Mattie Clyburn Rice, 88, spent years searching through archives to prove her father was a black Confederate. As she leafs through a notebook filled with official-looking papers, Rice stops to read a faded photocopy with details of her father's military service.Share
"At Hilton Head while under fire of the enemy, he carried his master out of the field of fire on his shoulder, that he performed personal service for Robert E. Lee. That was his pension record," Rice says.
Rice's father, Weary Clyburn, applied for a Confederate pension in 1926, when he was about 85. Rice was 4 years old then, the daughter of a young mother and an elderly father who regaled her with stories of his time spent in South Carolina's 12th Volunteer Unit. But when Rice repeated those stories as an adult, she was accused of spreading tall tales.
"Nobody believed me. Nobody. Not even the children," she says. "They are just beginning to believe, 'cause now they see it in print."
Friends and family members doubted that Rice's father, who was born a slave, supported Confederates. Military leaders also didn't officially enlist blacks until the very tail end of the war.
But once Rice found her father's pension application in North Carolina's state archives, Civil War groups started calling. United Daughters of the Confederacy member Gail Crosby keeps track of soldiers' daughters — officially called "Real Daughters" — for the group. Crosby says she was thrilled to invite Rice to join.
"We're always so excited when we find any Real Daughter, and immediately I found a chapter in her area, let the chapter know that we had this lady," she says.
Rice is the second black Real Daughter to be recognized by an organization that was once exclusively for white women. Yet some progressive historians and Civil War buffs frown at her father's story. They say the very term "black Confederate" supports the notion that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. Even so, University of North Carolina history professor Fitz Brundage says the contributions of enslaved blacks to the war effort should be recognized. (Read more.)