Editor: Before we criticize people who lived before us, perhaps we should attempt to know more about them. History is replete with the seemingly inexplicable. For example, the Cherokee Indians were removed from Georgia to Oklahoma. One faction fought for the South, the other faction fought for the North. It is not wise to try to be too casual in understanding events like this, as Murray Klein showed with his dismissal of the States Rights views of Edward Porter Alexander, whose views "illustrated Alexander’s innate disinterest in politics." Really! The best we can do most of the time is to admit we don’t understand why someone acted the way they did and grant them the benefit of the doubt. In other cases we have the history of their actions to inform us. One such example is Confederate Louis Napolean Nelson.
Nelson was one of 20 or more black men that served in the elite escort of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Nelson participated in many of Forrest’s most dramatic battles. A picture of him at a reunion of Confederate veterans shows him proudly wearing his uniform. His casket was shrouded by a Battle Flag, which his grandson Nelson Wimbush proudly displays. A Florida brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is named for Nelson.
Many blacks served in the Confederate Army. In his book, Black Confederates, Kelly Barrow suggests as many as 100,000 served. Personal accounts from both sides testify of this. Without question, the Southern Armies were the integrated force in the conflict, as opposed to the segregated Northern Army.
Their service was oftentimes heroic. Sometimes, they won the affection and admiration of their family and community by their actions. Neptune Small, of St. Simons Island, was given property for retrieving the body of Henry Lord Page King from the field of battle and excorting it home for burial.
It confuses me why this service is not worthy of praise and remembrance, a part of the struggle that monuments like that at the Liberty County Courthouse memorialize. Nelson and Small, and many unnamed others, were certainly proud of it.
Peter Winn Martin