Was Bill Yopp a Black Confederate? Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia Thinks So

One of my readers passed on an interesting story that fits perfectly into my series of posts on so-called black ConfederatesGovernor Sonny Perdue of Georgia is scheduled to declare March 5 to be “Bill Yopp Day”; the ceremony will include descendants of Yopp as well as state legislators and a number of “notable historians.” Unfortunately, there is no indication as to which historians have been included.  For what it is worth the author of an upcoming work of historical fiction based on Yopp’s life has been invited.  I’ve never heard of Yopp so I find this story and especially the plans to commemorate what many take to be a legitimate black Confederate to be quite interesting.  The event is being advertised as part of the month-long commemoration of Confederate history.   Who was Bill Yopp and why is he being commemorated?  The only information I could find online comes from various Southern Heritage sites, which tend to repeat the same themes and include very little in the form of serious research.  Check out the following sites:

Black Confederate Soldiers

SCV Camp 469

Jack Maples

Southern Heritage 411.com

Apparently, there are a number of newspaper articles from the turn of the century which indicate that Yopps “served” as a drummer in a regiment with his master and helped to secure Confederate pensions for the state’s veterans at the turn of the century.  Yopp is apparently the only black man in the state buried in a Confederate cemetery.

What I find interesting is the decision to commemorate Yopp’s life during March rather than February which is Black History Month.  The timing suggests that Yopp’s significance is to be understood in terms of how white Georgians have chosen to remember his life.  Is it possible that it would have been more difficult to celebrate the Confederate connection of a black American during the month of February?  It seems to me that if black and white southerners are committed to demonstrating the loyalty of large numbers of slaves to the Confederacy than they should be comfortable acknowledging this as part of Black History Month.

Beyond the newspaper articles that are available does anyone know if Yopp’s life has been analyzed by a legitimate historian?  I suspect that the answer is no, but will wait to hear otherwise.  If I am right I would suggest that someone take up this topic.  It would make for a great case study of Civil War memory and may shed light on the postwar construction of black Confederates.  Perhaps I will do it myself.

Short Additional Thought

One of the striking features of the numerous websites where you will find examples of so-called black Confederates is how little information is actually included concerning their individual lives.  The value that is placed on the lives of these men is purely instrumental in terms of the extent to which they support an agenda whose goal it is to remove any discussion of race and slavery from the analysis of the history of the Confederacy and the Civil War.  Their lives are reduced to their supposed “service” and “loyalty” to the Confederate cause and their masters.  No attempt is made to come to terms with their lives as individuals as rooted in their own local experiences.  Their presence in the army is taken for granted rather than as something that needs to be explained.  In short, these men are stripped of their humanity and agency because the individuals who write about them have no use for the totality of their experiences.

A short survey of SCV websites and other organizations read as if their content were “xeroxed” (or cut and pasted) from one site to another.  This stands in sharp contrast to the recent historiography of slavery which is deeply rooted in both time and place and in working to highlight the individual experiences of slaves to the extent that the available evidence permits.

18 comments… add one

  • Sean S. Feb 24, 2008

    Meanwhile, escaped slaves that DID serve in the Union army, aren’t recognized. It makes me wonder some times.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2008

    Well now, that wouldn’t fit neatly into the broader themes that comprise Confederate History Month. It would be more historically accurate, but that’s not what this is really about.

  • Ken Noe Feb 25, 2008

    Sonny Perdue was first elected governor largely on the promise that he would put the battle flag back on the state flag. The heritage groups supported him in droves. Once he was in office, though, he backed off. That made him public enemy #1 to those folks, who now began to “flag” him wherever he went. I suspect that ol’ Sonny is pandering again hoping to get back in their good graces now that he’s being mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for McCain. It’s hard to “deliver the south” when angry people with flags show up at every public appearance and yell at you.

    A couple of the many examples:

    http://georgiaheritagecouncil.org/site2/news/flaggings/FRperry080605.phtml

    http://www.southernmessenger.org/sonny_lied1.htm

  • EJN Feb 25, 2008

    What I find telling is, I’ve read a lot of letters from Union soldiers and not once have I seen a reference to fighting against a black soldier. I would think that something that unique would have been written about.

    Can anyone point me to such a letter?

    Ed

  • Border Feb 25, 2008

    Sean S-
    “Meanwhile, escaped slaves that DID serve in the Union army, aren’t recognized. It makes me wonder some times.”

    Kevin Levin-
    “Well now, that wouldn’t fit neatly into the broader themes that comprise Confederate History Month. It would be more historically accurate, but that’s not what this is really about.”
    ===================================

    ?????…Huh?

    Why would those associated with Confederate History Month, the SCV, UDC, etc, honor slaves that served in the Union army?

    Do Northern Civil War organizations honor Confederates? Any? White or Black?

    The answer is no.
    It isn’t the purpose of their organization to do so…nor would I expect them to.

  • Border Feb 25, 2008

    “What I find telling is, I’ve read a lot of letters from Union soldiers and not once have I seen a reference to fighting against a black soldier. I would think that something that unique would have been written about.

    Can anyone point me to such a letter?

    Ed”
    ==================================

    “nearly half the cannoners were negroes”
    -observation by Federal soldier of the Confederates at battle of Spanish Fort, Ala.

