African American Gregory Newson, a talented artist, was raised in New York but now lives and does his work in South Carolina. He has made contributions, both in art and writing, to Confederate history that deserve to be better recognised.
In 2016 he published Get Forrest, a beautifully illustrated biography. One could not ask for a more fair and interesting treatment of a controversial subject, a good gift for younger people or for anyone. Mr. Newson has courageously contradicted the prevailing ideological assumptions and given portraits of and written about real people— which is what historians should do. He has produced a number of works as well as the Forrest and provided illustrations for Shotwell’s children’s book on Lee written by Anne Smith Wilson.
He has appeared widely at reenactments and other public events and given interviews as a black Confederate, recently speaking at an Abbeville Institute summer school. He has always stressed the salience of blacks in the Confederate army.
Mr. Newson’s latest work, Heroes by Force (Newson Publishing, 2022), is an exhaustively researched compilation of African Americans who helped sustain the outnumbered Confederate armies. (The title’s use of “Force” is a little misleading.)
It is little known, but Southern states postwar provided pensions for black men who had served in the Southern War of Independence. These pension rolls (along with other sources) provide many hundreds of names and identities of black Confederates, including the units with which they served and in what capacity. Not only the eleven Confederate states but the Border States of Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Oklahoma provided such pensions.
There were many servants, cooks, teamsters, musicians, and nurses among them, but that is not the whole story. Some were useful spies and misleaders of the Yankee enemy. The memoirs of Confederate partisans show a number of such men who served throughout the war.
There are several good books about black Confederates, but Mr. Newson has published an exhaustive documentary record that cannot be easily dismissed.
In his book The Retreat from Gettysburg, the noted historian Kent Masterson Brown writes that an estimated 5,000 black men went with Lee’s army to Gettysburg—and back. The survivors of Pickett’s Charge were greeted by many black faces on returning to Confederate lines. President Davis when visiting the armies shook hands with and greeted black as well as white men. Mr. Newson has recently published The Politically Correct President Jefferson Davis, a very informative study of Davis’s lifelong and positive relations with African Americans.
Forrest took thirty of his bonded men with him to the war, promising freedom for loyal service. In the midst of war he made out emancipation papers for all but one of these men. Several rode in his elite headquarters company
On the other hand, the hard-fighting Union soldier Ambrose Bierce wrote that the only black people who saw in three-and-a-half years were the concubines and servants of Union officers. Some Union soldiers complained of black men shooting at them.
Any long view of history can make it easily understandable that race relations in the Old South were frequently familial, and that servants might side with their masters against vicious invaders. Union soldiers in their routine atrocities harmed black Southerners as much or more than the whites.
Mr. Newsom indicates that the motive of his work is the wisdom that “inclusion” is the only way to eradicate racial division. That is good to remember for those of us working to keep the Southern tradition.