Another Black Confederate? (Part 1 of 9)

There is something profoundly disturbing about the concerted effort on the part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to distort the past so as to assuage their deepest insecurities.  A quick perusal of their websites and the uninformed are left believing that the Confederacy was anti-slavery and that free blacks and slaves were some of their most loyal citizens.  Of course, such a view is possible only in an interpretive world that is isolated from the rest of American history and absent of any serious historical analysis.  Such is the case when it comes to their obsession with black Confederates.

Today one of my readers passed on a story out of North Carolina. This Friday the James M. Miller Camp, 2116 will hold a ceremony to honor Weary Clyburn who is buried in Monroe.  A number of his descendants will be in attendance and a headstone will be dedicated.  Here is just one announcement for the event:

On Friday July 18th, 2008,  Weary Clyburn will be honored at the General Convention of the SCV at 11:50 am and then at 3:30 pm a headstone will be dedicated to him in Monroe, NC. Weary was a loyal “Colored Confederate Soldier” who served his unit with distinction and valor. He ran away from the plantation to join his childhood friend Frank Clyburn who was an officer in the 12th SC Volunteers. He later saved saved his commanders life on two different occasions, and stories have it that Weary did service for General Lee. The ceremony will be attended by his daughter and many of his descendants. We’re asking for help from any and all SCV members and reenactors who would like to pay tribute to this man who served his country with honor. We would especially like to see a large amount of soldiers representing the “Colored Confederates” of that time. This event will be a very positive event for the SCV as we strive to honor the memories of all of our Confederate Brothers.

Here is another announcement:

How do you measure loyalty and friendship? Mr. Weary Clyburn is an example of both and more. Weary Clyburn was a childhood friend of Frank Clyburn, growing up on the Clyburn plantation, hunting and fishing together. Weary was a slave belonging to Frank’s father. That scene was not uncommon in the South as the “Gone with the Wind” plantations were far and few between, compared to the smaller working farms where smaller numbers of slaves worked along side the farmers that owned them. In many cases, the sense of community between the two was closer then the communities of modern times. When Frank joined the Confederate Army, he was sent to Columbia, SC for training. A short time later, Weary shows up in Columbia telling Captain Clyburn that he wishes to join him. He joined his friend out of a sense of loyalty and friendship. Through the years of the war, Weary served along side Frank in Co. E, 12th South Carolina Infantry. Weary was reported to have carried the wounded Frank Clyburn off the battlefield, on two different occasions saving his life. According to Ms. Mattie Clyburn Rice, a living daughter of Weary Clyburn, he also served General Robert E. Lee towards the end of the war. Like many men during the war Weary, a slave, chose to be part of the Confederate Army. Weary lived out the later parts of his life and raising a family in Union County, North Carolina and is buried in an un-marked grave in Monroe.

Please don’t be fooled by the language of honor and memory that are standard fair for these SCV-sponsored events.  This is not about history in any shape or form.  In fact, if you were to do even a cursory study of the level of analysis that typically accompanies these stories on the Internet you will see that these people actually have no interest in historical truth.  Just take a minute and think about the language that is used in these announcements.  We are to believe that the relationship between slave and slaveowner is “closer then the communities of modern times.”  There is no analysis whatsoever of what it meant for Clyburn to “serve” in Confederate ranks, though we know that this was in fact illegal and contradictory to the Confederacy’s very existence.  Finally, we have a slave who ran away from his owner because he “wished to join” his boyhood friend.  It’s laughable.

It’s bad enough that the SCV has little respect or even understanding of what is involved in serious historical scholarship, but what makes it worse is their lack of respect for the memory of Weary Clyburn.  Again, don’t be fooled they have no interest in telling his story or the lives of other so-called black Confederates.  In just about every case that I’ve come across there is no account from the individual in question and yet the SCV feels justified in assuming what motivated them to “serve.”  In the end all they manage to do is distort and demean their memory.  To put it in strict Kantian terms, they treat historical lives as a means to their own ends.