    Jas. K. Newton [14th Wisconsin Infantry] to “Mother,” April 2, 1865, Abel D. Newton Papers, Wis Mss FW, SHSW

    in-

    “Another kind of glory: Black participation and its consequences in the campaign for Confederate Mobile”

    by Michael W. Fitzgerald
    Alabama Review, October, 2001

  • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2008

    It would be very helpful if instead of continually passing on little tidbits that have no context whatsoever that you provided some analysis. What does Fitzgerald mean by “participation” in his journal article. I know the Alabama Review well and consider it to be a legitimate historical journal so I assume that he does do some analysis. The question is not simply whether there were instances when blacks participated in battle, but why they were there and what their status was when they did so.

  • Border Feb 25, 2008

    “It would be very helpful if instead of continually passing on little tidbits that have no context whatsoever that you provided some analysis. What does Fitzgerald mean by “participation” in his journal article….”
    ==================================

    The poster asked for an example…not an analysis.

    The article is on-line here-
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3880/is_200110/ai_n8957026/pg_1

  • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2008

    Border, — So it turns out the article (after only reading the opening paragraphs) has nothing to do with black Confederates. Fitzgerald explores the military experiences of black Union soldiers during the Mobile Campaign and not black Confederates at all, if what we mean are black men who served as soldiers. But then again this is exactly the problem with this whole debate. No one is willing to do the necessary analysis to better understand what the presence of black men in Confederate soldiers meant. There is this disturbing all or nothing stance when it comes to proponents of all this silliness. And as I stated before isn’t it surprising that the majority of people who push this line of thought are white.

  • Ken Noe Feb 25, 2008

    Having seen my own writings distorted, rewritten, and misquoted by internet proponents of black Confederates, I hate to see the same thing done to Mike Fitzgerald. Here’s the full quotation: “as the defensive situation became urgent the Confederates placed slave laborers in exposed positions under enemy fire. According to the Confederates commander, most of the officer’s servants actively participated in the defense. He said they volunteered, but their opponents apparently doubted it. One Union soldier wrote ‘nearly half of the cannoners were negroes,’ adding that he was ‘afraid some of them got hurt.’ From what they had seen of the preferences of runaway slaves, northerners could scarecely credit the notion of uncoerced service for the southern cause, even if it had some basis in fact.” (255-56).

    Whether or not they participated willingly-could they have said no?–they were emphatically not Confederate soldiers, but rather slave laborers and the officers’ body servants–slaves–suddenly thrown into combat. Plus, the article as a whole is about black _Union_ soldiers. Distortions like this, as well as my personal experience, make me assume that most of what is out there on the net on this subject has been similarly rewritten or at least shorn of all context. And that is bad history.

    Ken Noe
    Former Book Review Editor, Alabama Review

  • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2008

    Thanks so much Ken for passing this along. At some point I was going to go through this and look for the passage, but thankfully I won’t have to now. Hey Border, now you understand why analysis is so crucial to serious history. I resist accusing this Border character of intentionally distorting the history as I suspect that he has very little understanding of what goes into legitimate historical analysis.

    Thanks again Ken.

  • EJN Feb 25, 2008

    Border,

    According to the article at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3880/is_200110/ai_n8957026/pg_6

    Basically the article states they were not enlisted soldiers, but they were involved in combat. Jas. K. Newton also stated, “afraid some of them got hurt.”

    I will seek out both references. I now no longer can state I’ve never read that type of letter. Thanks for the pointers.

    Ed

  • Border Feb 25, 2008

    Excuse me Mr Noe…

    The poster merely asked for an example of a Union soldier describing blacks fighting for the Confederates.

    Understand?

    I gave him one.

    Understand?

    I also gave the article where I found it…and posted a link to the article.

    I distorted nothing. I misquoted nothing.

    Understand?

  • Border Feb 25, 2008

    Ken Noe:
    “Having seen my own writings distorted, rewritten, and misquoted by internet proponents of black Confederates…”
    =====================================================

    And I’ve seen a great deal of spin, distortion and outright lies told by opponents of black Confederates.

    And these people label themselves “historian” and they have degrees…
    …and their writings are not worth —-.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2008

    Border, — With all due respect you’ve commented extensively on this blog in response to posts concerning black Confederates. You in fact provided an accurate quote, but failed to provide any relevant context for the quote. You would have us believe that the poster in question was merely asking for an example of a black man fighting with Confederates, but you know all too well that that is not the real issue. The important questions have to do with the supposed loyalties of the men who were present in the ranks. Even the way you write about it here is awkward. You say that this is an example of “black fighting for the Confederates.” What exactly is this supposed to mean. Ken Noe’s point was right on target and hits at the fundamental problem with just about every argument in favor of substantial numbers of loyal black Southerners who supposedly fought for the independence of the Confederacy.

  • Ken Noe Feb 25, 2008

    Border: Someone took a sentence from a book I wrote, completely re-wrote part of it, removed quotation marks so that it appeared that the words were mine, and had it added to an online list of “evidence” for black Confederates. Wouldn’t you call that distorting, rewriting, and misquoting? Would you trust that source? Would you want to be treated that way? As to Kevin’s point, the poster did ask for evidence of black Confederate soldiers, not slaves pushed forward into the lines in April 1865, which seems to have been the situation at Blakeley according to none other than Randall Lee Gibson himself.

  • Border Feb 25, 2008

    It was not my intent to claim them as soldiers officially enlisted in the Confederate army…

    A Union soldier looking across a battlefield -in that situation- would never be able to know one way or the other.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2008

    I say we end this little thread.

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