SUBMITTED AND WRITTEN BY: Earl Ijames, NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
In July 2014 I had been invited to give the keynote program to commemorate the 150th year since the Battle of Atlanta. The Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum in Georgia wanted me to debut my film Earl Ijames’ Colored Confederates…
The program was a sellout and a huge success. A large and diverse audience was introduced to the subject of “Confederates of Color” for the first time. I had been researching, writing, and producing programs about the subject since the early 1990s and considered by many as the subject matter expert. Dr. Henry Louis Gates has used my research and likeness in his 2009 film Looking for Lincoln to help better explain the President’s transformation to adopt an Emancipation policy in the midst of the Civil War.
After an hour-long extended program and day-long exhibit, I prepared to continue my tour by researching the subject at the Archives of Mississippi. I learned more about Confederates of Color in that two-day research trip. My family and I rested for the next stop at the Civil War Museum of New Orleans. After spending a day in the Crescent City, we prepared for the final leg of our tour to San Antonio, TX where my maternal grandmother had recently relocated from North Carolina.
After a tour of the Alamo Museum, we retired to my Aunt’s home where my grandmother stayed. Upon arriving there late that evening my grandmother says: “Earl, I’ve got something for you that belonged to your grandfather.”
Admittedly, the first thought that came to mind was money! I was taken aback when my grandmother unwrapped a velvet cloth and handed me a Klingenthal sword from the Civil War. I started to ask her about it when she stopped me in my tracks, declaring: “Earl! I don’t know anything about this. You need to call your Uncle Bill (my grandfather’s youngest brother who was born in 1924 at Reynolds, NC). My grandfather, James O. Wharton (1914- 1999), his four brothers, two sisters, and parents (Susie and Monroe Wharton) lived on a Davie County farm that Monroe Wharton inherited from his father, John Wharton. The farm is still in the family.
Back to the subject, I immediately called my Uncle Bill back in Mocksville, NC from San Antonio and asked him about the sword. My Uncle Bill replied: “Yeah, son, your Pa (Grandfather) inherited it from our dad (Monroe) who got it from his dad, John, who served in the War.” I exclaimed, “You mean the Civil War!?” To wit Uncle Bill replied: “There ain’t no other War other than the one we were in (WWII)!” Incredulous, I asked Uncle Bill why no one had told me about this artifact before that time. Uncle Bill replied: “We always talk about World War II” (Uncle Bill’s WWII Battalion was among the first, if not the first, American G.I.’s ashore after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945).
Uncle Bill then proceeds to state: “Yeah, my grandpa was enslaved to A.C. Wharton who owned what is now Clemmons, NC. My grandpa went to the War with A.C.’s son. That’s how we got the farm and the sword.” I exclaimed: “Shoot! I could have put this in my film!”