Black Confederates, Caddo Parish Genealogy

Uncle Joe and the Battle of Mansfield

Welcome to the Tyson Family Roots Blog

Did he or didn’t he?

This is still the question I ask myself on a story passed down in our family lore. To this day our lore has been very accurate. Doing this research I expected to find a few tall tales as you would assume are in the family lore somewhere.

There is one story that still has me shaking my head, the story of my great grand uncle Joseph “Joe” Henry Herndon and the Battle of Mansfield. This story was told by Joe directly to my grandfather Dave Tyson and in turn has been passed down in the family. Joe Herndon was born free in 1840, the son of a white man John Frederick Herndon and a freed slave Lou Patsy. He was the older brother of my great grandmother Fannie Herndon.

Joesph Henry Herndon 1840-1924

Joesph Henry Herndon 1840-1924

The story is that Joe and his father John Frederick Herndon both participated at the Battle of Mansfield which took place on April 8, 1864 in De Soto Parish, Louisiana. They both fought for the south the story says. There was no information passed down in the story on what they actually did, just that they participated. When the battle was over it is said they rode mules back to Caddo Parish. This is the story.

When I first heard the story I thought, OK here’s one of those tall tales. I did not believe it at all. I’m thinking…. why in the world would a free black man fight for the confederates? It made no sense to me at all. Then I found out that a cousin Stan Armstrong had produced a documentary on this subject “Black Confederates: The Forgotten Men in Gray”. Stan’s great grandmother was Katie Herndon, another sister of Joe Herndon. See Stan’s films here:

Stan had heard the story from his family and he also had met a few of my aunts and uncles who knew the story. My uncles David and Tyrone have told me the story a few times and I just never believed it. I have found no military records for Joe or John Frederick Herndon. A possibility is that they volunteered and are not on record. I looked and looked for records to confirm this story and came up cold.

One day while going through a family law suit I stumbled on a clue. Joe Herndon was called as a witness in a case concerning inherited family land. The case had nothing at all to do with the Civil War but the attorney asked Joe Herndon these questions:

Question – “Joe, did you go to war?” –/ Answer – “Yes, sir”

Q. “Did your brothers go?” / A. “One of them did, yes, sir”

Q. “Which side did you go on — the South or the North?” / A. “South”

Q. “You fought on the side of the Confederacy” / A. “Yes, sir”

OK so now I’m thinking this story may be true after all. This statement by Joe says that his brother went, but no name is given. The brothers that would be of age were; John Jr. born in 1842, Jacob born in 1843, and maybe James born in 1848. Joe’s father John Frederick Herndon was born in 1796 and would have been 68 years old at the time of the Battle of Mansfield in 1864.

Could a white man volunteer with a Negro? How would this work? It seems to me that Joe, even though he was a free man, would still have been with the colored troops and John Frederick with the whites. I’m still shaking my head on this one but that statement by Joe in this case does confirm the lore to a degree.  Joe does say that he fought for the Confederacy, just doesn’t say which battle.

My question has always been WHY? I had to do some reading up on the Civil War and the Battle of Mansfield and get an understanding of what role Shreveport played at that time. At this time Shreveport was a main center for the Confederacy and was a prime target to be taken. Shreveport to this point had been spared from any battles and I can understand why a free man would fight to protect his family and property. John Frederick Herndon was a large land owner and Joe Herndon was named in his father’s Will and received a good inheritance of land and money.

I wonder…..did John Frederick persuade Joe and another son to participate in the battle with an assurance that they would be named in his Will? OR, is this just a tall tale….

Thanks for reading

Happy New Years!


25 thoughts on “Uncle Joe and the Battle of Mansfield

    • Hey Terrence, from comments I’ve learned about a few books and other sources to look into. The power of “putting it out there”….if you find any articles on the black troops send me a link….. bless

  1. Love a good mystery. Did you check for Union soldiers, just in case they just told everyone they fought for the Confederates? Lots of different ways to really misspell Herndon, too. Keep us posted!

  2. Very interesting. I had the same problem. My 3 tomes great grandfather was also free in Greene County, NC. I came across info that free persons of color in NC was required to serve for the confederate and I also told they were paid by the state for service. My ancestor was found in 3rd regiment Co A of NC Confederacy, but deserted and joined the USCT- 2nd Calvary.

