War monuments are ubiquitous to the Deep South, and many small towns have a memorial commemorating the Confederate cause.
But a monument in Canton, Mississippi may be one-of-a-kind. It honors African Americans who fought for the Confederacy, and during Black History Month, the memorial provides a unique perspective.
by Leon Pantenburg
The monument to African American Confederates is appropriately displayed in the Old City Cemetery, two blocks off Main Street in Canton, Mississippi. Surrounded by old tombstones in the well-kept cemetery, it doesn’t appear unique until you look at the inscriptions on it. (See the video below.)
The obelisk honors African Americans who served with Harvey’s Scouts, a mixed group of black and white partisans who operated in Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. These African Americans were active combatants in the fighting, according to historical records, and didn’t just serve in support roles.
The monument cost $3,000 and was paid for by W.H. Howcutt, of New Orleans, a former white member of Harvey’s Scouts. Canton was chosen as the site for the monument because many of the scouts were from that area.
Harvey’s Scouts were a cavalry unit armed with Spencer repeating rifles and two pistols each that carried six charges. Subsequently, each man had twenty shots, and the Spencer rifles could be reloaded on the run. Sabres were generally discarded, because they got in the way when a soldier dismounted.
The scouts numbered between 25 and 40 men, and they were a quick-response team. They made a name for themselves as a bunch of badass, quick-reaction, hard-fighting partisans.
“Gen. Joseph E. Johnson, a man not addicted to superlatives, speaks very highly of this band of partisans.1 In the Georgia campaign it operated chiefly in the rear, and on the flanks of Sherman, who compares it to “a nest of yellow Jackets continually buzzing about my trains, and stinging severely when I attempted to drive them away.” Gen Steven D. Lee, very high authority, writes that, “they were everywhere conspicuous for activity, enterprise, persistence and intrepidity.
“The command was composed of the best materials, and they went without a murmur, wherever the emergency demanded, and freely shed their blood in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Our own people here at home, knew them best and loved them most. They knew that when Harvey and his men were about, they had little to apprehend from the raids of the enemy, or from those itinerant bands, the curse of all civil wars, that follow on the flanks of both armies to plunder and murder the unprotected and infirm.” – Harvey’s Scouts History
The Canton obelisk is unique, according to George “Bubba” Bolm, director of the Old Court House Museum in Vicksburg, Miss.
“The Canton monument is the only one we know of that honors African American Confederates, ” Bolm said.
Canton is located about 15 miles north of Jackson on Highway 51. The downtown area looks like it should be a movie set. Hollywood producers think so too, and several movies have been produced in the area. Probably the most notable is John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill”, which was shot at the courthouse in the town square.
With a general idea of where the monument might be, I went to the social center of any community – the barbershop – for more information. The barbers knew exactly where to find the monument, and were interested in my project. They asked me stop back when I found it. I left with detailed directions and a great haircut! I’ll be back to Canton for further historical research and the next time I need a haircut.
Click here to read the complete history of Harvey’s Scouts.
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