History will be made in Georgia's capitol building next week. For the first time ever, the State of Georgia will recognize and honor an African-American Confederate Soldier. Governor Sonny Perdue will sign his annual proclamation honoring Confederate Memorial Day by recognizing Bill Yopp, a native of Laurens County, for his contributions to the State of Georgia. Bill Yopp is more than just a black Confederate soldier. Bill's life was not just that of a soldier, a porter, or a servant. His life was centered on the essential element of human life. His friendships transcended slavery, racism and politics. To Bill, friendship was paramount to any barriers set in his path of life.
William H. "Bill" Yopp, the fourth of eight siblings, was born in Laurens County, Georgia. Like his parents, he was a slave belonging to the family of Jeremiah Yopp. The Yopp family owned two major plantations. One was located in the western part of Dublin centered around the Brookwood Subdivision. A second was located along the eastern banks of Turkey Creek near the community known as Moore's Station. Other small plantations were scattered over the county. Jeremiah Yopp assigned Bill to his son, Thomas. Bill once said that he followed Thomas like "Mary's little lamb." The two instantly became friends. They fished, hunted and played together. Bill's childhood, while stifled by slavery, was molded by education and religion within the plantation, which included regular church services.
On January 16, 1861, John W. Yopp attended the Convention of Secession at the state capital in Milledgeville. Laurens Countians voted to side with the Cooperationists who favored remaining in the Union. Yopp, the largest plantation owner in western Laurens County, was joined by Dr. Nathan Tucker, a wealthy plantation owner from northeastern Laurens County. Dr. Tucker, a northerner by birth, voted to remain in the Union. Yopp cast his vote with the majority who voted for secession.
The first company of Confederate Soldiers in Laurens County was organized on July 9th, 1861 as the Blackshear Guards. The company eventually became attached to the 14th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Thomas Yopp was elected First Lieutenant. Nine days later Lt. Yopp was promoted to Captain when Rev. W.S. Ramsay was elected Lt. Colonel of the regiment. Bill desperately wanted to join Lieutenant Yopp. So, he enlisted in the Blackshear Guards as the company drummer. Marching in front of company going into battle was not the best place to be, especially if you cared about living. After the company completed its training in Atlanta, they moved to Lynchburg, Virginia just after the Battle of the First Manassas. In August, the company was sent to West Virginia, where they fought under the command of Gen. John B. Floyd, a former Secretary of War in the Buchanan Administration. Gen. Robert E. Lee was in overall command of the West Virginia campaign.
Bill often found himself between the battle lines. He often said "I had no inclination to go to the Union side, as I did not know the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers I did know, and I believed then as now, tried and true friends are better than friends you do not know." On several occasions, Private Yopp was sent out on foraging missions. Bill ceased to forage for food because his Captain and friend found it to be "wrong doing." Bill obtained a brush and box of shoe blackening and began to shine the shoes of the men of the regiment. He soon began performing other services for the men. Bill charged ten cents, no matter what the service was. The nickname of "Ten Cent Bill" was penned on Bill. Bill often had more money than anyone in the company. His fellow company members took delight in teaching him to read and write. When he was sick, they took care of him.
Bill had a case of home sickness. Captain Yopp paid for his trip home. Bill realized that his place was back ith Captain Yopp in Virginia. During the winter of 1861, the company became part of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The first battle of the peninsular campaign of 1862 took place on May 31st. The 14th Georgia, under the command of Gen. Wade Hampton, got into a bloody fight with the Federal forces. Four Confederate Generals were wounded or killed.
Captain Yopp was also wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines. Bill comforted Captain Yopp and accompanied him to the field hospital. After a short stay in a Richmond Hospital, Bill went back to Laurens County with the Captain, who recuperated from his injury and went back to join the company by the fall of 1862.
At the bloody siege of Fredericksburg, Captain Yopp fell when a shell burst over him. Again Bill was there, coming to the aid of his friend. Captain Yopp recovered during the winter. The company saw Stonewall Jackson being carried off to a field hospital at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Bill witnessed the pure carnage of Gettysburg from the company's position on Seminary Ridge. The Blackshear Guards missed most of the fighting those three days in July, 1863. On August 31, 1863 Capt. Yopp cashiered, or bought out his commission. He returned to the ranks as a private until April 2, 1864. Captain Yopp transferred to the Confederate Navy on board the cruiser "Patrick Henry." Bill was not allowed to go with Thomas Yopp.
By some accounts, Bill returned home until the close of the war. By another, and more official, record, he was present at Gen. Lee's surrender at Appomattox. In May of 1865, he learned of Captain Yopp's return home. He left just in time to see the wagon train of Confederate President Jefferson Davis during his attempted escape through Laurens County.
Times were hard for people of both races. Bill worked as a share cropper until 1870. He went to Macon, taking a job as a bell boy at the Brown House. There he became acquainted with many of the influential men of Georgia. Bill accompanied the owner of the hotel back home to Connecticut. After his duties were finished, he was given train fare to return home. Bill became fascinated with New York City and worked there for a short time. In 1873, Bill returned home for a short time before taking a position with the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. He fell ill with yellow fever and returned home to recuperate and spend some time with Captain Yopp.
Bill returned to New York where he worked as a porter in an Albany Hotel. There he again met the influential men of the state. He briefly served a family in California. In his travels, Bill visited the capitals of Europe. He worked for ten years as a porter in the private car of the president of Delaware and Hudson Railroad. Bill then worked for the United States Navy aboard the "Collier Brutus". His travels amounted to a trip around the world.
As the world was at war for the first time, Bill realized that old age had crept upon him. He returned home and found his friend Captain Yopp in poverty. Captain Yopp was about to enter the Confederate Soldier's Home in Atlanta. Bill took a job on the Central of Georgia Railroad. During World War I, Bill was given a place to live at Camp Wheeler near Macon. He made regular visits to the Soldier's Home providing Captain Yopp with some of his money along with fruits and other treats. Bill won the admiration of the officers at Camp Wheeler, who presented him with a gold watch upon his departure. Bill's generosity toward Capt. Yopp soon spread to all of the soldiers in the home. He enlisted the help of the editor of The Macon Telegraph for aid in a fund raising campaign. Bill and his friends were able to raise funds for each veteran at Christmas time. The campaign became more successful every year. The Dublin Courier Herald contributed to the campaign in 1919 when the amount given to each veteran was three dollars. Bill took time each Christmas to speak to the veterans in the chapel of the home. The veterans were so impressed they presented him a medal in March of 1920. Bill had a book published about his life. The books were sold with the proceeds going to the soldiers in the home.
Captain Yopp's health failed. The Board of Trustees voted to allow Bill a permanent place at the home. Bill stayed at his friend's side, just as he had done in the muddy trenches of Virginia nearly sixty years before. Captain Yopp died on the morning of January 23rd, 1920. Bill, now in his eighties, gave the funeral address. He reminisced about the good times and his affection for his friend. Bill was a popular member of the Atlanta Camp No. 159 of the United Confederate Veterans, who held their meetings every third Monday at the capitol. Bill died on June 3, 1936. He was buried with his fellow soldiers at the Confederate Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. After the body of Amos Rucker was disinterred to be laid next to the body of his wife, Bill became the lone African - American soldier of the Confederate Army to lie in the cemetery. His gravestone provided by the State of Georgia reads:
DRUMMER BILL YOPP, CO. H, 14TH GA. INF., C.S.A.