By Eddie Griffin
ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS AFTER the great War between the States, we do not need to blow up Stone Mountain to find consolation for the sins of slavery. When the bereaved daughter of Ethel Lance told the gunman in the South Carolina church shooting, “I forgive you”, it was finished. It was out of her hands, and into the hands of God.
Even Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He forgave, and he is the Son of God. Are we greater than he? Could we have done better ourselves? By virtue of a divine pardon, written in Ezekiel 18:20: The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son.
In order not to hold the descendants guilty for the sin of their forefathers, Eddie G. Griffin let it go, a long time ago. I truly believe they knew not what they were doing. To them, slavery was about property rights and the law of property, governed, and protected by the state. It never occurred to them that slavery was a sin before the eyes of heaven.
They never recognized the humanity of those they held in bondage, until the Confederacy was collapsing. Humbled by proximity of defeat… Appomattox less than a month away… They asked the slaves to help fight the Yankees, with permission of the owners, of course.
Ethelbert Barksdale of Mississippi, in the Confederate Congress, introduced a bill granting Davis the power to accept black men as soldiers, but only with their masters' permission. Masters were also permitted, but not required, to emancipate slaves who completed terms of service in the Confederate army. After strenuous debate, and with the endorsement of General Robert E. Lee, the House of Representatives narrowly passed.
The contentious debates centered on the humanity of the Negro, whether he was more than a primitive savage, with intelligence barely above a baboon, and only capable of menial labor. In other words, was he not an inherently and genetically retard? Therefore, if they allowed the Negro to fight in the Confederate army, wearing the proud uniform of Dixie, then they must admit that they were wrong… wrong about the Negro… and everything else… including their whole system of slavery. But some senators were so hell-bent on this hierarchical ideology that it required two senators to change their votes for passage.
Thus, after passage of General Order #14 on March 23, 1865, it was left up to Maj, James W. Pegram and Maj. Thomas P. Turner to hastily put together the “Negro Brigade” of Confederate States Colored Troops, and throw them up in defense Richmond, while everybody else was evacuating. But it was too little, too late, because Gen. Robert E. Lee faced two titanic battle-hardened armies, converging on the capital city … One Black: XXV Corps, U.S. Colored Troops… One White: XXIV Corps.
By April 3, 1865, Lee was forced to evacuate Richmond. For the next six days, the Union army closed in the Army of Northern Virginia, and tracked them until Lee was finally cornered at Appomattox. By fate or by fortune, Col. Ulysses Doubleday, 2nd Brig, 2nd Div., XXV Corps USCT and Col. William W. Woodward, 3rd Brig., 2nd Div. XXV Corp. USCT, were sent into Appomattox on April 9, 1865, as part of Union forces sent to mop up the rest of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AFTER the Great War between the States, in 1965, Eddie G. Griffin was a student at Arlington State College. We engaged in protest demonstration to bring down the Old Dixie flag that flew over campus. We were supported by one college professor, Dr. Alan Saxe. And, it was the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
The battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was raised in the prominent and sovereign place of Old Glory. And every year when they celebrated Old South Week on campus, white students would pull out their great-grandfather’s old Confederate Civil War uniform, with their swords, and flags and hoopla over Dixie and the theme “The South Shall Rise Again.”
After a three-year fight, led by the Student Non-Violent Committee (SNCC), the flag came down, the college underwent a name change and reorganization (now University of Texas at Arlington), and the school’s mascot was changed from Rebels to Mavericks.
In retrospect, knowing now what I could not have known then, I should have pitied them. They celebrate what never was, and reenact what never happened. But a lie repeated often enough it becomes the truth in the mind of those who want to believe it.
IT IS EASIER TO FORGIVE when you know the truth. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” For with truth, comes the consolation of peace of mind. But to the liar, and “those who love a lie”, the biggest lie is the one that you tell to yourself. And, the saddest lie is the one you convince yourself is the truth.
The truth behind the Civil War is that the Dixie died, crushed by a humiliating defeat. And our forefathers, the U.S. Colored Troops, played a more prominent role in it than history gives them credit for. This is why, whenever they reenact the Confederate side of the War, knowing the truth themselves, they intentionally skip these key battles, simply because our Colored forefathers were the heroes… at Battle of Appomattox, the Battle of New Market Heights, and select battles in Petersburg-Richmond Campaign.
BUT IF, as they say, you can’t miss what you can’t measure, then how were we to know the truth if it were not in the history books, or how would we know what for to search, if there were no reference? This was ignorance and vexation of the spirit, when you are growing up in the Deep South, with the truth being hidden in the 1950s. It was not until the 1960s, when the Black Consciousness Movement ushered in a second Afro-Black Renaissance. We rediscovered the first Colored-Black Renaissance (c. 1900) and the writings of W.E.B. DuBois who, so happened to preserved the memory of the U.S. Colored Troops of the Civil War, and a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar entitled, “When Dey Listed Colored Soldiers”.
