More Nonsense About Black Confederates

This story was referenced in its entirety without any analysis over at Michael Hardy’s blog.  It’s the standard story that points to a loyal slave – in this case Cliff Harrington Wary Clyburn – who served in the Confederate army and later collected a pension.  The article is truly bizarre: “The documents say he volunteered for the Confederacy with Capt. Frank Clyburn, who was the son of the man who owned Wary Clyburn[.]”  Let’s put aside for now the obvious tension, if not contradiction, between the idea of Clyburn volunteering for service when at the same time he was owned.  Of course, the article wouldn’t be complete without the all-important reference to slave loyalty:

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.

I can’t tell you how many slaves “served” at one point during the war as Lee’s “special aid.”  By the way did anybody consider that pension documents need to be interpreted?  I suspect that Clyburn viewed his pension application in terms of financial gain and filled out the forms in hopes that his application would be approved by a white employee.  What would you say?

The writer ends with the following:

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. IN MY OPINION

Apparently we’ve found “the truth” of Clyburn’s story through a document written over 50 years after the fact without any attempt at interpretation.  There is no indication that Clyburn left any additional documents for consideration, but according to the reporter we have everything we need.

33 comments… add one
  • Kevin Jan 11, 2008 @ 8:33

    Mr. Johnson, — Thanks for taking the time to write and I am sorry that you are so upset. Of course I offer no facts about Mr. Clyburn since I am not the one researching his life. I was simply responding to the information presented in the article which shows nothing about motivation or the important questions that need to be answered. If you do a search on my site you will find plenty about the antics of H.K. Edgerton. If I was to gauge the truth of this story by your apparent passion than I would be forced to conclude that everything stated is in fact true. Unfortunately, that is not the way historical analysis works. Thanks again for your contribution.

  • Frank Johnson Jan 11, 2008 @ 8:21

    To the Honorable Historian,

    I am truly sorry that it took me five months to run across your story titled:
    “More Nonsense About Black Confederates”

    If you really spend as much time reading as you say that you do, it would seem odd to me that you would overlook the headline of the story that you were refering to:

    Memorial will honor man who fought for Confederate Army.

    Like it or not, the story is entirely true in that Wary Clyburn was a slave, was a confederate soldier, his daughter is searching for the truth and he is now and will always be honored by many.
    In contrast, your story offers no facts about Mr. Clyburn, his family nor the intent of his actions during the civil war. Your biased oppinion about blacks in the Confederate Army does nothing to support the facts in this story and could serve no purpose but to belittle Mr Clyburn and the daughter that loves him. Is your viewpoint so important to you that you have no compassion? In your attempts to discredit blacks in Confederate Cause, maybe you should contact H. K. Edgerton. In case you haven’t heard of him, he is a black man that is very pround of his southern heritage, wears the Confederate Uniform, carries the Confederate Battle Flag and has probably done more to decrease racism in the south than any man in America. I’m quite sure that his beliefs will also seem like nonsense to you but if you want to try to discredit someone, he would be a better match than a woman who trying to honor her father and his memory.

  • Kevin Levin Nov 15, 2007 @ 5:40

    Thanks for the Simpson script. Obviously I can’t convince you that I’ve read this book so I won’t bother nor do I really care whether you believe me one way or the other. Honestly, I simply don’t believe that it is worth much discussion which is why I’ve had so little to say. Please feel free to comment on other posts, but as for this one it looks like it has run its course.


  • Chris Nov 14, 2007 @ 22:58


    I agree with you that it is important to look with a wide spectrum in these matters. For example, I feel that it is extremely important to include the Middle Passage in any discussion of African slavery in North America. As far as the scholarly review goes, I cannot answer to that but I will say this, I was making a concerted effort to have it reviewed by you in earnest. Yet the more we discussed our various points of views I realized that you most likely never read “Black Confederates.” You’ll forgive me if my assertion is erroneous. This truly is a shame because you might even had found some things that supported your opinions –or- more likely found that while the book was more interested in a small aspect of this topic it continually acknowledged the greater picture regarding the slave perspective. This is why I found the book interesting.

