Amateur historian traces lives of black Confederates

NATIONAL CLOSEUP

September 27, 1993|By Joe DePriest | Joe DePriest,Knight-Ridder News Service

IRON STATION, N.C. -- Unlike tombstones for many Civil War veterans, former slave Adam Moore's marker makes no mention of his time helping the Confederate Army.

Just that he died Aug. 25, 1941, at the age of 109 years, 4 months, 10 days; and a brief send-off to eternity: "My work is over. My vacation has begun. The path of glory leads but to the grave."

Amateur historian Rudolph Young knows of events beyond the inscription etched in marble. That's what draws him to the moss-flecked stone in the Mount Vernon Baptist Church cemetery.

Standing there on a late-summer afternoon with a breeze stirring the nearby woods, he imagines Adam Moore roaming the field at Chancellorsville, Va., before the dust of the 1863 battle settled, scrounging meat from freshly killed horses.

Mr. Young pictures Mr. Moore alongside tattered gray lines during the surrender at Appomattox, Va. He sees him making the trek from Virginia back home to Lincoln County, N.C.

The images make him even more determined to preserve story fragments he has uncovered about blacks who helped the Confederate Army. At such moments, a neglected part of African-American history comes alive.

"This grave is a sense of connection with me," says Mr. Young, 48, of Stanley, N.C., who has written two self-published books on black history. "I connect with a person, a family and the Afro-American community in general. I connect with my heritage."

Mr. Young, a retired military man, began by researching black history in the small communities in Gaston and Lincoln counties. Along the way, he encountered a subject he didn't expect: slaves or freed men who aided the Lost Cause.

He became fascinated by the sketchy stories. Sometimes they were clouded by neglect or shame.

Mr. Young finally concluded that, good or bad, it was part of his history as a Southerner. He would follow the trail where it took him.

In the Union Army, blacks served in regular military units. The Confederate Army relegated them to work behind the lines as servants or building railroads.

"By and large, service in the Confederacy wasn't something freed blacks looked back on with a great deal of pride," says Everard Smith, a history professor at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington.

Growing up in the Mount Vernon community, about 25 miles northwest of Charlotte, Mr. Young heard stories about men like Adam Moore.

"As far as I know, this is stuff you won't find in local history books," Mr. Young said. "And there's been some myths and misconceptions about it."

Of blacks of the Confederate Army, Mr. Young knows the most about Adam Moore.

"I was lucky," he says. "He left behind some permanent records of his service."

Even so, the story remains sketchy, gleaned from Mr. Young's variety of sources.

Born into slavery, Mr. Moore grew up on a Lincoln County farm with his owner's son -- Adam Miller Roberts. Commissioned a lieutenant, Mr. Roberts fought with the 16th North Carolina Regiment and came home after recuperating from battle wounds in a Richmond, Va., hospital.

When he returned to the fighting in Virginia, Mr. Roberts asked Mr. Moore to accompany him.

The men left the Cherryville, N.C., railroad depot in 1863 and reached Chancellorsville on April 30, the eve of the great battle.

Mr. Moore immediately went to work building fortifications and later cared for the unit's horses.

Once the battle began, Mr. Roberts gave Mr. Moore a pistol that Mr. Moore kept under his shirt. It's unclear why, but it was an unusual gesture of trust to arm a slave.

Mr. Roberts was killed on the first day of the battle. Mr. Young says Mr. Moore "stayed with [the Confederate Army] until Appomattox. Then he walked back to Lincoln County."

No longer a slave with the war's end, Mr. Moore worked first for the railroad and later farmed. He lived out his life in a rambling two-story farmhouse beside Nathaniel Oates Sr., now 79, who today remembers him as a "big, stout fellow."

"He farmed right on up 'til he was 97," says Mr. Oates, one of Mr. Young's sources. "And he wouldn't have quit then but he went blind."

Roger Simon is on vacation. His column will resume Oct. 13.

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