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Recognition for Civil Warriors
Union County drive honors black troops
Published Thursday, May 13, 2010 9:18 am
by Herbert L. White

U.S. Colored Troops re-enactors at Fort Fisher State Historic Site in Janaury. The presence of black troops fighting for the Confederate States forced the Union to recruit all-black units during the four-year conflict.

The heroism and sacrifices of blacks who fought for the Confederacy may get an overdue honor.

Historians and Civil War buffs went before Union County commissioners on May 3 to lobby for a historic marker recognizing the contributions of 10 black Confederate pensioners, known as colored troops during the Civil War. The 4-foot-by-4-foot marker would cost $1,800 and installed at the old courthouse in Monroe. The funds would come from private sources.

It would be the first acknowledgement of black contributions to the Confederacy – or the Civil War in general – in Noth Carolina.

“This is about a bit of Union County’s forgotten history,” said historian Tony Way of Indian Trail.

Aaron Perry of Charlotte is the great-grandson of one of the pensioners, also named Aaron Perry, a Union County slave who fought with the North Carolina 37th Company D. Although the Confederate States lost, their story should be remembered.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said the younger Perry, 72. “It’s been a long time ago, so I’m not going to overlook that. What’s so bad about it? They’re honoring these 10 North Carolina soldiers for being helpful to their country, even if it was under slavery.

“They lost that war, but my great grandfather helped rebuild the camp at Fort Fisher,” Perry said. “He played his part, even though he was under slavery and somebody else’s command. When you enlist in the service, you’re taking orders from somebody.”

Blacks – slave and free – fought with Confederate forces long before the Union recruited African Americans. According to the 1860 census, North Carolina’s population of 992,000 included 334,000 slaves.

“Before there were U.S. Colored Troops, there were Colored Confederates,” said Earl Ijames, curator of the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.

With Colored Confederates serving in roles ranging from intelligence to infantry, the Union took notice and formed all-black units. Black warriors on both sides fought for the same goal: the emancipation promised them with victory.

“They weren’t pro-Confederate or pro-Union,” he said. “They were pro-freedom.”

In addition to the Union County marker campaign, historians are looking for the burial places of the pensioners. The last of the known survivors, Ned Byrd, died in 1942. Historians and genealogists are scouring official records and newspaper accounts in hopes of finding more.

“If we can find them, we’ll be requesting grave markers for others in the group,” Way said.

Wary Clyburn may be the best known of Union County’s Colored Confederates. Born a slave in South Carolina, Clyburn ran off the plantation to join his master’s son, Frank Clyburn with Company E, 12th South Carolina Volunteers. Wary, a bodyguard, twice saved Frank’s life by removing him from the battlefield. 

After the war, Wary moved to North Carolina and applied for a Confederate pension.  In 2008, the town of Monroe and the Sons of Confederate Veterans declared July 18 Wary Clyburn Day, with the dedication of a monument at his gravesite with Clyburn’s daughter, Mattie Clyburn Rice.

The senior Perry settled in Anson County after the war, then moved to Wingate, where he was superintendent of Gulley School, an academy for black students. He died in 1930 at age 90. Perry’s great-grandson is in the process of refurbishing his gravesite at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Wingate for a headstone.

“It’s a good time now for them to get this recognition,” the junior Perry said. “We must carry this thing forward.”

Ijames, an African American, agrees, adding the War Between the States – which will be marked by observances next year for its 150th anniversary – should have special meaning for African Americans.

“We automatically equate ourselves out of this equation when we are the seminal theme,” he said. “We freed ourselves and (President Abraham) Lincoln followed suit. We have more reason to celebrate the Civil War than anyone else.”


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