Up until then, we had nothing concrete, only old wives stories and folklore about black soldiers fighting in the Civil War. Otherwise, our forefathers in the Union Army were completely whitewashed… not only from the charades, parades, and reenactments of Civil War battles… but bleached from the books of history, and purposely ignored or distorted by Hollywood (in movies like Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, and most recently Glory).
NEVERTHELESS, IT IS EASIER TO FORGIVE when you have the consolation of knowing that we won and they lost… to God goes the Glory… It was called, by some contemporary account, a “divine retribution”. President Abraham Lincoln was of the persuasion that it was Providence. I believe the same also, that it was the Will of God to “set the captives free”.
YET: What they said at the beginning is not what they said at the end about the beginning. So once again, they are changing the new history textbooks in our schools to suit their fantasies of what never was. And, as if it were not bad enough to whitewash the U.S. Colored Troops out of history to begin with, the revisionists are once again fabricating a new reason as to why the war was fought.
NOWADAYS, they are quick to point out that Lincoln did not start out to free the slaves.
In President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address of March 4, 1861, he stated that he had no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. “I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
Not that Lincoln was racist, as some distorters would have us believe, but that, at the time (1861) he would have said anything to keep the Union from falling apart, and slaveholding states following the secession steps taken by South Carolina, who had already seceded from the Union as early as April 26, 1852, some eight years before his election.
NOWADAYS, they would say that the War was fought over states’ rights and not over slavery. But Texas Articles of Secession accused the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa of “deliberately, directly or indirectly” violating the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article of the Constitution by not enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law within their borders.
It was a war waiting to happen. Not that the Emancipation Proclamation could free the slaves in Rebel states where it could not be enforced, but that the Proclamation only gave our forefathers a fighting chance to win it for themselves. Shortly after going into effect, by March 1863, the Union officially began recruiting Colored Troops.
AFTER concessions to truth, they now admit that there were more that the 54th Massachusetts U.S.C.T., that there were about 180,000 black troops who served in the Union during the Civil War.
WRONG! It was the XXV Corps of U.S. Colored Troops that counted 178,895 black soldiers, but only after its reformation on December 3, 1864. These were the survivors of many prior battles brought together for the Petersburg-Richmond Campaign, which ended with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, whose Army of Northern Virginia had dwindled to about 50,000 troops during the siege. This is what precipitated the Call-to-Arms for slaves by General Order #14. The Confederates had hoped to raise a force of 200,000 Colored Troops, by volunteerism or conscription. But the few that did take up arms made a miserable showing at Richmond before its evacuation on April 3, 1865.
After the Battle of Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, thirty-nine black Confederate soldiers were among those who were paroled.
MAYBE, the War was a free-for-all, with everybody fighting for a different reason. One thing for sure U.S. Colored Troops were fighting to free their brothers and sisters from bondage. The regimental blue battle flag of the 6th U.S.C.T. bore the slogan: Freedom for All… an angel with her wings hovering over a Colored soldier. The battle flags of other Colored units were of like motivation. The Call of Freedom,
To the victor goes the honor, whereas the vanquished put lipstick on pigs. Except that whitewashing history does not beautify the pig. Therefore, I say, “Let the dead bury the dead, and let the Confederacy have its heroes, and let Dixie mourn for its Lost Cause till Resurrection Day.” I should not begrudge them of their icons. Because I am reminded that if you pull on a thread, you unravel the whole suit, Dixie is in our DNA. With so many thousands of streets, schools, cities, parks, buildings, monuments, and counties named after Confederate heroes, even if it were possible to erase and rename them all, as some would suggest, we would no longer recognize where we live or where we are going.
Why have Pavlovian conniption, foam at the mouth, chase our tail, and bark at the moon, when we see Old Dixie waved in our face or come across the statue of a Confederate hero… like the bust of Gen. John Gregg sitting at the entrance of the courthouse in Longview, Texas, the seat of Gregg County, which was named in his honor in 1873… Didn’t he die at the Battle of New Market Heights on October 7, 1864, facing Gen. Charles Paine’s division of U.S. Colored Troops?
Here was a man, with no pre-war military experience, who was defeated in one battle after another, dethroned from his horse twice by a bullet to the neck, only to be resurrected and promoted time and again and finally being put in command of the famed Hood’s Texas Brigade called “the finest brigade of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He, along with Gen. Martin Gary's dismounted cavalry brigade, was entrusted with the heavy fortified defenses at New Market Heights, which guarded the back door to the capitol city of Richmond.
Here he faced Paine's three brigades - commanded by Colonels John Holman, Alonzo Draper and Samuel Duncan, with the 6th USCT Regiment and its blue battle flag being part of the Duncan Brigade.
CALL IT DESTINY: Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler recommended that Paine’s division lead the Union attacks… he believed blacks would fight as well as whites, and New Market Heights offered a perfect opportunity for the USCTs to prove their ability (Source: National Park Service)… The Battle of New Market Heights (Sept. 29-30, 1864) was another, in a string of suicide missions Colored Troops.
CALL IT LUCK: In a dense morning fog, the advancing troops came upon tangled, swampy ground, and the advance became very confused… only one division - Paine's USCTs - was able to get through the swamps, and of that division, only one brigade, Col Duncan's, advanced toward the Rebel works.