The bigger picture is always worth remembering in these cases.  I ask again that if we are to assume that large numbers of slaves and free blacks volunteered out of sense of loyalty and served in Confederate ranks than how do we explain Jim Crow?  How could the Southern states have passed laws that disfranchised the largest percentage of black southerners given their loyal service to the Confederacy?  Someone please explain this to me.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

24 responses... add one

Hi Kevin, I’m a doctoral student working with Frank Towers on Civil War and Southern history at the University of Calgary. I just discovered your blog and wanted to compliment you on the great site; you really do an excellent job of posting relevent topics and your analysis of those topics is top notch. Regarding these ridiculous attempts by neo-confederates to try and create “black confederates,” I like your point about Jim Crow and the South’s political racism. Some people act like there was no Southern history BEFORE or AFTER the Civil War. This allows them to construct their fantasy land of happy darkies, thousands of black confederate soldiers, and a Confederacy that wasn’t created and run by wealthy slaveholders. Keep up the great work. Cheers.

- Jarret

Hi Jarret, — Great to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. Your adviser’s book on the Urban South is first rate. The broader context makes them look utterly ridiculous. The problem, of course, is that these people don’t know anything about Jim Crow.

Hi Kevin,

I have a story I would like to share with your subscribers. I have visited other blogs. None is as informative as your blog, and only one blog equals your blog in excellence, in my opinion, and that is Cliopatria. I know that my, or anyone else’s, opinion concerning the quality of your blog is irrelevant. I am just stating this to explain why I continue to read your blog, and to recommend your blog to others.

I am trying not to react to this post in an emotional way, but it is impossible not to. The picture you have posted is what is eliciting the emotion–and memory–for me–and that is what your blog is about–memory. I truly cannot believe that the Sons of Confederate Veterans have the nerve, the lack of intelligence, and the lack of decency to attempt to portray the Civil War in this manner, and you are right–to suggest that any man or woman enjoyed being enslaved and fought to preserve slavery is simply laughable–or would be, if a battle as to how the past is to be portrayed were not still raging.

As I told you before, I attended the University of Virginia over thirty years ago–”Mr. Jefferson’s university”, as the students and faculty were fond of calling the university in those days. Most students who attend the university at least once visit Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I was no exception. In fact, I visited Monticello many times, and was always fascinated by Jefferson and his many talents.

During my college days I never read Jefferson’s “Notes on Virginia”. There were, perhaps, other students who read the manuscript, but I did not read it until many years later. Then, in the 1990s I visited Monticello again. My reactions to Jefferson’s world were, needless to say, not the same. What struck me most on this later visit was the picture of a slave whose name was “Isaiah”, if my memory serves me correctly. The picture was, at that time (early 1990s) in the former “slave quarters” of Monticello. The picture was not, of course, taken in Jefferson’s lifetime, and I do not know the particulars of the picture. But what Isaiah’s eyes, face, and demeanor said about the supposed joys of slavery for the enslaved says all that needs to be said. Similarly, the picture you have posted here shouts down the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

All of this Black Confederate nonsense is really starting to get me upset. It is simply amazing that people will walk in the face of historical truth to satisfy what is obviously a modern agenda. I am fast losing my confidence in people’s ability to be analytical and discriminating in judging any type of historical information.

The prevelance of raging social conservatives and militant right wingers in the reenacting world are a major reason I don’t reenact anymore. It is all just too much for sensible folks.

Chris

Sherree, — Thanks for the comment. I agree with your comment. That said, I want to add in keeping with the theme of my post that we have a moral obligation to do justice to the complexity of the past as well as individual lives. When I reflect on Jefferson’s role as an eloquent spokesman for liberty and freedom along with his role as a slaveowner it’s not an attempt to vilify. My goal is to understand the complexity that is our past.

Tom,– I came across that very same article yesterday, but chose not to reference it. This is a big problem in the fantasy world of black Confederates. Many of these stories appear in local newspapers and are written by people who know nothing about the Civil War let alone the complex issues surrounding slavery and race. I’ve done my best to counter as many of theses stories, but it is extremely difficult.

