THE SLAVE WHO WAS A SOLDIER: DAUGHTER SEARCHES FOR TRUTH
Memorial will honor man who fought for Confederate Army
Cliff Harrington at Charlotte Observer
Wary Clyburn is a local Civil War hero I bet many of you don't know about. He's a former slave who fought for the Confederate Army from 1863 to 1865. He was born in Lancaster County but moved to Union. Many of his descendants live in the Wingate area, and they're planning to honor his memory next month.
Pension documents confirm that Clyburn was a former slave and a Civil War veteran. The documents say he volunteered for the Confederacy with Capt. Frank Clyburn, who was the son of the man who owned Wary Clyburn (Note: The documents spelled his first name several ways: Werry, Weary and Wary. His daughter says the correct spelling is Wary).
According to the pension documents, Wary Clyburn served as the bodyguard for Frank Clyburn in Company E of the 12th regiment. Wary carried Frank on his shoulders to rescue him during intense fighting. Wary also served as a special aid to Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Monday morning I met Mattie Clyburn Rice of High Point; she's the daughter of Wary Clyburn. She had come to the Heritage Room at the Old Monroe Courthouse to get information about her father. She already had a good bit of documentation.
That's where I saw the documents that had been filed when Wary wanted to get pension payments as a Civil War veteran. Clyburn did get his pension in 1926, and after that many other former slaves also got pensions, according to his daughter.
Mattie Clyburn Rice was born in 1922 and her father died in 1930. Rice said her father spent a lot of time telling her about his life. He was too old to work in the fields.
"He would send my brothers to the fields and he would stay with me," she said. "He would tell me about his life and I didn't have any computers or anything, so I had to remember all of this. I kept it in my head and I've been looking and searching."
When she became an adult, she left Union County but continued to look for information about her father, including a search for the site where he was buried. Mattie Clyburn Rice said she found her father's grave about 10 years ago. It's in what we now know as Hillcrest Cemetery. She didn't have time to show me the exact spot Monday.
However, when the discussion turned to her father, a big smile lit her face. She loved her father and that has driven her to gather information. Even now, she wants to know more. There is a photo of Wary Clyburn, but his daughter didn't have it with her. She had a photocopy. It showed a man with a grand smile, seated with what appeared to be his Confederate military jacket on. He was holding a fiddle.
Mattie Clyburn Rice said when she was small, her parents took her to First Church of God on Morgan Mill Road. In her search for information, she again has found the church and that's where the family plans to honor Mr. Clyburn on Aug. 26. There will be a family reunion.
The obvious question is this: Why would a slave volunteer to fight on the side of people who held him in bondage? That's a question that only Mr. Clyburn can answer. Too often when it comes to the Civil War and slavery, we hear versions of the truth that are woven from conjecture and narrow perspectives. It's refreshing when you find the truth. This is it.
Wary Clyburn was a brave and loyal hero. And he deserves to be honored by all of us.
Wary Clyburn will be honored Aug. 26 during a reunion of his descendants. The ceremony will be at First Church of God, 301 Morgan Mill Road, Charlotte.
GOT INFORMATION? Mattie Rice Clyburn is still compiling information about her father. If you have information, please write to her: Mattie Rice Clyburn, P.O. Box 1503, High Point, NC 27262.