Joe Farrington is one of the forgotten.
A slave from Chatham County before the War Between the States, Joe is just one of many who left to serve when the call was issued to defend homes and families across the South. But, unlike many others whose accomplishments were recorded for posterity, Joe never even became a footnote in most contemporary history books.
For whatever reason -- the racism of the past, confusion due to missing records, or even political expediency -- Joe and other men like him have been erased from many modern accounts of the war. But perhaps a likelier reason that black Confederates have been ignored -- and sometimes even denied -- is that they don't fit the version of history promoted by revisionists trying to defend what remains an indefensible attack on the South.
The entire conflict, they claim, was nothing other than Northern liberators trying to free black men from the evil clutches of white Southerners. Yet the complex web of historical events -- and even denials by historical figures including Abraham Lincoln himself -- simply do not fit the revisionists' agenda.
Neither does the fact that thousands of Southern black men worked to help crush federal troops.
The exact number of black Confederates is a matter of debate, because surviving records are sketchy. Figures vary widely, but those who know best now estimate that perhaps 65,000 served across the South, with 5,000 to 10,000 from North Carolina alone.
Though these brave veterans, slave and free, are often forgotten by those still waging battle against the South today, they are not merely some abstract hypothesis to be debated. They are real, flesh-and-blood men who provided real service, defending their homes in a difficult situation.
It is hard, if not impossible, to list the full range of motives driving any soldier, although free African-Americans probably shared many of the same motives that led other free citizens to fight. Admittedly, it is more difficult to pinpoint the motives of slaves who fought to defend a society in which they were not free.
Still, several thousand enslaved African-Americans fought for the colonies during the American Revolution, even though British officials had offered freedom to any slave who joined the redcoats. And many African-Americans have served honorably in the United States military throughout its history, even though they were not guaranteed their full rights as citizens.
Historians studying the Confederate service of African-Americans have identified several motives.
Many black Confederates expressed a love for their state and nation, despite their understandable disdain for slavery. Others surely must have felt imminent threats to their own safety and homes from the federal troops destroying everything in sight during their march through the South.
Records also reveal deep personal relationships between many servants and free citizens who enlisted for war, and at least some slaves were promised freedom in exchange for their military service.
But whatever his motivation, Joe Farrington is one who served. Even after his master's son had left the field of battle, Joe remained. Only when the soldiers in gray laid down their arms in a field near the Appomattox Courthouse did Joe mount his master's horse, turn toward the Old North State and return home.
And now, during Black History Month, it is important to remember Joe Farrington and the thousands like him -- men who went to war in times of terrible turmoil and served with dignity and bravery until the very end.
Though some may try to denigrate these Southern heroes, their deeds and legacy still stand firm as examples of honor for us all.
[Charles Hawks is commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, North Carolina Division.]