Richard Poplar: A Black Confederate ‘Soldier’ & Other Lies
Few of us have heard the name and fewer yet would consider a reason why we should and that is because the myth of Richard Poplar is glorified in Lost Cause sensationalism typically relegated to the dampest, dumbest, and most racism swamps of the American Deep South.
What I mean is that this black man whose remains now rest in Blandford Cemetery (Confederate Soldiers Wasteland) is a legend to Lost Cause fanatics. These miscreants expropriate Richard’s name, race, and military ‘service’ throughout the Civil War to form a myth about him, purporting an image of him as a hero of the vanquished Confederacy.
This could not be further from the truth but Lost Cause sympathizers know little about truth, to begin with.
FindAGrave.com eulogizes Richard’s poor soul with a romanticized version of his ‘service’ in the Confederate Army.
“A Black Virginian who cast his fortunes with the Confederacy. Dick endured many weary months as a prisoner, rather than desert his friends and comrades. He was a highly esteemed, honest, industrious man. A member of the famous Sussex Light Dragoons, he joined in April of 1861, and fought with them until Gettysburg, where he and many of his unit were captured in retreat. Held at Fort Delaware for five months, he was taken to Point Lookout for fourteen more, and exchanged in 1865. He returned to Petersburg, where he lived the rest of his life. Befittingly, he was buried with full Confederate honors, a loyal son of the South.”
This beatific rendition of Richard Poplar’s life as a Confederate serviceman and prisoner of war is problematic. Know why?
Well, Richard Poplar was a black man in the Deep South. Let me explain this further for the American history neophyte.
Richard Poplar was a slave turned kitchen worker who was forced to live under the subjugation of white masters and then cooks for white men who were fighting and dying to retain the right to own black men… like Richard Poplar.
In The Atlantic’s June 2021 Issue 5 327, I found an eye-opening article written by Colin Smith titled, The War on Nostalgia: What will it take to end the myth of the Lost Cause? Colin visits this same Blandford Cemetery to get a vibe for the place and get a better sense of why the local community harbors an unabated iconolatry of Confederate soldiers.
While conversing with a guide he happens upon a Memorial Day pamphlet hosted by the cemetery and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This organization was founded by the children of Confederate criminals after the Civil War and later funded by southern states and other Confederacy sympathizing private entities to memorialize the sacrifice southern fighters made on the battlefield. Alongside this diabolical tribe, we find the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group of, you guessed it, women, both daughters, and widows of fallen Confederate soldiers who would wander throughout the Deep South, raising funds to erect statues of Confederate generals and soldiers in public places. Much of this was done decades after the end of the war to retain some form of respect in the family name and the cause for the war.
Thus igniting the Lost Cause sentimentalism where many believe the Confederacy fought for something else, not for the South’s right to own and trade black people. They believe the South fought for states’ rights but seldom explain what those rights were. But we know.
These two groups were present for this Memorial Day celebration Colin decided to attend.
Colin is black. Colin was the only black man present at this celebration.
Confederate sympathizer and secessionist, Paul C. Gramling Jr., was present on this day and gave a speech that afforded him applause and cheers of agreement. One of his statements is endemic to the way Lost Cause sympathizers think and reason through reality just to retain the shroud of lunacy over their eyes.
“I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I like it.” Paul C. Gramling Jr.
Once the Confederate celebrations came to a close and guests were on their way to greet one another, shake hands, chat about their convoluted Lost Cause shenanigans, Colin met an attendee named Jeff. This man went on about how there are people out there trying to erase the truth about what truly happened back then (during and after the Civil War). You know, about why the Civil War was fought in the first place.
“They can’t learn the truth if you do away with history,” Jeff said. “You’ll never learn. And once you do away with that type of thing, you become a slave.”
Jeff’s perception of slavery is distorted beyond rescue but knowing this man was present at a Sons of Confederate Veterans Memorial Day celebration is all I need to know to determine the man is a dunce.
I’ve exhausted my patience with Confederacy sympathizers a long time ago.
Anyway, Jeff goes on to educate Colin about a tombstone not too far from where they stood and conversed, where an honorable black man named Richard Poplar had served the Confederate army, had been captured by the Union army and held prisoner by Union soldiers for the better part of nineteen months. Jeff states that Richard refused the right to freedom so that he could endure imprisonment with his fellow Confederate comrades and wait out the war, in hopes that the South would win. Jeff claims this bit of history is used to prove that blacks fought, willingly and passionately, for the glorious cause of the Confederacy.
Here is Colin Smith on this interaction with Jeff.
“Poplar, I would learn, is central to the story many people in Petersburg tell about the war. The commemoration of Poplar seems to have begun in 2003, when the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans pushed for an annual ‘Richard Poplar Day.’ In 2004, the mayor signed a proclamation establishing the holiday; she called Poplar a ‘veteran’ of the Confederate Army. The tombstone with his name on it was erect at Blandford.
