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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Black Confederates

by Wiley J. Williams, 2006; Revised October 2022.

Caption Reads: " A Rebel Captian Forces Negroes to Load Cannon Under the Fire of Berdan's Sharp Shooters- as seen through a telescope from our lines, and sketched by Mr. Mead." Harper Weekly, May 10, 1862.Black Confederates is a term that describes the enslaved and free black people who made significant contributions to the Confederacy during the Civil War. Historically, "Confederate Negro" was a term that was used in North Carolina and other southern states during the period to describe Black people who aided the Confederacy. Some enslaved people served in noncombatant roles, such as nurses in government hospitals, supply wagon and ambulance drivers, and cooks. They were also forced or impressed (in most cases) to construct fortifications around cities and strategic military sites like Fort Fisher. This use of enslaved labor for the construction of infrastructure was also seen in the Antebellum Period. At times, enslaved people carried news from home and delivered supplies and food to their enslavers on the battlefield, or they brought home the wounded and dead.

Service of Black people to the Confederacy was generally coerced or forced, and not given freely. Enslaved Black men were rented out by their enslavers to perform these roles. Free Black men living in the proclaimed Confederacy were also routinely impressed or otherwise forced to perform manual labor for the Confederate army. Black men were not recognized as soldiers until the final stages of the war. They were identified only as laborers. Very few Black men were allowed to be soldiers, and none are recorded as experiencing military action. No documentation exists for any Black man as being paid or pensioned as a Confederate soldier, although some did receive pensions for their work as laborers.

As Confederate military suffered more losses, more and more white Southerners began to contemplate changes to the system of enslavement, including sending Black men—the last source of troops—to fight. In the waning months of 1864 and early 1865, white Southerners debated in the press, the pulpit, and political forums the subject of using Black people as soldiers, and Gen. Robert E. Lee announced his plan for arming and freeing enslaved Black people. Yet the Confederate Congress delayed. On 13 Mar. 1865, the southern lawmakers finally authorized President Jefferson Davis to recruit up to 300,000 Black troops, but Lee's surrender at Appomattox on 9 April ended the war before they took to the field.


"History of Fort Fisher." North Carolina Historic Sites. 2019.

Martinez, Jaime. "Black Confederates." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, April 23, 2021.

Coski, John. "Myths & Misunderstandings | Black Confederates." The American Civil War Museum. November 7, 2017.

Smith, Sam. "Black Confederates: Truth and Legend." American Battlefield Trust. February 10, 2015.

Additional Resources:

Brewer, James H. The Confederate Negro: Virginia’s Craftsmen and Military Laborers, 1861–1865. Durham: Duke University Press, 1969.

Cimprich, John M. Slavery’s End in Tennessee. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985.

Durden, Robert F. The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972.

Ely, Melvin. Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s through the Civil War. New York, New York: Knopf, 2004.

Jordan, Ervin L., Jr. Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995.

Levin Kevin M. Searching for Black Confederates : The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019.

Levine, Bruce. Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Mohr, Clarence L. On the Threshold of Freedom: Masters and Slaves in Civil War Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Reid, Richard M. Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Robinson, Armstead L. Bitter Fruits of Bondage: The Demise of Slavery and the Collapse of the Confederacy, 1861–1865. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.

Image Credit:

Caption Reads: " A Rebel Captian Forces Negroes to Load Cannon Under the Fire of Berdan's Sharp Shooters- as seen through a telescope from our lines, and sketched by Mr. Mead." Harper Weekly, May 10, 1862. Available from (accessed May 18, 2012).