African American Bushwhackers
Border War Extra: Did African-Americans ride with the Bushwhackers?
The answer is yes, they did. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 10% of the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War may have been African Americans. Opinions vary widely as to why those men were fighting. One side will say that they were slaves and they were doing what their owners told them to do. An opposite opinion would be that even though they were slaves, they still loved their country and were willing to fight for it. Another argument might be that fighting in the army was better than being a slave, so they were more than willing to fight as opposed to working as a slave. I’m not going to try and solve that controversy in this post but realize that the men we talk about who rode with Quantrill may elicit some of the same opinions a century and a half later.
Three African American men, John Noland, John Lobb, and Henry Wilson have all been confirmed to have ridden with Quantrill during the Border War. These three men also attended the Quantrill Reunions during the early 1900s. There are a small number of other African American men who would also attend Quantrill Reunions and while I assume that they did, in fact, ride with Quantrill there is no corroborating evidence that confirms this. It is possible that some of these men could have been manservants to one of Quantrill’s Raiders, but it is also possible that they were fighters just like the other men.
We have more historical information John Noland than we have for the other two. Noland was likely born a Missouri slave around 1844. He was probably owned by Francis Noland at birth but is usually listed as a “freedman” in most historical accounts, which means that at some point his owners made him a free man. There are several Noland’s that rode with Quantrill during the war and it is likely that John decided to join the people he knew. There are unverified reports that John is actually the illegitimate son of his owner and thus the Noland’s he was riding with, were in fact his half-brothers, cousins, etc.
There seems to be little dispute that John was a fighter and not just a man-servant. Noland’s guerrilla brothers recalled that “John could fight as hard as any of them when occasion required.” Noland and John Lobb were said to have scouted Lawrence prior to the infamous Lawrence Massacre, their color making it easier for them to scout the abolitionist city without being noticed.