian Ervin L. Jordan, Miller accompanied his master, Capt. John J. McBride, to serve in the 5th Texas Infantry. (Those websites claiming thousands of black Confederate soldiers love to quote Jordan. Even more, they love to post a picture of Jordan, a black man, thinking it bolsters their spurious research.)
Back to Miller. After nursing McBride back to health following a near-fatal injury, Miller was named a “full-fledged soldier” by the Texans. He fought alongside free white men for the remainder of the war, reportedly refusing relatives and friends who encouraged him to escape during the Gettysburg campaign. No clear explanation is given as to why he would do such a thing.
Not all historians are quick to embrace the Miller story, however. This Civil War history blog takes a more skeptical approach to the accounts of Miller and is endeavoring to validate the tales.
Miller’s obituary, attributed by Jordan to the Winchester Evening Star, reads like this:
“Levi Miller, one of the few colored men regularly enlisted in the Confederate army…was affectionately known among the white as well as the colored people of this section as the grand old man of his race. He always had a deep love for everything southern, and although born a slave, it was his loyalty to his state that led him to enter the southern army and fight through the four entire years of the war.”
It is difficult for me to comprehend such devotion that would compel an enslaved man to fight on behalf of his enslavers. Regardless of his motivations, Levi Miller is proof positive that history is far more complex than either the victors or the vanquished would have us believe.