    If my assertion is correct that you have not read “Black Confederates” then it is utterly sickening to me to think that one would put their opinions above a book that they have never read. This level of arrogance in academia is profoundly disturbing and disappointing.

    Aside from this revelation I have thoroughly enjoyed debating with you but it was anything from emotional. If anything it was frustrating in your evasion of answering my initial question. I think that we both have had some interesting points while wholly bringing different opinions to the fore, though I do feel that many of my assertions have been proven tenfold.

    On a side note I will say that I wish the same wide spectrum and unbiased perspectives you speak of would be applied to the origins of the Civil War, and conveyed to the broad audience, if so it is without question that a very different political climate would emerge that would leave us all with a very different view, in a word; war-measure.
    With the many books coming out like “Lincoln Reconsidered” and “Complicity” I can only trust that this wide spectrum will continue to permeate the mainstream view of our most important war.

    I have a few other books on the table ahead of “Confederate Emancipation” (Elmira, Death Camp of the North for one) but I will get back to you after I have read it.

    For now I will leave you on a lighter note. Though not a big fan I liken The Simpsons TV show to that of a modern Voltaire. Universities are already beginning to study the Grateful Dead’s social and political commentary, so it is not much of a stretch to believe that 50 years on they might even look to The Simpsons satire to understand our story. The following is a transcript from an episode where the Indian convenience store clerk, Apu, takes an oral exam before an immigration officer to get his citizenship. I’ve always found it somewhat amusing and quite telling. Enjoy.

    Proctor: All right, here’s your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?
    Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter–
    Proctor: Wait, wait… just say slavery.
    Apu: Slavery it is, sir.
    Episode: 3F20, Much Apu About Nothing

    Welcome to America,

  • Kevin Levin Nov 14, 2007 @ 6:57

    Chris, — My goal is not to push your emotional buttons, but I do believe this thread has been played out. As to my suspicions about _Black Confederates_ I point you to the very first page of the book:

    Notice the question being asked: As a research project such a question is inadequate on a number of different levels. The uphsot is that a wide spectrum of evidence is fed through a very narrow question and this makes for sloppy scholarship. Postwar sources are very difficult to interpret. In my own research on the Crater I came across Stonewall Jackson’s servant at the 1903 reenactment in Petersburg. He was the only black man who took part in the event. While white Virginians interpreted this as continued loyalty on the part of black Virginians a closer look at the political climate leaves you with a very different view. The other problem is that this book is published by small independent press that markets non-scholarly/partisan studies. As far as I can tell their books get little attention in the area of peer-review. I have nothing more to say about this book and I apologize ahead of time if it is not satisfying. Let me say in closing that I have no problem with the idea of loyal slaves, but if I am to believe it I want to see an analytical study that demonstrates it-nothing more, nothing less.

    Finally, as to your comments re: UTC. I disagree that the book is a complete distortion; after all, Stowe’s family was in close contact with fugitive and freed slaves so it is difficult to believe that there is nothing redeemable in the book. That said, if you want to disregard entirely go right ahead as we have a number of accounts of the horrors of slavery from the slaves themselves.

  • Chris Nov 14, 2007 @ 0:22


    First of all the reason I brought up “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is that I was making an analogy, as to how we perceive, or “remember” the War and events surrounding it. What Stowe presents is pure fiction base on events told to her. I think that we both can agree that she had a “set” agenda. Here’s another analogy. Ever see the movie “J.F.K.?”
    This is not to mean that slavery was benign or less horrific, but I do feel that my question is still valid; why did she feel that she needed to exaggerate? Alarmingly it appears that you believe that the question cannot be asked without somehow belittling slavery. The two are not contingent on each other. Wow, what a jump in logic. That’s a shame because this kind of reasoning limits one greatly.
    As far as the horrific aspects of slavery goes, I would say a good place to start would be the Middle Passage, all things after are relatively less-horrific. It would appear your complete indignation at the barbaric practice of slavery has utterly clouded your judgment which proves my point on so many levels.

