More on the Black Horse

15 04 2008


It’s funny how these things go, but the following I think illustrates how research has changed in the digital age.  I was frankly surprised by the lack of reaction to this post on the Black Horse Cavalry I made a few days ago.  You may not realize it, but what that post had to say about the naming of the troop is pretty controversial and directly contradicts the conventional wisdom.  So, I posted a question on the Civil War Discussion Group asking if anyone was aware of the source of the Payne quote, in which he stated that the name Black Horse was chosen for the troop from Warrenton, VA to reflect its members’ support of slavery (we were all extreme pro-slavery men).  With e-quaintance John Furey’s help I was able to rule out The Confederate Veteran.  Friend Teej Smith sent me this link to the Museum of the Confederacy’s collection of papers associated with Brigadier General “Billy” Payne.  That list led me to an article in North & South magazine, Vol. II, #7 by the MOC’s John Coski, consisting of transcriptions of various Payne writings.  While the quote in question was not included therein, the article did include a caption on an engraving that stated that the troop was so named because its members rode black horses.

One of the group’s members happened to have Mr. Coski’s email address, so I fired off a missive to him in which I linked to my earlier post here and asked him about his article in the magazine.  I shortly received a reply in which Mr. Coski informed me that at the time the article was researched he was not aware of the Payne quote, but that he learned of it later, and that the caption was the editor’s, not his.  He mentioned that the quote was included in a book on the troop, The Black Horse Cavalry: Defend our Beloved Country by Lewis Marshall Helm.  Mr Coski also indicated that he believed the quote was from a recalled conversation that appeared in the March 29, 1903 Richmond News.

I also contacted a fellow named Don Hackenson, who has the Helm book for sale on his website.  Don is a descendant of a member of the Black Horse and something of an authority on Virginia cavalry, particularly the troop and John S. Mosby.  He told me that while the quote is indeed included in Helms’ book, it’s not footnoted (I ordered it anyway UPDATE: I received the book, and it is indeed footnoted).  He graciously offered to get in touch with Brigadier General Helm to find out his source for the quote.  Four Helms served in the Troop, two of whom were killed in the war, and a younger brother, Lyttleton, nearly fought a duel with John Mosby after the war.  Don also is in possession of quite a few of Billy Payne’s papers given him by a descendant, and he promised to go through them in search of anything similar to the quote in question.

Don also called me yesterday to tell me about a pamphlet, Chronicles of a Virginia Family: The Klomans of Warrenton, by Erasmus Helm Kloman, Jr., which includes a version of the naming of the Black Horse Troop consistent with the Payne account in the Helms book.  However, the wording in both books are a bit too similar for me to consider them separate and independent.

From what little I’ve been able to learn about Billy Payne, he seems to have remained an unreconstructed rebel for the rest of his life.  He was able to rebuild his law practice in Warrenton after the war, while John Mosby was pretty much run out of that town for turning Republican.  So, Payne may not have been too concerned with the impact his story might have on the spirit of conciliation.  But as it stands now, I have but one shaky source.  If anyone has access to the March 29, 1903 Richmond News (it may have been the News-Leader, since the two dailies merged that year), any help you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Look for more on the Black Horse here in the future.