Chris, — I hear you. It must be incredibly frustrating for someone in your position, but I still want to encourage you to engage these issues with as wide a range of people as possible. I’ve experienced much of the same frustrations with this blog, but I have to say that I’ve had many more positive interactions with people who are genuinely interested in better understanding American history.

Bravo, Kevin, for keeping the spotlight on this nonsense. Yes, the problem is that these people know nothing–choose to know nothing–about Jim Crow. But the other part of the problem is that they have their little “facts” that seem to them incontrovertible.–such as the story of Weary Clyburn.

To effectively push back against the myth of black Confederates someone needs to dig into stories like these and do some basic fact-checking. When did the story of Weary leaving the plantation to fight with the Confederates first arise? Is there any contemporary Civil War era evidence? What other information can we dig up about Weary from census records, newspapers, oral histories, plantation records? What was the Reconstruction era history of the community? What were the circumstances at which this photograph was taken? I strongly suspect that this sort of research would debunk most or all of the “black Confederates” being touted by the SCV.

This would be a great graduate seminar for someone teaching at a research university in the south–”Black Confederates: Myths and Memories.” Assign each grad student one of these men and set them loose. And make sure that the results of their research are disseminated. A web publication would actually have the greatest impact, so that whenever someone googles “Weary Clyburn” they get some solid research instead of press releases from the SCV.

Thanks for the reply Kevin.

Despite my reservations about some folks, I agree with you that many people do have a genuine interest in better understanding our past. I’ve run into many folks that are quite receptive to things we might not think they would be receptive to. It really makes a difference in HOW one engages the other that determines success. I know that other National Park Rangers have devoted time to explaining how to interact with battlefield visitors that air neo-Confederate opinions quite freely.

My research into the Siege of Corinth has put me in touch with many people interested in getting the distortions about that campaign righted.

Talk about lies, your northern history is full of them. FIRST, how about YOU explaining the Black Codes of your northern states that disallowed free blacks from working or living in several northern states. As to the facts about Weary, most of this comes directly from the mouth of Weary Clyburn’s LIVING daughter, who told this story to historians. You won the war, and then re-wrote the history books to hide the atrocities of your yankee armies. My own ancestor was murdered by your yankee soldiers while a POW. Lined up and shot as a retaliation. Explain how and why Colored Confederates were paid equal to white Confederates, compared to the unequal pay of federal colored troops. It’s no surprise that an event to honor a black man is criticized by you with the ignorance of years of bias government education.

Michael, — Thanks for taking the time to write in and confirming our worst thoughts. The history of the North is not a positive one when it comes to the history of slavery and race, but I fail to see what that has to do with the issue at hand. I am also very sorry to hear about your ancestor who was murdered by the “yankee soldiers.”

After reading the news article submitted by Tom I don’t think I know anymore about Mr. Clyburn than they do. There are so many things presumed in the article it is any wonder they even have a clue to where he is buried. If Mr. Clyburn was such a hero in the community why did people allow the cemetery to be razed decades ago. Seems to me the SCV is grasping at straws.

I wonder what Kirk Lyons would think of this since he is running for the SCV ANV Councilman position. See my article at…

http://kindredblood.wordpress.com/2008/07/13/the-sons-of-confederate-veterans-to-reverse-history/

Corey

James M. Miller Camp, 2116

Wanted to let you know your link to James M Miller Camp throws up a virus on that page. Using AVG for a virus scanner.

“most of this comes directly from the mouth of Weary Clyburn’s LIVING daughter”

Whoa!!! Just how old is Weary’s LIVING daughter? And if she’s under 100, how old was Weary when he fathered her?

“Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest had slaves and freemen serving in units under his command. After the war, Forrest said of the black men who served under him, “These boys stayed with me.. – and better Confederates did not live.” Articles in “Black Southerners in Gray,” edited by Richard Rollins, gives numerous accounts of blacks serving as fighting men or servants in every battle from Gettysburg to Vicksburg.
Professor Ed Smith, director of American Studies at American University, says Stonewall Jackson had 3,000 fully equipped black troops scattered throughout his corps at Antietam – the war’s bloodiest battle. Mr. Smith calculates that between 60,000 and 93,000 blacks served the Confederacy in some capacity. They fought for the same reason they fought in previous wars and wars afterward: “to position themselves. They had to prove they were patriots in the hope the future would be better … they hoped to be rewarded.”
Many knew Lincoln had little love for enslaved blacks and didn’t wage war against the South for their benefit. Lincoln made that plain, saying, “I will say, then, that I am not, nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” The very words of his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation revealed his deceit and cunning; it freed those slaves held “within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States.” It didn’t apply to slaves in West Virginia and areas and states not in rebellion. Like Gen. Ulysses Grant’s slaves, they had to wait for the 13th Amendment, Grant explained why he didn’t free his slaves earlier, saying, “Good help is so hard to come by these days.” “

Source: This article appeared in the Washington Times some years back. It was written by Walter Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University, a nationally syndicated columnist, an African-American, and one of the most effective speakers I have ever heard!

Jamey, — Thanks for taking the time to write. First, Walter Williams is not a historian and he has never conducted serious research on this subject. His views are irrelevant.

As for Ed Smith’s claim I challenge you to find a modern scholarly study that confirms his findings. You are not going to find it.

Lincoln’s views on race and slavery are not open to discussion right now as they have nothing to do with the issue at hand. I do understand, however, that it is important to the people who push this line of thought since their goal is some kind of moral parity between North and South. Let me be clear that I am not denying the idea of thousands of black Confederates because I have some hidden agenda that seeks to prop up Lincoln and the rest of the North on a moral platform. I am interested in what can be concluded based on available evidence.

If you are interested in some of the complexity behind this topic I recommend starting with the chapter on blacks and the Confederacy in Joseph Glatthaar’s new book, _General Lee’s Army_ (Free Press, 2008).

So just because Walter Williams you claim is not a “historian” his views are invalid? The General Forrest statement was made BY Forrest in a Congressional hearing. There are records in the “Official Records of the War of Rebellion” printed by US government that state blacks, free and slave, took up arms for the Confederacy. William Ellison, a free South Carolina black slave owner and one of the States richest men, sons supported Confederacy. His grandson fought in an artillery group.

Dallas Moses, a river boat pilot, DIED trying to capture the USS Waterwitch.

There are official reports of “Negro” Confederate sharpshooters (snipers), “well mounted” scouts, etc, etc, etc.

Nelson Winbush, a SCV compatriot of mine in Florida, it was his grandfather who was one of those slaves (later freed and still fought) who fought with Gen Forrest that he testified about in Congress!

Records show Confederate blacks being captured at Gettysburg and refusing to sign oath of loyalty to US government and spending up to 22 months in prison. I just visited Gettysburg’s new museum and there is no mention of this men who refused to betray their families. Why? Is it because people like you keep promoting this falsehood that black Confederate who fought are a “myth?”

There was NO black US troops at Gettysburg. Why? This was the first year Lincoln’s government even allowed blacks in army and the same year New York protested this fact. There were no such riots in the South.

Yet people like you claim this is “invalid?” It is in the OFFICIAL RECORDS that Williams quoted from. How is this invalid?

In Wakulla County Florida when the US landed troops and shelled a TOWN the only civilians killed were 5 black slaves.

Then you say “Lincoln’s views on race and slavery are not open to discussion right now as they have nothing to do with the issue at hand.”

You are trying to imply blacks did not “fight” for CS, and say Lincoln is not the issue? He started a war, people like you claim was over slavery. Frederick Douglas, a man who was there STATED there were thousands of blacks “with rifles on their shoulders and bullets in there pockets” marching in step with their Confederate comrades, at a time when racist Lincoln didn’t allow even free blacks to be in his army! And this has nothing to do with issue?! Y’all keep promoting this was a war about “just slavery” yet want to deny Lincoln views?

Walter Williams has never done research on this issue. Simply collecting sources from various places does not constitute serious thinking concerning a complex topic. I’ve seen many of the accounts you speak of, but they do not demonstrate that thousands of slaves fought with Confederate armies in the way that you believe. More importantly, simply declaring them to be loyal tells us nothing about the relationship between the slave and master. The Confederate government did not formally recruit slaves until close to the end of the war and only after a vigorous debate.