But the reality is that Black men couldn’t serve in the Confederate Army. And an 1886 obituary suggests that Poplar was a cook for the soldiers, not someone engaged in combat.
Some people say that up to 100,000 Black soldiers fought for the Confederate Army, in racially integrated regiments. No evidence supports these claims, as the historian Kevin M. Levin has pointed out, but appropriating the stories of men like Poplar is a way to protect the Confederacy’s legacy. If Black soldiers fought for the South, how could the war have been about slavery?”
It is abuse on the part of these obtuse individuals to consider using a slave, a man subjugated to subhuman living conditions, destroyed by society, by war, by infamy, by the color of his skin in a white man paradise-turned-hell for black people, to consider him a willing soldier for a cause as demonic as the Confederacy.
I liken this situation to Stockholm Syndrome, where a kidnapped person shows sympathy for her kidnapper. After spending enough time with the assailant, the person develops a bond with the criminal as a psychological response and a means to survive the ordeal. It only happens as a way to cope with the reality of imminent danger, pain, and death. Outside of this circumstance the person would never side nor show sympathy for a cause as disastrous to their health, as, say, being kidnapped.
Even if, and I’m speaking in the hypothetical here, even if Richard Poplar marched in cadence with an integrated Confederate battalion, was fed daily rations, paid his sum for his service, offered a service rifle and training for which to use that rifle, walked on to a battlefield, aimed his rifle at Union soldiers and killed them, even if that, he would still be a victim operating under coercion and traumatized for life, willing to do anything just to survive.
Poplar would not have been in the proper headspace to understand that his fight, had his side won, would eventually be his ultimate ruination. Perpetual slavery in the antebellum South and perpetual slavery in the postbellum South had the Confederacy won, would have been the worst world imaginable for a black person.
Fear might drive a man to fight for an army and a people whose respect for him is nonexistent. We don’t know if Richard Poplar had a wife and kids if they were threatened by his slave drivers, overseers, slave traders, or slave masters.
Maybe the Knights of the Golden Circle (a secret white supremacist terrorist organization that wielded power and influence in the antebellum South) had threatened slaves who refused to fight for the Confederacy with death. Mind you, the Knights of the Golden Circle would later become the Knights of the White Camelia after the war (the Knights of the White Camelia would jumpstart another group now known as the Ku Klux Klan) and these guys would lynch black people as if they were rodents.
The pressure of fear, isolation, shame, torture, and death was ever-present in the black conscience before the war. Hostilities toward black Americans had been incensed and inflamed the closer the nation got to a Civil War and once the Confederate army lost its steam, its leaders lost their way, and its cause met with catastrophic losses, it was open season on black bodies in the South.
There was not a better time for white rage to retaliate against innocent black souls without fear of reprisal or consequence.
This is the stuff of nightmares that would drive a man mad and possibly an incentive, albeit a dangerous one, that might’ve led someone like Richard Poplar to fight for his captors for fear of reprisals.
But the truth is that Richard was an innocent man idiotized by a nation-state that wanted nothing more than to keep Richard and his fellow colored citizens in a perpetual state of bondage and imbecility.
A free black man was a threat to the local community. A free and educated black man was a threat to the very fiber of a racist nation.
Conclusively, this story brings Deep South white supremacist fanaticism and revisionist history to the forefront, further reminding us of just how dangerous the Lost Cause and its proponents can be in perverting the narrative of what truly happened during the Civil War and why it was fought to begin with.
Colin Smith continues:
“I asked Jeff whether he thought slavery had played a role in the start of the Civil War. ‘Oh, just a very small part. I mean, we can’t deny it was there. We know slave blocks existed.’ But only a small number of plantations even had slaves, he said.
It was a remarkable contortion of history, reflecting a century of Lost Cause propaganda.”
This story, the story of Blandford Cemetery celebrating and honoring traitors on Memorial Day, the story of Richard Poplar, and the continual virulent bile of the Lost Cause spewed across the nation is a sure sign that white supremacist ideology is alive and well. It has not suffered a final blow. The Confederacy lost the war but won the culture and revised the history books for its children, thus rekindling the flames and calling for a resurgence of the South.
“The South will rise again.” Is not just some innocuous statement spewed by Lost Cause simpletons. It’s the motto, the battlecry of an insurgency praying for its resurrection from the depths of shame and defeat.
White supremacy will use all means possible and available to save itself from public scrutiny.
If we say the war was fought to end slavery because the South wanted to protect their peculiar institutions, Lost Cause fanatics will say blacks fought for the Confederacy. If we say slavery was a horrible institution, they will say most slaves were treated like kin. Cases of violence on the part of slave owners and overseers toward slaves were rare, if not nonexistent, they say. If we say racism played a major part in the formation of the Southern economy, they will say it was greed, instead. If we say blacks were treated as subhuman, they will say blacks would have been no better off as free men in Africa since they weren’t as intellectually prudent as their white masters.
