Sunday, January 31, 2010

Confederate Pensions for African-Americans

This past week has been an exciting one for the genealogical research project I am working on. I am in the process of tracing the roots of an African-American family. This has proven to be challenging and rewarding. One of the difficulties with the research has been locating the family after the Civil War in all census years. This problem has been compounded by the location where the family lived. They lived in several counties along the West Virginia - Virginia border. The counties are in the hills (coal mining country) and considered pretty rural. I think some members of the family may have been missed in the census due to the rural nature of the county and quite possibly their color.

While searching for the family, I came across an obituary for what I believed was a great grandfather. It was not a surprise to me to find that the man had lived to be at least 114. The family has this tradition and firmly believe this to be the case. Many of the older family members recall having met the man. What did surprise me about the obituary was that it mentioned that the man had received a pension as a Confederate war veteran. Now I was concerned. Was this really the obituary for the man I was searching? Did African-Americans, who were also slaves, actually participate in the Civil War for the Confederacy?

To my surprise the answer was yes!

Slaves were often pressed into service as body servants, hostlers, or horse handlers. The latter was the case for the service of the man I was looking for. I came across his pension application at the Library of Virginia website and found a wealth of information about him. The record gave the name of his master, his place of birth, and his age. It was even attested to by people who knew him in his hometown. Among these witnesses was his daughter-in-law. This was such an exciting find for me. I learned a lot from this experience.

Yes! African-Americans could have been pressed into service for the Confederacy during the Civil War and some even received pensions for their service. One source indicated that there were as many as 400 in the state of Virgina.

For more information about this topic see the following links:

Black Confederate Soldiers

Black Confederate Pensioners After The Civil War


  1. Good information to note Debbie--thanks!

  2. African Americans free and slaves served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War along with all subsequent wars. In the Civil War they served as both Confederates and Union soldiers. There were even free persons of color who volunteered to serve on the Confederate side. Some slaves accompanied their slave-masters in war, others were used in the capacity of service to the entire regiment in exchange for their master's service. During the war, many agreements were made to free slaves if they served a period of time (often 1 year).
    I do extensive African American research, and have the key to slave ownership, emancipation information, and name changes (ex-slaves were able to choose any name after the war)in the pension records. We would never eliminate viable pension records for slave history information. Often you have to widen your search to neighbors to find information, but the pension records of ex-slaves have a plethora of depositions and information on surrounding families.

    Kathleen Brandt