Essential Reading on Confederate Slaves

For those of you who love to cite the Virginia pension records as sufficient evidence for significant numbers of Confederate slaves/black Confederates, I highly recommend you read two recent posts by Robert Moore at Cenantua's Blog.  [See here and here]

6 comments… add one

  • Richard Williams Sep 1, 2008

    So when the pension records support black Confederate “soldiers” they are suspect (as you and Robert have continually argued), but when they support your position, they’re fine and dandy.

    Hmmm . . . what’s wrong with this picture?

    Serving in a support position still deserves recognition – just as it does in the modern military. The blacks who served in the CSA did so for numerous reasons. I’ve never argued that all their service was “equal” or for the same reasons.

    Is Robert suggesting he’s discovered something new here? Anyone who has researched black pension records is already aware of this. Not a revelation.

    I’m not going to repeat all the previous arguments from the other posts. I think Ervin Jordan’s book is perhaps the best researched and presents the most balanced approach to this complicated subject and I would highly recommend it to all interested in the subject.

    RGW

  • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2008

    Hi Richard, — Nice to hear from you. I referenced Robert’s posts because it is obvious to me that he has spent considerable time with them and has thought long and hard about their reliability. I, on the other hand, have not. It seems to me that you should voice any concern with his analysis on his blog and not here. This post was not directed at you per se.

    As for Jordan’s book I agree that it is a valuable piece of scholarship though I don’t agree with him on a number of issues. Still, I don’t see what his book has to do with Robert’s concerns. Certainly, you wouldn’t argue that Jordan’s book is the end of the discussion; after all, it is already a few years old and it is one of only a few legitimate secondary sources on the subject. We need much more and we need to be critical about the use of sources. I fail to see what is suspect about that.

    All I meant to do was give my readers some more to think about on this complex issue. You’ve said a number of times that blacks “served” in the army for numerous armies. The overwhelming majority of slaves were there because they were slaves. What they believed beyond that is our job as historians to figure out, though I suspect that this is going to be extremely difficult for the obvious reasons. And yes, I would say that the need to acknowledge the supporting roles of slaves has little to do with history. Thanks again for the comment.

  • Robert Moore Sep 1, 2008

    Hi Richard,

    No, this isn’t a matter of convenience. This is just laying out the facts as defined, not by me, but by the state and the Confederate veterans themselves. So, in response, I have to actually wonder why, when presented with this information, it isn’t convenient for you when this is something made very clear by those who were there. Like I said, no need for interpretation here. If neither the state or Confederate veterans themselves acknowledged them as soldiers, then who are we to make such claims? Also, while you might not call this a revelation, I have to wonder, if you knew about it before, why didn’t you mention it? Was it because it did not support your argument?

    Nonetheless, let’s step back for a minute on this and let’s even take out the fact that the focus of our discussion has been on “Black Confederates.” What about the whites who applied for this pension? So, shall we begin to request headstones for white laborers, cooks, etc. from the Veterans Administration and ask them to be marked as “White Confederate?” As my example, I have used the application of Peter S. Dovel. He was white, and a laborer, and “served” the Confederate States Government. So,does he qualify for a headstone from the V.A.? If not, what’s the difference between him and the “black Confederates?” If so, then we have just diminished the very purpose of the Veterans Administration.

    O.K., that might be a bit extreme, and actually, I am not aware of any headstones for “Black Confederates” to be marked in this manner. So, taking this out of the equation, let’s look at this another way (and, being sporting about it, I’ll even put it back on my own ancestry). I had an ancestor, Rodham Tellis Mayes, who served, on occasion, driving wagons for the Confederate army (the only way I know this is because it was mentioned on more than one occasion in a set of letters). Yet, if you look for a service record, he doesn’t have one. Yet, because he drove a wagon for the 33rd Virginia, does this now qualify him for a headstone from the V.A.? No, I don’t think so, especially when considering the record of another ancestor of mine, Charles Robert Hilliard. Hilliard enlisted in Co. D, 7th Virginia Cavalry, but not long after having enlisted, he was assigned as a courier and drove a wagon for what was left of the Stonewall Brigade. Does he qualify for a headstone from the V.A.? Yes, he enlisted.

    So, technically, ordering V.A. headstones for African-Americans who cooked or served as body servants or in any other capacity (the mention of “guards” really has been wanting to look into this in depth), is getting one over on the V.A. as it is not actually in-line with the policy outlined by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. If the state government did not recognize them as “soldiers, sailors, marines,” then they do not qualify for military headstones provided by the government (those who served IN the military is what the Veterans Administration is all about in the first place). In the case of “Black Confederates,” it appears that, out of convenience, the word “service” is now being interpreted rather liberally.

    As I mentioned in response to another comment on my blog, this has me quite interested in learning the facts behind these particular pensions and I am looking forward to looking into the actual words exchanged in the Virginia General Assembly legislation when it came to creating this pension.

    I agree Richard, that there is nothing wrong with “honoring” someone’s service, but there needs to be a clear-cut definition of what that service meant… and what it did not.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2008

    Robert, — Thanks for taking the time to follow-up on Richard’s comment.

  • Robert Moore Sep 1, 2008

    Kevin,

    This is interesting. In my addressing the difference between whites and blacks as “White Confederates” or “Black Confederates” (whether serving as body servants, cooks, laborers, etc.), I didn’t think about something else until I read the last paragraph of your comment. Ultimately, I realize that if a distinction is made between “Black Confederates” and “White Confederates,” apart from “color,” can it only be that the sole distinction was that “Black Confederates” were slaves? If so, what does that mean for the interpretation of their roles (and are we actually back in the interpretation mindset if this is considered)? Also, if slaves were forced into this “service,” can we not also interpret it that by virtue of not wanting to fight for the Confederacy, the exemption of whites are laborers, etc. was also another means of being forced into “serving” the Confederacy? Needless to say, this can get really complex.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2008

    Definitely some more to think about. The inclusion of white laborers in the mix, however, brings the status of blacks into much sharper focus. Peter C’s essay only touched on the relationship between Confederate soldiers and their servants, but what happens when we broaden the scope to include white laborers. How did life in the army alter the racial hierarchy? Whatever the case may be, I am willing to be that they would be surprised by the recent circus that the SCV put on for Weary Clyburn. Thanks again Robert.

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