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Friday, December 10, 2010

African-American Confederates With Bowie Knives

The Rebellion Record (1862) reprints an article from the Richmond Dispatch about an African American, armed with a bowie knife, who served as a drummer with Confederate troops:
Old Dick, The Drummer.
A few days ago, Dick, a venerable darkey in uniform, was arrested for carrying a huge bowie-knife. He was on his return home to Danville from a campaign against the Yankees, and the Mayor discharged him after confiscating the knife.

The person referred to has occupied the position of chief drummer for the Eighteenth Virginia regiment for the last eight months, and is highly esteemed by the regiment, not only as a musician, but as a brave and gallant old man. He is a hero of two wars, and in several instances has rendered good service to the country. When the war with Mexico broke out, he enlisted as musician for a South-Carolina regiment, and followed it through the war, and was present when the glorious Gen. Butler fell. The war being successfully terminated, he returned home to his usual avocations. Upon the breaking out of our present war, though old and gray, he was among the first to respond to Virginia's call for volunteers, and was regularly mustered into service with the Eighteenth regiment. Since that time he has not only carried his drum, but also the bowie-knife referred to above, and a musket. In the memorable battle of the 21st July, he deserted his drum, and, with musket in hand, followed the regiment throughout the battle. Several days after the battle, while strolling through the woods, he discovered the hiding-place of what he thought a Yankee, and on reporting it, went down with seven of the regiment, and captured three of the creatures-one of them Col. Wood of the Fourteenth Brooklyn. In every scene of danger or of difficulty, old Dick has accompanied the regiment with bowie-knife by his side and musket in hand. When on picket duty at Mason's Hill, in sight of the enemy, he would go beyond the picket-lines to get a fair crack at the Yankee pickets. In fine, old Dick, we believe, is a gentleman and true patriot, and we feel sorry that his knife, around which clung so many proud associations to him, should have been taken from him. He valued it above all things except his musket. It is true, the law may have required its confiscation, as setting a bad example to darkeys in civil life; but under the circumstances, it does seem hard to have subjected the old man not only to the loss of his bowie-knife, but the mortification attendant on a suspicion of evil design. We hope old Dick may live to prove his character still further by bagging his Yankee. 
There are other accounts of black Confederates, some of them relevant to our discussion of the bowie knife, such as the following excerpt from Antietam and the Maryland and Virginia Campaigns of 1862 from the Government Records, Union and Confederate (1987; reprint of 1912 edition):
At 4 o'clock this morning the Rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson's force taking the advance. The most liberal calculation could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in the number. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only cast off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., and they were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy army.

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