    Indeed let’s cut to the chase and talk about “Black Confederates” please! Tell me precisely why the references and sources in “Black Confederates” are invalid and I will cease my argument.

    Until then,

  • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2007 @ 7:39

    You were the one who brought up UTC, not me. I don’t see how it is even relevant to the question of black Confederates. You are correct that her information was gained second hand, but what conclusions do you want to draw from that? Is this somehow supposed to mean that slavery was benign or less horrific than what Stowe presents? I for one will not go down that road. The actions of the slaves during the Civil War is evidence enough for me as to how they felt about slavery. If you want to talk about black Confederates fine, but let’s not turn this into a question about the horror that was slavery.

  • Chris Nov 13, 2007 @ 7:31


    I told you why I am interested in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and I would also say that there is a general consensus among academia that Stowe greatly exaggerated her story considering that she never set foot in the South, thus my question remains valid. I believe that it is pretty clear as to how we should view this book in a historical context. How you chose to remember it is your choice.


  • Chris Nov 13, 2007 @ 7:17

    I will indeed get back to you after completing Levine’s book, though I doubt it will change much in the way of my opinion on the subject after a precursor look at the intro and conclusion. I trust you will read “Black Confederate” as well.

    Until then,


  • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2007 @ 5:53

    It seems that this thread is dragging on so I will wait until you’ve read Bruce Levine’s book on the subject. I honestly have no idea why you are so hung up on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Historians have analyzed that book in any number of ways; in other words, there is no consensus on how it should be considered as a historical source. Our understanding of slavery is based on an incredibly broad range of sources.

  • Chris Nov 12, 2007 @ 21:30


    I guess you did not understand what I meant by “this subject.” I was referring to any Civil War theme that gave attention to the likes of Black Confederates (or even non-traditional origins of the War, Northern war crimes, Northern culpability pre and post Civil War. etc.). If you could send me a list of books on these subjects written by Southerners that you feel are creditable within academia I would appreciate it. I apologize for being overly simplistic but I have not found these books.

    I am interested in Uncle Tom’s Cabin because I believe it is indicative of a theme, acute Northern propaganda. Once “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is accepted thusly (as I believe it is more and more within academic circles) to then presume that this practice stopped after its publication and indeed after the Civil War would be irresponsible. To be sure both sides would then begin to engage in a plethora of propaganda, but my question is; why did the North believe this was necessary at anytime? I think that this is a fair question.

    Look, I just started reading “Black Confederates” (I since finished) and I went online to look into the subject more; I then came across your page, (the word “nonsense” should have keyed me off as to the penchant of the blog, but I went into it anyways) and then after reading your comments I asked you a question, “What are we to make of these findings?” a question that you have yet to answer aside from belittling the book with unspecified detractions. If you feel that you needed address this tell me so but please do not assign your assumption to me based on what should be a simple question.

    -On this subject you said, “The very fact that we have to have this discussion is evidence of how flimsy the suggestion is.” No offence but I would hate to be one of your students.
    -You “use(d) the word ‘serve’ in reference to black participation in the war.” Again, you have not addressed black participation in the Continental Army and why it is different then the Civil War, namely in the way we have “chosen” to remember it.
    – You also said “Proponents of this nonsense hope to use this idea to distance the Confederate experiment from slavery and race.” Assumptions aside, have you read “Black Confederates?” I am sorry but this book does not fit your theory. Also, this argument, as flimsy and as crude as it is could be used to explain why the North went to war, “…to distance the (Northern) experiment from slavery and race.” There are two big differences though; the South had benefit of hindsight and as the North went to war costing millions their lives it continued to have a subjective relationship with Africans via trade and extensive economic holdings in the plantation system, albeit off shore. Sound absurd? I agree (to a point). Let’s stay focused.
    -I do not subscribe to “…simplistic suggestion of loyalty” in regards to American slavery. I do however subscribe to a complicated suggestion of loyalty. I think when dealing with the question of why a group or nation moved towards a means (like war) very often money and power arises as its ends. On the other hand when dealing with slippery slope of the individual question, his or her means almost always lead to self-preservation as their sole end. Self preservation can be far more complex than any war and can lead to many perplexing notions such as slave loyalty and black Confederates.
    -I agree that we should look into “how the war changed the slave-master relationship.” I also believe that we should look again at the slave-master relationship before the War because I do not believe that we have a complete understanding of it, because outside of the Slave Narratives it is replete with assumptions beginning with “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