    • Wow what a story for your ancestor. I have looked in the Union troops too and still didn’t see him. I need to dig through local records in Shreveport, much of these records aren’t available online yet.

  3. paula chatman jackson says:

    Wow what a story!! My family lived in mansfield desoto parish before they settled in east texas. The chatman’s and the Gates
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Paula, it’s hard to imagine being black and fighting for the Confederacy. I wonder if the story is true…what did he do? No blacks were known to be armed for the Confederacy at that time. Maybe the story we’re taught is not accurate

  4. Those Uncle JOEs!!! He has to have some records in the NARA. Somewhere. he followed the status of his Mother she was Free. Usually when Men took Slaves to War with them when they talk like that it was for personal use. It could be for all kinds of reasons. In my County white men that age didn’t go and they got Pardon’s afterwards. They stayed behind if they have large plantations and watched the Women and Slaves of that County. I see a lot of people doing research in Caddo. I’ll have to reach out to them. Great Post. I want to know!

    • Hi True, so far no records have come up for Joe or his father John. I have looked in NARA and I have a fold3 account….nothing. Both names were common so matching records is tricky. The father sometimes went as JF Herndon on records. My family has Joe’s 240 pg abstract done after he died with a ton of his info, not a word of military service or pension. We inherited from him as he had no children so we have this abstract. I’ve seen no mention in the father’s papers…just this story. I’ll keep digging for sure….peace (-:

  5. Now cousin, I’ll be wondering why your Uncle Joe fought on the side of the Confederacy hope you find out soon, I love a mystery and trying to solve it. good luck on your search..great post.

    • I think IF HE DID then it was to defend his home…I can understand that. There are no records of him in the Battle of Mansfield, they have a list of all soldiers online….this is why I think he must have been a volunteer

  6. History says:

    Interesting very interesting folks, there’s a good book out there called the Louisiana native guard by a man by the name of Hollingsworth I believe. There’s also other books out there about Black Confederates by a man of Kelly Barrow,, Black Confederates. Louisiana especially was quite ambiguous especially Northern Louisiana. The battle of 1812 Andrew Jackson emancipated a lot of black men and women. in which they acquired great wealth as carpenters bricklayers Arneson so forth and so on, there’s even a book about a black slaveholder who own over 80 slaves in Southampton County Virginia,, also men black men who own slaves in North Carolina as well as Baton Rouge,, some African-American women who were emancipated, actually bought their husbands out of slavery. Or bought slaves and married.

  7. Lee Millar says:

    You say that you would have thought that Joe would be sent with the black troops and John with the whites. What you don’t realize is that in the Confederate army the troops were integrated. The blacks fought alongside the whites and were equal — unlike the segregated Union army. About 60,000 Black Southerners fought for the South. Why? It was not about slavery at all. This was their home too, just like everybody else, and it was being invaded. They also fought to prove that they COULD fight, just like the white guys. And, yes, they were armed and paid, just like the white soldiers.

    • Hello Lee, good history…thank you. I’ve been studying the Louisiana militia, in Caddo Parish where Joe lived they had the regiment called The Caddo Lake Boys. On my next trip there I will be looking into volunteers and what records are available for The Battle of Mansfield

  8. History says:

    Interesting though, it’s really hard for one to put themselves in that position so many years ago. if you watch and study gone with the wind, there’s so many similarities between the Scots Irish and the slave community. And they were all intermingling of some kind away. Mainly through sex, or the terminology back in the day was called miscegenation, sex between blacks and whites mainly. so many of these slaveowners Emancipation there concubine, and some of the slaves or ex-slaves felt a loyalty to their slaveowners,, I’m sure if they were house slaves they felt even more of a loyalty rather then a field slave.

    • Hi Stan, I do think there was a loyalty to the father John Frederick Herndon for emancipating Lou Patsy and her children. I can see that, and defending their home and family. I think it would have been very hard for Joe and siblings to get any inheritance from a white father without him naming them all as his children in his Will.

  9. WOW!! Mark, this is a fascinating post! But I must tell you that there is a Havard Professor, John Stauffer, who has recently done quite a bit of research on this very topic and says that there may have been over 3,000 black soldiers formed on the Confederate side! Ain’t that something! Check out this feature on Prof. Stauffer when you get a chance —

    Happy New Year and Happy Ancestor Hunting to you too!

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