Saturday, July 19, 2008

'Colored Confederate' has his day in Monroe

'Colored Confederate' has his day in Monroe By Donald W. Patterson
Staff Writer
Friday, July 18
updated 1:40 pm

Mattie Clyburn Rice of High Point will take part in an unusual ceremony today, but then, she’s an unusual woman.

She’s the 87-year-old daughter of Weary Clyburn, a “colored Confederate,” a slave who served in the Civil War.

“His is a hero’s service,” said Earl L. Ijames, a curator at the N.C. Museum of History. “Him serving is really an incredible story.”

Rice feels the same.

That’s why she’s agreed to allow the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the town of Monroe to honor her father’s memory this afternoon.

SCV officials say it’s rare for their organization to pay tribute to a former slave.

“They are few and far between,” Michael Chapman, commander of an SCV group near Monroe, said of today’s ceremony. “If a family doesn’t want their (relative) honored, we are not going to do that.”

Equally rare will be Rice’s participation. Nationwide, records show that only 30 daughters of Confederate veterans still survive. Officials with the United Daughters of the Confederacy could not say how many are African Americans.

What’s important to Rice is that after decades of searching, she’s been able to document her father’s past.

Rice and her family have declined requests for interviews, saying they would talk about Weary at a news conference after the ceremony in Monroe.

“She’s not the kind of person who wants the limelight,” Ijames said. “I told her this whole event vicariously honors the thousands of 'colored Confederates’ who served in various capacities and never had a voice to express it.”

As a child growing up on a Union County farm, Rice listened to her father’s stories about the war.

For years, Rice had tried to find records to support her father’s claims and convince her own daughters that their grandfather had served in the Confederacy.

Then, three years ago, she found the man who had the answers.

“It’s such a special story the way this unfolded,” said Ijames (pronounced Iams). “I don’t believe in coincidence. I think it’s the Lord orchestrating stuff.”

Records show that Weary Clyburn was born about 1841 on the plantation of Thomas Clyburn in Lancaster County, S.C.

Thomas Clyburn had a son, Frank, who was about two years younger than Weary.

“They were best friends and grew up together,” Ijames said. “That’s not an uncommon story.”

In 1861, Frank joined what would become Company E of the 12th S.C. Volunteers. Soon after, Weary escaped the plantation and joined Frank, serving as his bodyguard.

Twice, Ijames said, Weary saved Frank’s life. Once, Frank had been wounded in a battle near Charleston and later during fighting near Petersburg, Va. Both times, Weary carried his master off the field under fire.

Ijames believes Weary probably fought alongside Frank because Rice described her father as an expert marksman.

Weary also recounted that he performed personal services for Gen. Robert E. Lee, a claim that Ijames said has not been confirmed.

However, Frank, an officer, and Weary served under Lee throughout the war, and Weary would name one of his sons Lee.

After Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Frank and Weary walked back to Lancaster County together.

After the war, Weary worked as a sharecropper and painter. Frank became a state senator.

About 1920, Weary moved to Union County. In 1921, his wife, Eliza, gave birth to a daughter, Mattie.

The birth certificate listed Eliza’s age as 32; Weary was in his late 70s.

It was his second marriage.

In 1926, when he was 85, Weary applied for and received a Confederate pension. The application described him as “too old to work and too proud to beg or steal.”

The amount of the pension isn’t known, but it would have been his first governmental compensation for his war service.

After her father’s death in 1930, Rice treasured a picture he had given her. Historians believe it shows Weary in 1913 at the 50th Gettysburg reunion.

On his lapel, he’s wearing what appears to be a Confederate veterans medal.

As Rice looked for documentation of her father’s past, Ijames had been researching “colored Confederates.”

“It may raise an eyebrow,” Ijames said of the phrase, “but historically, it is accurate.”

So far, his research has turned up more than 250.

“Frank wasn’t the only officer who brought his slave with him,” Ijames said. “It was a common occurrence.”

Ijames still marvels at the day in August 2005, while he was still working in the Office of Archives and History, that Rice wandered in.

She had traveled to Raleigh with two of her daughters in search of her birth certificate. But those documents are kept at the state Health Department.

“It was so hot outside, I didn’t have the nerve to tell her she was in the wrong place,” Ijames recalled.

While Rice cooled off, Ijames struck up a conversation. When he learned her maiden name was Clyburn, he asked, “on a whim,” if she knew Weary Clyburn.

“Lord, have mercy,” Rice responded. “How do you know my daddy?”

“Your daddy?” Ijames replied. “You wait right here.”

He hurried off to get Weary’s pension records, and Rice soon had her answers.

“Lord, have mercy,” she said. “I’ve been searching for 75 years for records on my daddy.”

This proved what she had been telling her family for years.

“The daughters were aghast,” Ijames said. “For families (like theirs), there tends to be a lot of discussion about whether this (kind of information) should be made public. I got the feeling the same thing went on in their family.”

When the Sons of Confederate Veterans told Rice they wanted to honor her father, she agreed.

Today, there’ll be a parade, honor guard and the reading of proclamations. The group also will place a small Veterans Administration stone at Weary’s unmarked grave in Hillcrest Cemetery.

In a news release, the group said it wanted to honor Weary “for his faithful friendship, heroism under fire and the devotion to the principles in which he believed.”

Contact Donald W. Patterson at 373-7027 or

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