    Good talking to you,

  • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2007 @ 5:43

    Chris, — You said: “It begs the question, how can a Southerner work on this subject without being labeled despairingly as Neo-Confederate, Southern Apologist or in the very least tagging his/her work as inaccurate and exaggerated?”

    I have shelves filled with some of the most interesting Civil War history of the last 30 years and most of it is written by white Southerners. I have no idea what this statement of yours means. Can we please stop making these overly simplistic distinctions between what northerners and southerners believe? They are not helpful at all. And please explain why you are so hung up on Uncle Tom’s Cabin – it’s one book.

    I don’t have anything else to say about so-called “black Confederates.” The very fact that we have to have this discussion is evidence of how flimsy the suggestion is. You question why I use the word “serve” in reference to black participation in the war. This should be obvious. Proponents of this nonsense hope to use this idea to distance the Confederate experiment from slavery and race. In other words, if black willingly served in the ranks than the Confederacy was not trying to protect it. Well, this is absurd. I am suggesting that we must back off from this conclusion and look instead at how the war changed the slave-master relationship. Blacks were surely present in Confederate armies, but we need to understand their role and move the discussion beyond this overly simplistic suggestion of loyalty.

    I don’t blame or excuse white Southerners from taking on an overly defensive stance towards various questions. In the end I don’t really care. My only concern as a historian is that what is spoken or published is understood for what it is. That said, once again I am wary of generalizations regarding what southerners believe or don’t believe. I’ve discovered that what people believe in the context of the Civil War has very littel to do with their personal history or place of birth.

  • Chris Nov 7, 2007 @ 22:16

    It appears we are at a crossroads.
    I just picked up a copy of “Confederate Emancipation” (I had already ordered it at the Harvard Bookstore). Thanks for the hardy recommendation. I am looking forward to reading it. I have already read the intro and conclusion and have some thoughts that I would like to share with you later.

    In regards to the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” reference; I was merely making the point that there are fallacies on both sides of this conflict but only one side is considered so.

    I’d like to address some of these assumptions that you made if I may. You said “most people have an axe to grind.” – I understand Neo-Confederate culture and recognize that it can sometimes be impassioned and full of conjecture (though mostly the latter appearing on the fringe). But I would not say that they have a “set conclusion” pulled out of thin air. The only “set conclusion” they might have is proving that most of the South was not evil for fighting the War (as you conclude Lee was in your ‘Why the Civil War Still Matters’ bit) and dispelling some of the myths, and dare I say, propaganda such as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that have defined their region from an outside p.o.v., and to show that there is some paradoxical accounts that neither side has really come to grips with. I would say that this is in fact all they need.
    And what if they do have an axe to grind? Can you blame them? People can usually tell when lies are being told to misrepresent them or their culture. On this matter if you can faithfully say that the South has been dealt a fair hand from 1852 on in the annals of American (e.g. Northern) history then these Southerners are indeed unjustified in there impetus to right a perceived wrong. But if you can not maintain this or if the South got the smallest whiff of disobedience to the truth (see “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) then they should be in the very least, mildly indignant. It begs the question, how can a Southerner work on this subject without being labeled despairingly as Neo-Confederate, Southern Apologist or in the very least tagging his/her work as inaccurate and exaggerated? I am sorry but the North made this monster born out of their own zest to define truth as they saw it. Again, I ask you what are we to make of these accounts, narratives, etc. but as of yet all I have received is a soliloquy on why these perspectives are silly and sloppy.

