As published in the March 7, 2001 Shreveport Journal
Honoring a Black Man Who Offered His Services to the Confederate Army
Levy S. Carnine is remembered today as a Civil War "hero"
By ERIC J. BROCK
On Sunday, Feb. 18, 2001, an important event took place at the old cemetery on Van Buren Street in Mansfield. The event was a memorial service to honor Levy S. Carnine, a figure of local Civil War significance in his own right and a representative of the more than 90,000 African-Americans who were part of the Confederate war machine. The subject of black Confederates is little known today and even less thoroughly documented. Some historical revisionists deny that blacks took up arms on behalf of the South and claim that those who did were coerced. And while it is true that many slaves were impressed into labor service for the Confederacy, it is also a fact that some 35,000 slaves and free blacks volunteered for service and that over 17,000 of these took up arms and saw front-line service. Indeed, many of the 200,000 blacks who fought for the Union had originally been Confederate soldiers who were forced into Union service by the Federal armies as they slashed and burned their way through the South. Years later the U.S. government denied their rightful pensions to these former soldiers, claiming they were merely "contraband" and not really soldiers at all. Yet the dictionary definition of soldier is "one who serves in an army," which is precisely what these brave men did. Many made the ultimate sacrifice, becoming "martyrs on the altar of their own sunny South." Others, like Levy Carnine, survived to bear testimony of their service and of the service of all their comrades-in-arms, as well as to carry the torch for their memory. At the time of his death in 1924, the Confederate Veteran Magazine, the monthly journal of the United Confederate Veterans organization, praised Levy Carnine, calling him "a hero of the War Between the States." No small praise for a black man in those days. Significant obituaries of Carnine also ran in the Mansfield Enterprise and in Natchitoches and Shreveport papers on April 10, the day after Carnine's death, which occurred 60 years and one day after the Battle of Mansfield. In 1861, when Louisiana left the Union, Levy Carnine was a slave belonging to a young Mansfield physician named Hogan. Dr. Hogan volunteered for service in the Pelican Rifles, the first infantry company to leave DeSoto Parish for the Confederate army.
The Pelican Rifles was designated Company D of the 2nd Louisiana Infantry on May 11, 1861, and during the four years of war saw engagements at Yorktown, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas (a.k.a. Second Bull Run), Harper's Ferry, Sharpsburg (a.k.a. Antietam), Fredericks-burg, Chancellorsville, Winchester, Culp's Hill at Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Early's advance on Washington, Cedar Creek, Petersburg and Appomattox Court House. Well, when Dr. Hogan went to war, Levy went with him, serving as Hogan's valet and cook. And when Hogan was mortally wounded in Virginia, it was Levy who carried him to the hospital, nursed him and cared for him. But Dr. Hogan died and it was Levy, his faithful servant and friend, who dug his grave, buried his body, found a minister to perform the burial service and even carved a gravestone. Not knowing where to turn next, Levy returned to Hogan's regiment and reported to Capt. Jesse Williams, Hogan's old friend from Mansfield who had helped to organize the company. Williams, who had just become colonel of the regiment, told Levy to stay with him until he could arrange safe transportation for him back to DeSoto Parish. As the war raged on, however, this became impossible and Levy stayed with Williams performing the same tasks he had done for Hogan. Soon Williams was promoted to brigadier general, but not long thereafter, he, too, was killed in battle. Once again, Levy Carnine buried an old friend. After Williams' death, Levy decided to stay with company. First he took of company cook, preparing the mess for the whole lot. As more and more of their number fell wounded or killed, however, Levy began to take up arms as well, going into battle with his comrades from DeSoto Parish. How shocking it must have been for the Union soldiers to see a black face among the charging Confederates in so many bloody conflicts! As mentioned before, we know that Levy was hardly unique -- the documentation of stories such as his is opening a whole previously untapped field of Civil War scholarship. Still in all, most black Confederates were cooks, carpenters, mechanics and laborers. Only a fraction of the South's nearly two million soldiers who took up arms were black (about 17,000 all told). When communication between Richmond and the territory west of the Mississippi River was severed, Levy volunteered to get letters and other communications over to the Confederates in the west. The boys of the company gave him money and letters home. Levy's plan was to head north, "desert" to the Yankees, then travel unmolested (he hoped) through Federally-held territory until he could get back across Confederate lines and make his way to Louisiana. No other soldier from the company could have done it, but in this case, Levy's race was his saving grace; no one would suspect a black man' s motives in crossing into Union territory. Levy Carnine pulled it off. His trip took some time to make, but finally he reached Mansfield, delivering the soldiers' letters to their families and receiving a hero's welcome. He stayed for several weeks at the drug store of Dr. R. T. Gibbs, where he was daily the center of attention, telling the town of the Pelican Rifles' doings in the east. Although he wanted to return to the company, it was not possible to do so because of circumstances at Mansfield. Of the 151 enlistments in the Pelican Rifles, only 32 returned home at war's end. Those 32 remained in touch for the duration of their lives and met regularly in Mansfield. Levy Carnine, though not an enlistment in the company, was always considered an honored member and was for the rest of his life a part of that organization -- its 33rd member. When he died, Levy Carnine was buried with full military honors at the expense of the surviving members of the Pelican Rifles. He rests among the soldiers in the Confederate section of the Mansfield Cemetery beneath a small Confederate-type flat-topped gravestone, which reads "L. S. Carnine, CSA." As long as any member of the Pelican Rifles lived, his grave was always decorated with flowers and sometimes a miniature Confederate flag, just like all the other Confederate graves. On Feb. 18, 2001, he was honored once more as some 35 persons attended a memorial service for him. His newly repaired and restored gravestone bore a small Confederate battle flag as in decades past, and the strains of Dixie and Amazing Grace were played on the bagpipes, just for Levy. Among the dignitaries present were the Commander in Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans -- successor organization to the original United Confederate Veterans - as well as officers of regional SCV camps (as SCV chapters are called), members of the leadership of the DeSoto Parish black community and others. Confederate colors were presented and a musket volley was fired to salute Levy Carnine, It was a fitting tribute to a soldier -- for indeed he was that -- who risked his life for his friends, his country and his fellow men.
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