They will say slavery was a saving grace for blacks. They will say the Union wanted to encroach upon Southern pseudo-constitutional liberties. They refuse to accept the reality that the south was the aggressor in the war. They suggest that slavery played a very small part in the reason behind the war because the only reason why the Confederate states seceded from the Union was because of states’ rights!
But they never give you enough of an explanation as to what those rights were all about.
It was the states’ right to own blacks and do with them as their owners saw fit.
So, here we are, to this day, seeing just how prominent a thing it is to use black people as tokens, mere tools to promote harmful racist ideas for the benefit and promulgation of white supremacy.
I was used as a token black man in a church I frequented not too long ago. I remember a member of that predominantly white church boasting about just how multi-cultural/multi-ethnic our church had become. I asked her where the other cultures or ethnic groups were because I was one of two black people in a church filled with white Slavic people.
She simply said, “Well, you’re here!” As if I were a golden chalice or something.
White Slavic worship leaders. White Slavic pastors. White Slavic board members. White Slavic treasurers. White Slavic Russian and Ukrainian songs now and then. White Slavic cuisine. White Slavic everything.
Except for one black man who is the youth leader. Me.
And here we are, a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church. Strange that when I began to challenge the ills of racism within this church and society outside of this church, no one wanted to speak about race and racism. No one wanted to confront it. I was asked by the leadership at the time to stop talking about it.
So I left.
Sadly, to this very day, black people are used as tokens to further promote ideas, economies, policies, laws, and social philosophies that do not benefit them.
Richard Poplar is just one very famous case of this horrific strategy racist people use to protect their white hegemony in north American society.
And please, understand I am not generalizing all white people. I’m speaking of the white people, or black people, and other minorities who tokenize people, who use someone, just one person, to promote something their race would not collectively agree with.
Richard Poplar is a man whose legacy deserves nuance. We must consider his surroundings to then make a judgment on whether the man fought for his demise or fought for something he truly believed in, namely, the perpetual enslavement of his fellow black people.
Outside of this, vacuous minded individuals, namely, Lost Cause adherents, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy will religiously protect this fallacy and continue to promote the idea that Richard Poplar was a hero of the Confederacy, instead of a $30 black mule forced to serve his masters a devilish war.
Because in all honesty, that’s all he was for this dejected, soulless, God-forsaken, demon-possessed, hate-filled Confederate nation. It should have burned down and stayed in the rubble well over a century ago but it is still here.
In America, unfortunately, this racist idea of the Lost Cause will continue to smolder and burn, further gaining traction because racism was never tackled and destroyed the way it could have been. The way it should have been confronted in the Reconstruction Era. Germany eradicated Nazism from its horizon shortly after the end of the war but the United States of America opted for post-war amnesia to suture the previously seceded states back into the Union without issue. Plus, slaves had been emancipated so there was no point in dealing with racism any more than in holding traitors accountable for their insurrection. The US was not able to eradicate Confederate fanaticism because in tackling the ideology behind this failed state they would also need to confront the animosity in the soul of the nation: racism.
Richard Poplar’s tale is unfortunate but it is not rare.
Our society is fraught with examples similar to the one mentioned above by Colin Smith. Situations where black people, namely, but not only black people, have been used to further harmful structures only benefit their users.
This has to stop. And not just the Lost Cause mania that permeates the American Deep South but the tokenism that saps a person of their agency and denigrates the collective convictions of other people groups.
And I wish the Confederate iconophilia was relegated only to the American Deep South but the unfortunate truth is that I have seen the battle flag of the army of Northern Virginia hang high on the back of pick-up trucks here, in Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA! What does a flag that belonged to the failed coup, to a degenerate insurgency have to do with my city here in Alberta?
It’s a disgusting symbol that carries with it the blood of Americans, both white and black Americans who died, some to continue the disgusting institution of bondage and others in an attempt to end it.
And the fact that so many people can wield this flag with such pride is emblematic of just how far through time racism and hate can travel and shapes-shift to survive.
“It’s my Southern Pride! Nothing more!”
Pride to honor a cause that existed for no other reason than to protect a white man’s right to own black slaves, you mean.
I’ve had it.
God bless Richard Poplar’s memory. I pray that this destructive narrative that depicts him like a hero, a legend, a willing participant in a terrorist insurgency, namely, the Confederacy, crumbles into a black hole where there it dies a thousand deaths.
Long live the shame of the Confederate States of America. Long live the defeat of the Confederate States of America. Long live the death of the Confederate States of America.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. — Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Originally published at http://olivettheory.com on October 27, 2021.