FLS Town & Country
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Shining a light on black
Confederates (FLS 6/3/06)
by Jack Maples
By Michael Aubrecht, FLS Town &
Date published: 6/3/2006 CIVIL WAR
the chronicles of American history, no event tested
the strength of our great nation more than the
Civil War, a brutal, bloody four-year conflict that
left the Confederacy defeated and the South
devastated, and ended the institution of slavery at
the cost of more than half a million lives. Even
today, there are many aspects of the War Between
the States that continue to be debated by
historians and enthusiasts alike.
no topic, with the exception of secession,
instigates more heated discussions than the service
of African-Americans on behalf of the Confederate
States of America.
Understandably, black Confederate
soldiers appear to be one aspect of the conflict
that many find virtually impossible to believe.
Despite the existence of photographs, military
records and firsthand accounts that support the
notion, some people still seem unable to comprehend
why anyone would fight on behalf of a government
that ultimately held its own people in bondage.
fact is that there were free African-Americans
living in the South at the outbreak of the war, and
some of them took up arms alongside their white
neighbors in an effort to protect their own
families and interests. The discrepancy lies in the
numbers of black Rebels, which have been quoted as
anywhere from 10 to 10,000.
Although the Confederate Congress
did not sanction so-called "Colored Units" until
1865, when it was too late, there were many
"unofficial" soldiers supervised by officers who
were desperate to fill the ranks that were so
quickly diminishing. Also, many individual Southern
states authorized "Colored Militia Units," which
included free men as well as slaves and waged
tremendously successful guerrilla campaigns against
the occupying Federal forces.
Regardless of their exact numbers
or motivation, the courage and tenacity of these
men was just as extraordinary as that of any other
gray-shirted combatant, and their memory is to be
valued with the same respect and admiration as that
of any Confederate soldier.
to the wide range of conflicting statistics, many
Civil War authors shy away from this subject, which
in my opinion is a terrible disservice to the
legacy of all black Confederate soldiers. Luckily,
we have historians such as Jack Maples, who have
dedicated themselves to preserving the stories of
these remarkable men.
had the pleasure of meeting Maples, who lives in
Manassas, when we shared a book-signing bill at a
Civil War re-enactment in Harrisonburg known as the
Gathering of Eagles. In addition to being a
meticulous researcher and a talented writer, Maples
is first and foremost a wonderful storyteller.
After spending some time discussing the synopsis of
his work, I must admit that I was captivated and
knew that I had to share his highly original
contribution with my readers.
Maples' book, titled "Reconstructed
Yankee," is a blend of both fictional and
nonfictional material. It tells the life stories of
two North Carolina friends, one white and one
black, who fought together during the Civil War,
first for the Union and later for the Confederacy.
main characters are Caleb Parker, a free person of
color, and his best friend, Tom Parker. Both men
are talented gunsmiths following in the footsteps
of their fathers, and together they carry on a
prospering business creating arms that include "The
Parker," their own version of the Spencer repeating
rifle. As their reputation as master craftsmen
begins to spread far and wide, each man starts a
family and both appear to be living out the
American Dream despite their unconventional
that changes, however, with the first shots fired
at Fort Sumter in 1861. At the outbreak of war,
these "brothers in arms" are caught up in the midst
of a moral dilemma: whether to fight for a cause
they do not believe in, or seek vengeance for the
unprovoked hanging of their fathers. What follows
is a bittersweet adventure spanning many years that
recalls the triumphs and tragedies of the war from
both the Northern and Southern perspectives.
Clearly an expert on his subject
matter, Maples has labored to present an enjoyable
tale that is firmly rooted in historical fact. He
goes on to provide a most welcome conclusion that
breaks down each and every major character and
event while explaining which are fact and which are
fiction. That alone makes this book worthy of
applause, and I beg other novelists to try the same
approach, as it truly helps the readers to
distinguish what is real, in case they wish to
research additional materials on a particular
person or subject.
Maples' story line takes the reader
on a journey through the entire Civil War,
encompassing major battles, minor skirmishes and
unsanctioned raids on both sides of the Mason-Dixon
Line. Along the way, we are introduced to men of
high moral character as well as bloodthirsty
outlaws who exploited the conflict as an
opportunity to spread hatred and chaos under the
guise of military action.
a result, Maples has presented a very honest and
straightforward commentary on the frequent
atrocities perpetrated by both the Union and
Confederate forces. Far beyond the glory of
courageous charges and last stands, it was the
citizens of the North and South who suffered
devastating blows to their homes, families and
Another forgotten aspect of the war
was the struggle that was endured by blacks who
were trying to establish their own identities in
the postwar Reconstruction era. Many of these
emancipated citizens were unable to find jobs or
establish homesteads despite the best efforts of
the Freedmen's Bureau, whose mission of
establishing "freedom and liberty for all" was
often corrupted by crooked politicians and white
Making matters worse was the
expanse of this injustice, which stretched from the
Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border and beyond. I
was surprised by the enormous distance that was
covered by free men and ex-slaves alike in an
effort to start over. Many traveled from town to
town for months, or even years, before finding
acceptance. Clearly, racism continued to exist as a
scourge that plagued the North and South despite
the surrender of the Confederacy and the
reunification of the U.S. government.
some instances the war changed very little, and
many black Southerners actually considered
themselves better off before the conflict, since
they were able to practice a trade and feed their
children by sharecropping. As the conquered
Southern economy lay in ruins, so did its
railroads, homes and businesses. Most of the
plantations had been burned to the ground and their
fields destroyed, leaving thousands of families
with nothing. This trial was shared by both black
and white citizens alike.
Perhaps the worst discrimination of
all fell on the shoulders of the black Confederate
veterans, who were not given the same postwar
pensions and accolades as their white peers. Maples
persistently tackles the subject of this struggle,
leaving us with a feeling of sadness for the plight
of these heroes that is tempered with a great sense
of pride for their sacrifice and service.
Offering no apologies, this book
pulls no punches in depicting the good, the bad and
the ugly of America's greatest trial. More
importantly, it is a story of two men of different
races, bound by brotherly love and one man's
ultimate triumph over oppression.
well-written and powerful novel, "Reconstructed
Yankee" will appeal to readers of historical
fiction and Civil War buffs alike.
addition, this book has already been scripted and
appears to be headed for the big screen. Maples is
currently in the process of locating investors to
fund the $5.8 million project, and the movie's
preproduction is already under way. I cannot wait
to see it.
MICHAEL AUBRECHT of Spotsylvania
County is the author of "Onward Christian Soldier:
The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" and "Christian
Cavalier: The Spiritual Legacy of J.E.B. Stuart."
Visit his Web site at...