CALL IT TRAGIC: Upon clearing the swamps and leaving the other regiments tangled up in the rear, Paine's division came upon a double line of abatis - felled trees that defenders used to slow an advance. Soon, axe-wielding pioneers were cutting their way through when the Confederates opened fire. Duncan’s men had to lay their muskets aside in order to chop through heavy logs of obstruction. In doing so, John McMurray, Capt. of Co. D, 6th USCT, lost over 85% of his men before clearing a way for the next brigade to come through.
CALL IT BRAVERY: Sgt. Maj. Thomas R. Hawkins rescued the blue battle flag with one hand, while carrying Old Glory in the other. He survived the Battle of New Market Heights, only to die of his wounds in 1870, and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
CALL IT PROVIDENCE: After losing over 50% of their men against Gen. John Gregg’s Texas Brigade, one by one they come through an open field, waded through a swamp, and charged up the hill of the enemy’s earthworks, and engaged them in hand-to-hand combat, until they were routed. The smaller army of U.S. Colored Troops overran the larger terrified Confederate forces, and opened the door to Petersburg and Richmond.
After Lee received the bad news on September 30, 1864, he immediately ordered Gregg to counterattack, thus sending him to his death.
On October 7, 1864, one week after losing the Battle of New Market Heights, General John Gregg was killed along the Charles City Road, near Richmond, Virginia, trying to lead a counterattack at the Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads.
Responding to the loss of Fort Harrison and the increasing Federal threat against Richmond, Gen. Robert E. Lee directed an offensive against the Union far right flank on October 7. After routing the Federal cavalry from their position covering Darbytown Road, Field’s and Hoke’s divisions assaulted the main Union defensive line along New Market Road and were repulsed. Confederate Gen. John Gregg of the Texas brigade was killed.
THE END OF WHAT MAKES A HERO:
For the gallantry and valor, above and beyond the call of the duty, FOURTEEN of the U.S. COLORED SOLDIERS WHO FOUGHT THE BATTLE OF MARKET HEIGHTS received Congressional Medals of Honors from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, most on April 6, 1865… with Sgt. Maj. Thomas R. Hawkins receiving his posthumously in 1870.
FACT IS: They were never forgotten for the selfless sacrifice of over 50% of their men. Today, they are buried with double honors in our National Cemeteries, and their histories preserved by the National Park Service. And if that were not honor enough, Gen. Benjamin Butler created a special Butler Medal for the entire division that survived the crossing and turned the tide of battle, and hence the war, at New Market Height, opening the way to Richmond and Petersburg.
The Butler Medal, officially known as the Army of the James Medal, was named for General Benjamin F. Butler, who commissioned a medal to honor African American troops in his command for gallantry during the Battle of Newmarket Heights on September 29, 1864. The medal is silver, inscribed on the obverse with “Ferro Ilis Libertas Perveniet” and on the reverse with “Distinguished Courage Campaign Before Richmond 1864.”… The Butler Medal holds the distinction of being the only medal ever struck for black troops.
AFTER A HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS--- Eddie G. Griffin can forgive the Confederacy of slavery, because I find more consolation the of my forefathers, especially those from the XXV Corps who finished the job of freeing the last slaves in Texas… the 38th U.S.C.T. who came through the Battle of New Market Heights to Petersburg on to Texas to free the last slaves in held in chattel bondage … deployed to Texas, May 24 and June 6, 1865… engaged at various points along the Rio Grande in the southern portion of the state, including Brownsville and Brazos Santiago, Galveston on the gulf coast, as well as at Indianola, Texas, now a ghost town at the bottom of the Gulf, like the lost city of Atlantis.
Listed below are 9 out of the 14 Medal of Honor winners and Butler Medal recipients:
Col. Alonzo Draper's brigade (5th, 36th, and 38th USCT)… Pvt. William Henry Barnes, Co. C, 38th USCT, 1st Sgt. Powhatan Beaty, Co. G, 5th USCT, Pvt. James H. Bronson, Co. D, 5th USCT, Sgt. Maj. Milton Murray Holland, Co. C, 5th USCT, 1st Sgt. Robert A. Pinn, Co. I, 5th USCT, Pvt. James Daniel Gardner, Co. I, 36th USCT, Cpl. Miles James, Co. B, 36th USCT, Pvt. James H. Harris, Co. B, 38th USCT, and 1st Sgt. Edward Ratcliff, Co. C, 38th USCT.
IN MEMORY OF WILLIAM HENRY BARNES, who survived to reach Texas... the first among the three over top at New Market Heights… engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, while bleeding from a shoulder wound, yet defying every bullet… walking over and through Gregg’s Texas Brigade… marching right into Petersburg… boldly coming into Texas to finish capturing the state, and freeing the last slaves on June 19, 1865, Juneteenth.
After all this, he dies, less than two years later, of tuberculosis in an Army hospital in Indianola on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1866. A marker in his memory was placed in San Antonio National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas.
And so I forgive the Confederacy for the sin of slavery, in memory of my forefathers who fought their way to victory over slavery.