Black Clarksvillians during the Civil War
According to Montgomery County, Tennessee tax records for 1861, there were 4,563 slaves in the county. The slaves had a property value of $ 3,078,355.00, which is an average of $ 674 per person.
In late 1861, the Confederate Army issued orders to press into service 360 Negro men in the Clarksville area for the purposes of constructing fortifications at the mouth of the Red River (Fort Defiance).
There was a Confederate Hospital in Clarksville as early as October of 1861. The hospital tended to the sick soldiers from the area camps and during the battle for Fort Donelson, many of the wounded Confederates were evacuated to Clarksville. Several local free black families assisted with the tasks associated with caring for the soldiers. Among them were sisters Mary and Susan Bibb, who served as nurses. Both sisters died from disease contracted while tending to the soldiers. It is thought they were buried along with the deceased soldiers under what is now the Confederate Soldier’s Memorial Bridge on Cumberland Drive.
Prior to the war, there appears to have been several free black families living in Clarksville. Among these were Minor Gordon and Jerry Weakley, partners who owned and operated a barbershop and bathhouse in downtown Clarksville in 1859; Ben Cross, an early member of the St. Peter AME Church in Clarksville, was a free man who worked as a cook for the mostly Irish construction crews building the L&N Railroad in the late 1850’s;
Ned Smith owned and operated a wheat threshing business in Clarksville.
Contraband: Goods or merchandise the importation or exportation of which is forbidden; A Negro slave who escaped to, or was brought within, the Union lines during the Civil War. (Webster’s New International Dictionary)
As the Union Army of Ulysses S. Grant pushed into Tennessee in 1862, fugitive slaves from the upper south flocked to be near the army for reasons of safety. These escaped slaves were referred to as contraband by the Union troops. General Grant instructed Chaplain John Eaton to develop a contraband camp system throughout the Cumberland and Tennessee valleys. The contraband camps became military processing stations where fugitive slaves were transformed into freedmen, wage earners, and precious labor for the Union army. There they received shelter (tents, log cabins, and plank houses), army rations (pork, corn meal, flour, beans, sugar, coffee, vinegar, salt, star candles, and potatoes), clothing, medicines, military or agricultural jobs, and wages. The army employed the contrabands as laborers at ten dollars per month for women and ten to thirty dollars a month for boys and men. Contraband labor was used in the construction of military forts and rail lines, including the construction of Clarksville’s Fort Defiance (Fort Bruce). By 1864, the contraband camp in Clarksville contained over 3000 former slaves and contained several schools operated by missionaries from northern states.
Beginning in 1863, black laborers who had been working on the Union fortifications around Nashville and outlying posts at Murfreesboro, Gallatin, and Clarksville were organized into regiments, officially designated “United States Colored Infantry” and commanded by white volunteer officers. The best estimate is that some 3,000 ex-slaves were recruited at Clarksville from 1863 to 1865 for service in the Union Army in the 12th, 13th, 16th, 17th, and 101st USCI regiments. Many of these men played significant roles in constructing railroads and fortifications, in defending essential posts against determined attack, and in doing battle in the horrendous struggles at Nashville and Chattanooga (Dr. Richard Gildrie, APSU).
The 16th United States Colored Infantry was organized at Clarksville, Tennessee soon after the Battle of Chickamauga. They were ordered to Chattanooga about April 1, 1864 and set to work on building fortifications and railroads. The regiment returned to middle Tennessee in late November of 1864 to aid in the defense of Nashville from the Confederates of General John B. Hood. While the regiment remained in the rear during the Battle of Nashville, they were actively involved in skirmishing in the weeks preceding the battle. The regiment was mustered out of service on April 30, 1866.
The 101st USCI was organized at Nashville, Tennessee in 1864. The regiment was to be an invalid or laboring regiment composed of men unfit for field duty, but fit for ordinary garrison duty. Consisting of approximately 600 men, the 101st furnished guards for the contraband camp at Clarksville. The regiment was mustered out of service on January 21, 1866.
One company of the 9th United States Colored Artillery (Heavy) was formed in Clarksville in October of 1864. The 9th Heavy Artillery was disbanded in May of 1865.
Andrew Jackson Kendrick was born a slave in 1836. In his own words, Kendrick “slipped off and joined the war because I wanted to help us get out of bondage”. Kendrick fought in several battles including Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Franklin. After the war, Kendrick returned to the New Providence area of Montgomery County. He attended school on the site of the present day Burt-Cobb Community Center for the price of $1 a month. He finished second grade before his money ran out. He then taught others to read and write for the sum of 10 – 15 cents per month. Kendrick later married and raised a family in New Providence.
Other Black Montgomery Countians who served in the Union Army include:
Jacob Danish, Sergeant. From New Providence. Enlisted in G Company of 101st United States Colored Infantry. Discharged in 1866.
Benjamin Herring, Private. From New Providence. Enlisted in 13th U.S. Cavalry in 1864. Discharged in 1866.
John Wuler, Private. From Woodlawn. Enlisted in G Company of 13th U.S. Cavalry.
Affricanna town was a settlement of ex-slaves in the Dunbar Cave area of Clarksville. Factual evidence for the existence of the town comes from “The John Nick Barker Diaries”. Barker was the owner of a very large and prosperous plantation in what was then District 10 of Montgomery County. Barker made two entries in his diary relative to Affricanna Town. First, on January 9, 1865 “Negroes still building near my cave and slaying my timber”. Lastly, on November 7, 1865 “Giles Davis moved to Affricanna Town near Dunbar Cave”.
Prepared by Friends of Fort Defiance