    Next you use the term “to serve in the Army.” A simple affirmation, but why you have chosen it interests me. Under this same logic many, if not all of the Africans (slave and free) that fought with the Continental Army become annulled to history. But this is not the case regarding this war. So to apply the term “serve(d) in the Army” simply frames it within an argument that exonerates one side and debases another while dismissing other resources which brings me back to my original point. This to me shows intent, bias and a smidgen of set conclusions and of course more assumptions. If you could look at “Black Confederates” again I would appreciate it because in trying to balance my own readings with some of your assertions I feel that we are just banging our heads here.

    I am afraid that I will have will have to get back to you on my first thoughts on “Confederate Emancipation.” I will read it, I promise. But in the meantime could look at few books that I have already read or are going to read and give me your opinions of them so I have a greater understanding of where you are coming from, because from what I am getting from your blog it seems a little inciting under the guise balanced writing and thought.

    The books:
    War Crimes Against Southern Civilians (Cisco)
    Lincoln Reconsidered (Donald)
    When Sherman Marched North From the Sea (Campbell)
    And the War Came, The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860-61 (Stampp)
    Complicity (Farrow)
    The Secret Six, The True Tail of the Men Who Conspired With John Brown (Renehan)
    Elmira, Death Camp of the North (Horigan)


  • Kevin Levin Nov 7, 2007 @ 5:19

    I am not sure what you mean by “you have Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” I am interested in the history of the Civil War and the way Americans have chosen to remember the war. That I tend to concentrate on certain sources is a function of one of this blog’s goals which is to illustrate the way the war has been remembered by what tends to be left out. Let’s not confuse that with an assumption about my own personal beliefs.

    As I’ve said before the problem with references to black Confederates is that most people who write about it have an axe to grind or a set conclusion that they hope to prove. Well, given the source material out there you can indeed do just that. The problem is that the Confederacy did not allow black southerners to serve in the army. What more do you want to here on this? Thousands were with the army for various reasons and I have no doubt that a few picked up a gun at some point, but that does not get supporters of this view what they need. What we do need are studies about how the war transformed the slave-master relationship or race relations generally given the fact that thousands of black men traveled with the various armies. That does not mean they served as soldiers. Again, I would suggest that you read Bruce Levine’s Confederate Emancipation (Oxford University Press.

  • Chris Nov 7, 2007 @ 1:24


    Thanks for getting back to me. I hear what you are saying yet I did not hear it in your above entries prior to my comment. “Nonsense” was your theme, dismissiveness was the means in confirming your thesis.

    First, the “sloppy work” in Black Confederates is probably due to the fact that it is mostly from primary sources and published by a small company and is not tied to any university. Historians are supposed to look for primary sources whenever possible. Letters and narratives usually fall into this category. Newspapers might not be considered a primary source but they are nonetheless viewed as important sources (even more so in the absence of conflict). Again I ask, supercilious critiques aside, what are we to make of these narratives and letters found within “Black Confederates?” I do not think the sloppy publishing really has any bearing on this.

    The only question that is important is, are these sources accurate. From reading Slave Narratives (including Douglass’ and not the one’s where they all served under “Stonewall” Jackson), I believe they are, or in the very least, very plausible. An incredible amount of penchant excretes from amid the horrors of these narratives that cannot be ignored. The level of perceived paradox within these writings is significant to say the least. It is far easier, and I might add lazier to assume hatred among the slave, master relationship. Yet the “generalizations” mentioned only work to dispel these little “tripe about the faithful slave,” as if this affinity was only one sided.

    You say there is no need for “individual stories interpreted by individuals who have an agenda in drawing certain conclusions.” I ask you, what is history without individual stories? What are historians without interpretation? And in regards to your assumption of “agendas” and preconceived “conclusions;” where is that found in “Black Confederates?” I do not see it. Granted, it is published by a small Southern publisher, it is complied and edited by relative unknowns and it is not affiliated with a major university. Are we to write off all the books that meet these stipulations? Furthermore are we to label these works simply “Confederate apologist?”

