In my last post on “black Confederates” I wondered whether the two women dressed in mourning attire were white. Well, I have no doubt that the women in these images are indeed white. And…yes, they are decorating the grave of “Pvt. Henry Henderson, a black Confederate soldier.” This article is so poorly reported that it is impossible to know for sure the status of Henderson without going to the archives. That said, I have an idea. According to the article:
Henderson was born in 1849 in Davidson County, NC. He was 11 years old when he entered service with the Confederate States of America as a cook and servant to Colonel William F. Henderson, a medical doctor. Records show Henry was wounded during his service, but he continued to serve until the war’s end in 1865. He was discharged in Salem, NC, age 16.
As Peter Carmichael notes in his essay, Confederate officers often brought their slaves with them as camp servants as a reflection of their social status and for their services. And many were even outfitted with uniforms. After noting that 60-90,000 “black Confederates served” in the Confederate army the author notes that Henderson’s sons received their father’s one and only pension check from the state of Tennessee in 1926. Of course, as many of you know the receipt of a pension check does not tell us much of anything about the status of black men in the Confederate army. [Consider the case of Weary Clyburn and see a recent post by Robert Moore, here]
Like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy teach us nothing about the complex history of race relations in the Confederacy. Henry Henderson deserves to have his story told as well as have his life recognized and honored by his descendants. Based on the skimpy evidence provided in this article we should conclude that Henderson was a slave who happened to find himself with the army as a young boy. That this boy was forced to join his master in the army at such a young age, and was eventually wounded, must be understood as an extension of a broader life story of coercion. I often wonder what Henderson himself would say about such a spectacle.
The women in these images are not honoring a soldier, they are honoring a slave.