Nov. 8 Service To Honor Black Veterans
By Kathryn Jorgensen
(November 2009 Civil War News)
PULASKI, Tenn. — On Nov. 8 flags will fly, guns will fire a salute and cannon will roar in a ceremony and marker dedication for 18 black Confederates at Maplewood Cemetery in Pulaski.
Not everyone believes black men willingly served the Confederacy, but Cathy Gordon Wood, president of Giles County Chapter #257, United Daughters of the Confederacy, believes. One of these men she found received the Southern Cross of Honor.
She was checking on the county pension of a white Confederate soldier when she came across Ruffin Abernathy’s name with a “C” for colored, after it. Then she found 11 others who received pensions from Giles County.
She collected information about their regiments and pensions and last year requested U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grave markers. The receipt of her applications was quickly followed by a phone call from a woman at the VA saying no markers would be sent because the men were slaves.
Wood begs to differ. “They went in and fought,” she says. On the front of their pension applications they listed their jobs as cooks, teamsters and body servants.
She didn’t think it was right that these men were denied markers, but, even with the help of U.S. Senators and Representatives and the NAACP, she couldn’t’ get the VA to budge.
She had hoped to honor the men during the Giles County bicentennial with a ceremony this past April during Confederate History Month, but that didn’t work out.
Instead she and supporters, including Gen. John C. Brown Camp #112, Sons of Confederate Veterans, raised money to buy markers. They held fundraisers, the most recent in September being a bike ride and silent auction. They needed $2,500 and have raised most of it.
Wood included another seven black men who died before the pensions went into effect or who didn’t have the assistance to apply, making a total of 18 veterans.
Officials at Maplewood Cemetery, a segregated cemetery, offered a plot for the markers — a section with unmarked graves that would not be used for burials. It is at the start of the cemetery’s black section where five of the 18 men are buried.
Thirty-six black U.S. Civil War veterans are also buried at Maplewood. They have VA markers, but no one knows how and when they were ordered.
“So many people have been so kind and generous,” Wood says. “We just want this to be a special occasion. This is something we feel that needs to be done. They need to be honored.”
A tribute will be read to each man at the dedication service. Wood has collected death certificates, obituaries and whatever else she could find along with the pension records. Little is known about some of them, but descendants of four have been found.
The flat granite markers will give each man’s name, date of birth, unit and where he is buried. Wood would like to enclose the plot with a wrought iron fence to call attention to the memorial markers.
The Nov. 8 service will be a traditional UDC ritual, like a military funeral. Wood is pleased that so many people want to participate. “Any time we can recognize a Confederate soldier we want to do that,” she says.
The 18 black Confederates are: Ruffin Abernathy, 3rd Clark’s Tenn. Inf.; Maurice Adams Cleveland, Gen. John Adams’ staff; Tom Brown, Gen. John C. Brown’s staff; Fed Clack, Col. Calvin J. Clack’s staff;
Daniel B. Coleman, Co. A, 6th Alabama Inf.; Jacob Coleman, Co. A, 11th Alabama Cav.; Mack Dabney, 3rd Clack’s; Whitlock Field, Col. Hume R. Field; Nathan Gordon, Co. E, 11th Tenn. Cav. and Co. A, 3rd Clack’s;
Wash Harris, Cheatham’s Division; Southern Cross of Honor recipient Steve Jones, 1st Tenn., Wheeler’s Cav.; Richard Lester, Co. G, 3rd Clack’s; Robert Lester, Co. K, 8th Tenn. Inf.;
And, Sam Maxwell and Neal Mitchell, units unknown; Giles Moore, 9th Alabama, Malone’s Cav.; Joseph Reynolds, unknown; and Matt Rivers, 11th Tenn. Inf.
1st Alabama Cav. Honored Two Of Its Black Veterans
The 1st Alabama Cavalry, U.S. Volunteers, held memorial services and dedicated new headstones for two black members of the original regiment in the last year and a half.
On July 11 a service honored Pvt. Amos McKinney of Co. C at Sykes Cemetery in Decatur, Ala. In May 2008 the unit held a service and dedication at Highland Park Cemetery in Warrensville, Ohio, for Pvt. Simon S. West of Co. M.
The original 1st Alabama members came out of the northern Alabama mountains where residents were not slave owners and were pro-Union. When local men went to Tennessee to join the Union some 15-20 free blacks went with them.
For information about the 1st Alabama contact unit historian Glenda McWhirter Todd through www.1stalabamacavalryusv.com