    Now I do not want defend “Black Confederates” or Hardy’s assumptions here. I do however want to understand why it is you wrote off the very idea in of black confederates as a plausible concept. I would like to know why you only assume a slave/master relationship is only one of mutual animosity devoid of communal understanding. Incredibly you also assume that the source of Hardy’s article, Wary Clyburn is criminal (or in the very least attempted fraud). I read in another section of your blog where you state you believe that post-Civil War there was a concerted effort on the part of the South that instigated a propaganda campaign thus establishing the Confederate apologist movement thus supplying the material for these discredited historians (Would please send me the reference, links etc. about this?).

    One might beg the question, what is your motivation? Your blog has a very interesting premise. You say we need “sophisticated analysis,” we need to put away our biases. But isn’t this the real story, the way we all see the world and our past. What of the contrasting works of McPherson and Foote? While McPherson is considered the number one Civil War scholar in America, Foote’s volumes are considered hyperbole. Reading your entries you seem to take some amount of pleasure in this phenomenon. People do not ‘choose’ to remember their history a certain way, they look at their history a different way, because they experienced it as such. Regional history does matter. Historians are not above this. You have “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” I have “Lanterns on the Levee.”


  • Kevin Levin Nov 3, 2007 @ 14:10

    Chris, — Of course I believe that this subject should be examined. The fact that it has received so little critical attention as compared to the typical Confederate apologist approach explains a great deal. We need studies that bring to bear sophisticated analysis rather than individual stories interpreted by individuals who have an agenda in drawing certain conclusions. The book you reference at the beginning of your comment is just another example of the sloppy work that has been done in this area. I highly recommend Bruce Levine’s _Confederate Emancipation_ as a place to start to think about these issues.

  • Chris Nov 2, 2007 @ 19:34

    I just picked up “Black Confederates” edt. by Barrow, Segars, and Rosenburg. I am sure that you are familiar with the book.
    This subject interests me greatly and from reading on-line and speaking with people about it I have found that it is indeed a hotly debated issue, but I would hardly call it “nonsense.”

    The book references and sites many slave narratives and other primary sources. What are we to make of these findings? It seems to me that it is very clear that slaves and freedmen did indeed fight (or work) for the CSA in various capacities. The questions are why, and what did these men believe was the in there best interest to reach freedom?
    Is it reasonable to believe that many might have thought that fighting alongside there masters and countrymen that this was the best way to certain freedom, agreed upon or not, (as Black Confederates points out)? This seems understandable to me in that this ‘choice’ involves action rather then inaction, e.g. waiting for political emancipation only after an uncertain victory is won by a largely unknown people.
    Point being, what if the South had won? By fighting for the CSA they would have been hedging there bets, either result, be it a Southern or a Northern victory it would have led to freedom. Whereas not fighting for the CSA would have prolonged their enslavement.
    And what of the freedmen fighting by choice, as in Louisiana Native Guard, who by their own accord formed a battalion of 3,000, with the state of Louisiana approval in the early days of the war before the city was captured? There seems to be many accounts similar to this that in the very least disserves greater research in lieu of a dismissive approach.

    The concerns around this subject are understandable. If accepted as fact this would upset the traditional understanding of Civil War history and race relations in America and, I believe, cast an even harsher light on the affects of Reconstruction. Yet it seems to me that there is enough information out there that warrants investigation and not the tag “nonsense.”
    There are many credible books coming out now that dispels many traditionally held views of history, (see “Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery” by Farrow, Lang, Frank or “War Crimes Against Southern Civilians” by Cisco) and the subject of blacks fighting for the Confederacy appears to be one such subject that makes sense look into.


  • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2007 @ 21:34

    Richard, — Think of history as a never-ending audit. I am sure you will find this book to be interesting. Let me know what you think.

  • Richard Phillips Aug 26, 2007 @ 21:31

    Thanks for the book recommendation, I will get a copy. I guess my skepticism about history comes from my profession. I am an auditor and I never take anything at face value. I would think that if you put 10 trained historians in a room with the same documents they should be able to come up with similiar conclusions. When one says its night and another says its day there is a problem.



  • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2007 @ 19:55

    Richard, — Thanks again for writing. Perhaps the best example of the “loyal slave” image can be found on the Confederate monument in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. The monument was dedicated in 1914 right at the time when Woodrow Wilson ordered federal offices to be segregated. As for the debate about black Confederates I highly recommend that you buy a copy of Bruce Levine’s _Confederate Emancipation_ (Oxford University Press) which I am sure you will find very interesting.

    Finally, I don’t believe you have to be so skeptical about our understanding of history. Granted there is a great deal of myth out there parading as serious history, but there is also an immense amount of very good analytical history on the period.

  • Richard Phillips Aug 26, 2007 @ 19:24

    Hello Kevin

    The comment I made about the monument I visted this week in Tyrrell County needs a little more explanation. I have documented both Union and Confederate monuments in about 70 counties in North and South Carolina and this is the first time I have seen a Confederate Monument mentioning slaves. The only exception so far are the monuments in Fort Mill, SC where there 3 monuments regarding the Civil War. They are dedicated to Confederates, Slaves, and Catawba Indians. I would think that if slaves had actively supported the Confederacy I would have seen more of this “faithful slave” thing on monuments. I am not a historian, just a person with an interest in the Civil War. I have only recently learned about the debate over so-called Black Confederates and really dont understand it. I have come to the conclusion that history is nothing but a set of myths and half-truths taught to us in school. We should be focusing on teaching children to treat each other with common decency and respect. All of the slave masters and slaves are long gone.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2007 @ 10:27

    Adam, — Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You are absolutely right in pointing out the distinction between a philosophical understanding of the master-slave relationship (Locke discusses this in depth) and the empirical issue that you laid out so well. I guess my response was in reaction to the fact that all too often these kinds of examples are trotted out to make a generalization about slavery and its supposed benign nature as carried out by white Americans.

    Of course I agree that slaves exercised agency and historians have done quite a bit of research to demonstrate the ways in which that agency was manifested depending on local conditions. Thanks again.

  • Adam Zimmerli Aug 26, 2007 @ 10:20

    P.S. And let me be blunt: as far as the monument goes, isn’t it astounding that the same old tripe about the faithful slave still gets trotted out? Enough already!

  • Adam Zimmerli Aug 26, 2007 @ 10:18

    First off, did anyone else notice that the second most referenced source is the veteran’s daughter? Now, I study history and not math, but wouldn’t that make her memory potentially suspect (ravages of time, blurring of memories, etc.)? Also, I have to say that given her prominent role in the story, the author talks about how it’s nice to get away from conjecture.

    Moving on, I have to say I think we may be looking at the “volunteer” issue with a bit of a Harriet Beecher Stowe lens. The complexities of the slave-master relationship depended on the individuals involved, the number of slaves held, the local community’s opinions regarding the slave-master relationship, etc. I agree that calling a slave a “volunteer” could be problematic to say the least. But I would not necessarily rule it out to a certain extent.

    For example, if there were a number of slaves owned, and the slaveowner (or in this case, the owner’s son) was going off to war, I could see one “volunteering” as a body servant or so. I mean, if given the chance to potentially earn enough status as to be free from field labor or perhaps even gain manumission through heroic deeds, wouldn’t any one of us “volunteer?” At least a scenario like that is a bit better than the hopeless one described by Chris above.

    I can’t speculate as to the relationship between Capt. Clyburn’s father and Wary and potentially many other slaves. I’m just saying that while the owner did have the legal right to enforce and define, he(or she) did not necessarily always excercise it. Again, it comes down to the relationship, timing, opportunities, hopes, foresights, etc.

    And since I fear I see the cogs of that philosophy degree of yours turning, Kevin, allow me to clarify that I don’t simply mean the passive, exerting power by “magnanimously” allowing the slave to make a choice when there really was none. I’m talking about a tiny sliver of agency on the part of the enslaved. I think they deserve a little credit.


  • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2007 @ 19:01

    There not strange at all Richard, in fact they are quite common. Most of them were erected at the turn of the twentieth century and designed in part to shape public memory of the war and reinforce emerging legislation that eventually came to define the Jim Crow Era.

    Wonderful photographs!

  • Richard Phillips Aug 24, 2007 @ 18:55

    Hello Kevin

    This week I ran across a confederate monument that seems quite strange to me. It is located in Columbus, NC in Tyrell County and on the back of the monument is the quote “In appreciation of our faithful slaves”.

    Not sure what to make of it. This area had one of the first freedman colonies on Roanoke Island and many of the first black troops came from this area.
    I think in the end people did what was in their best interest.
    I also visited Kingstree SC this week and there is a beautiful monument to Dr. King at the courthouse. One quote of Dr. King’s that hits home with me is the following:

    He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2007 @ 18:27

    Cash, — I’ve read both volumes and Freehling will be visiting my Lincoln class this semester. The problem with these articles is typically the author’s lack of any serious understanding of the relevant literature. Freehling’s work is relevant along with Genovese, Berlin, Davis, and a whole host of others. These writers proceed as if Gone With the Wind was serious history.

  • Cash Aug 24, 2007 @ 17:49


    First of all, here’s the updated link to the story:

    I think your comments are spot on. Simply reproducing the article [badly, I should say] without putting it into the larger context would argue against the blogger’s self-description of “historian.”

    As you can see, the author of the article was Cliff Harrington and the name of the slave was Wary Clyburn.

    Cliff Harrington was the one who asked the question in the story, not Mr. Hardy.

    Have you read William Freehling’s _The Road to Disunion, Vol 1: Secessionists at Bay?_ He talks about the [my term] kabuki slaveholders had their slaves perform by having the slaves profess their love of slavery to the slaveowners. The idea of a slave “volunteering” to follow his master’s orders strikes me as more of the same.


  • Jim Aug 24, 2007 @ 14:53

    You are absolutely right to point this out. The article lacks any serious attempt to understand the experience of the slave. We need to put aside our biases and engage in serious historical scholarship.

    Jim Yeatts

  • Kevin Aug 24, 2007 @ 11:17

    But isn’t the idea that they “made choices from the options presented to them” problematic. The slaveowner doesn’t simply present options to his slaves, but has the authority to define and enforce.

    The other problem is with the notion that Clyburn served in the ranks. As you are no doubt aware the Confederate government did not actively recruit slaves until the very end of the war and in very limited numbers. I could be wrong, but Clyburn’s pension application does not necessarily imply enlistment papers.

    Thanks for the comments Chris.

  • chris robinson Aug 24, 2007 @ 10:41


    Hardy really just reprinted the article that he says came from the Charlotte Observer. I put the words in his mouth. My mistake and my apologies to Hardy.

    Not sure what’s wrong with my question, though. My point is that I agree that it is disingenuous to suggest that slaves “volunteer” for anything. I surely agree that slaves often made choices from the options presented to them, but the unspoken suggestion here is that Mr. Clyburn freely chose to go to war for the Confederacy and his enslavers.

    As though he could have freely chosen not to.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2007 @ 9:58

    Chris, — Was Hardy asking the question or the reporter? That’s not clear because the link is down. Please tell me what it means for a slave to “volunteer” for anything. I’m not sure your question makes sense.

  • chris robinson Aug 24, 2007 @ 9:42

    I looked at Hardy’s blog.

    Did I miss it? When was the pension applied for? He received a pension in 1926, 60 years or so after the conflict. Why so late?

    Mr. Hardy asks the question: “Why would a slave volunteer to fight on the side of people who held him in bondage?”

    But I think a better question would be this: what would have happened had the enslaved Mr. Clyburn NOT “volunteered”? Would a disappointed Captain Clyburn have nodded mutely and stumbled off to war sad and alone?

    I know, I know. Only Mr. Clyburn can answer THAT question.


Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.