I have said nothing about Lincoln on this matter because he is not relevant. Lincoln chose to allow blacks to serve for a number of reasons and those reasons have been analyzed by numerous historians. I do not deny that thousands of blacks traveled with Confederate armies and on occasion may have picked up a gun, but they were not serving in any official capacity.

Again, simply collecting stories in one place is not serious research. The way you frame the issue is much too simplistic for me. Again, read Joe Glatthaar’s new book or Bruce Levine’s _Confederate Emancipation_ (Oxford University Press). Thanks again for writing.

Jamey Creel’s posts are typical of the stew of falsehoods and misrepresentations that constitute the argument for “black Confederates.” If there had been 3,000 black Confederate soldiers at Antietam, then they were most certainly the best soldiers in the army, since none were captured or killed. Grant owned one slave in his life, for about a year, and manumitted him in 1859. The Grant quote is an outright falsehood. There is the typical conflation of forced slave labor with enlisted soldiers; the typical accusations concerning Lincoln’s racism, contrasted with the warmth and affection between the races in the South. The Douglass claim is one I’ve seen a number of times, and this demonstrates the inability, or unwillingness, of neo-Confederate advocates of “black Confederates” to engage critically with historical evidence. While I’ve not verified the quote itself, Douglass is supposed to have claimed in a speech in the fall of 1861 that there were blacks, in some cases actively fighting, in Confederate ranks. What is not mentioned is that Douglass could have no firsthand knowledge of such things, there was a fear in the North that black slaves would be used against federal armies, and that Douglass was actively campaigning for the enlistment of blacks as soldiers. The point is that historical documents, statements, and oral tradition, such as the stories Weary Clyburn’s daughter claims he told her, cannot just be assembled and offered as proof of anything, but must be interpreted within the larger historical context and relevant historical record.

I posted a few Civil War entries on my weblog and was almost immediately joined by new readers pushing the “Black Confederate” line — something I never heard about and could find very little to contradict what they were saying.

The warning signs for me were 1) it all sounded anecdotal rather than historical. and 2) the neo-confederate strategy of contradictory example (“black confederate”) and deflection (“Lincoln was a racist”) were similar to Intelligent Design argument, of which I am much more familiar.

It’s a shame I couldn’t find your blog a month ago, but LGM posted the link, I’m subscribed via RSS now and working my way through the archives. Thanks!

The problem is that Civil War historians have had very little to say on this important issue. The upshot is that the subject has been monopolized by a select few who clearly have a narrow agenda to further rather than approach the question from a more scholarly/analytical angle. The examples you cite are typical. I highly recommend that you read Bruce Levine’s _Confederate Emancipation_ (Oxford University Press), which does a very good job of laying out the debate behind the recruitment of slaves in the Confederate service as well as the postwar evolution of the story of black Confederates. I also recommend, if you haven’t done so already, that you read Peter Carmichael’s essay which is this blog’s featured post at the moment. Peter lays out a fairly sophisticated framework for approaching this topic. Thanks again for taking the time to write and I look forward to future comments.

Regarding Black Confederates, the following is the position of the National Park Service:

“June 20, 2005

Much more information is available, especially from official, preserved government records, about the role of African American soldiers in the Union army. The numbers of those soldiers per se were undoubtedly greater than in the Confederate army. In addition, the federal government officially approved a recruitment policy for African Americans, including slaves (the majority of African Americans) into the Union army by 1863. The Confederate States did not officially approve the recruitment of African American slaves into the Confederate army until nearly the end of the war.

While some free African Americans served in the Confederate army, their role is not as well documented and preserved. In addition, many African Americans who served in some capacity in the Confederate army, often anonymously, were slaves. It is difficult to have precise information in the present about the ways in which they served, and the exact military role they played.

We hope over time to be able to include more information on all African Americans who served, both slave and free, including those who served in any capacity in the Confederate war effort. As some writers have pointed out even the official records preserved by the federal government have episodic references to this subject. It is a matter of collecting material from disparate sources to compile a portrait of the issue. It is a less well known part of Civil War history, because it was not as well documented, but it is a part of the overall history that we would like to include over time.

