MONROE, N.C. -- Long ignored by history, local slaves who served in the Confederate Army finally will receive some rare recognition.
The Union County Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve a plan for a privately-funded marker to honor 10 black men, nine of whom were slaves, who eventually received small state pensions for their Civil War service.
This will be one of the only public markers of its kind in the country, and arrives in the midst of state and national commemorations of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial. The granite marker will be placed on a brick walkway at the Old County Courthouse in Monroe in front of the 1910 Confederate monument.
“I’m glad to see Union County is finally stepping out of the Jim Crow era and being all-inclusive of its history,” said Tony Way, the local amateur historian and Sons of Confederate Veterans member who has lead the push for the pushing for the project.
The divisive issue of how, or even whether, to honor the men has percolated in Union County for several years.
Some opponents of the plan said it was inconsistent with other markers at the 1886 courthouse that honored people who died during conflicts. The existing Confederate monument lists regiments, not individual names of soldiers.
But a racially diverse group of supporters said the honor for the 10 men was long overdue and a way to tell a part of the county’s history that had been all but forgotten.
There is no way to know how many slaves were coerced into service or willingly followed their masters to war. Virtually no black men fought in battle for the Confederacy, historians have said. Slave labor provided logistical and support work for the southern Army, including digging ditches, building latrines, working in armories and cooking.
In their pension applications, all 10 Union County men were described as “body servants” or bodyguards. They hauled water, carried supplies and helped build forts. Two were wounded.
By the time they received meager state pensions half a century after white veterans collected theirs, the men were around 90 years old and near the end of their lives.
Mattie Rice, the 89-year-old daughter of one of the slaves being honored, Wary Clyburn, simply thanked God when informed of the vote. “I know my father would’ve been so very proud,” she said.
The historic commission said it wanted to see more specific details about the size and wording of the marker, details that should be worked out in time for it to debut before the end of the year.