Marilyn W. Nickels, Ph.D.
Project Manager
African-American History Web Project
Office of the Chief Information Officer/NISC
National Park Service
1201 Eye Street, NW
Washington, D.C.
202/354-1449
202/371-1549 (fax)”

Additionally, Hari Jones, Director of the African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington, DC, has his own research which further substantiates the service of Black Confederates in combat. The Harper’s Weekly illustration of Black Confederate pickets published on their front page issue of January 10, 1863, is sold in the gift shop there.

This “discussion” consists mainly of accepting any reference or opinion that disputes the existence and service of Black Confederates and dismissing, without viable justification, any contemporaneous evidence which supports their existence and service.

I would be interested in seeing how this “discussion” dismisses the NPS position of the Project Manager of the African-American History Web Project and the position of Hari Jones beyond simply saying, “I don’t believe it.” Facts and figures, folks, not personal prejudices.

Conversations with the descendants of Black Confederates who have first-hand information from the serving Black Confederates, as does Nelson Winbush, or a strong oral history as do the Great-grandsons of Silas Chandler, are a different matter.

The bottom line is this: if one discounts by simply saying, “I don’t believe it” all contemporaneous documentation regarding Black Confederates from all sources, including the Federal Official Records, as well as all family oral histories then dismissing the service of Black Confederates is easy – intellectually disingenuous, but easy.

Just as an aside regarding real historical investigation – something not often present on this thread – I have performed a statistical breakdown regarding the percentage of United States Colored Troops executed by the Union Army during the War. The figures show a disturbing trend of lethal racism:

USCT constituted about 4.7% of the total Union ground forces (187,000 of 4,000,000)

Of the 269 Union soldiers recorded as formally executed during the war USCT made up 21.2% (57) of the executions – a rate about 450% greater than their percentage presence in the Union Army.

USCT were executed at a rate of .03% (three one-hundredths of one percent) of total USCT in service.

There were 212 non-USCT executed. They were executed at a rate of .005% (five one-thousandths of one percent) of total Union soldiers in service.

14 USCT were executed for “Mutiny” – 24.6% of total USCT executed and 87.5% of total number of Union executions for “Mutiny” (16)
2 non-USCT were executed for “Mutiny” – less than 1% of total non-USCT executions

28 USCT were executed for “Murder” – 49% of total USCT executed and 41% of all Union executions for “Murder”
40 non-USCT soldiers were executed for “Murder” – 18.9% of total non-USCT executions

13 USCT were executed for “Rape” – 22.8% of total USCT executed and 62% of all Union executions for “Rape”
8 non-USCT soldiers were executed for “Rape” – 3.8% of total non-USCT executions

2 USCT were executed for “Desertion” – 3.6% of total USCT executed and .7% of total Union executions
146 non-USCT soldiers were executed for “Desertion” – 68.9% of total non-USCT executions

USCT were six times more likely to be charged, convicted and executed for capital offenses than non-USCT Union soldiers.

Mr. Kelley,

Thank you for your contribution. I am certainly aware of the discrimination and treatment that USCTs faced during the war from both within the Union army and by Confederates on battlefields such as the Crater. In fact, I have complied quite a list of wartime sources from the Crater that point to very harsh treatment on the battlefield as well as an overall tendency on the part of whites to blame them for the defeat.

I can’t speak to your statistical analysis as I do not have the formulas you used or any sense of how you analyzed the evidence.I don’t believe that I have taken the position of “I don’t believe it” in regard to this question. Simply put, I am interested in how slaves operated in Confederate ranks and how their presence shaped the master-slave relationship. I am sorry if you have a problem with that, but I assure you that I am not engaged in some kind of morality play where the end goal is to vindicate one side over the other. My interests in history are different. If you choose to believe otherwise, so be it. Essentially, I agree with the NPS statement. We need serious research along the lines of what Peter Carmichael outlined in his guest post rather than the simple collection of sources as is the case with most Websites and books such as those published by Pelican Press.

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