“Negro Pensioners are Not Classed as Confederate Soldiers”

clyburn2_edited-1That’s according to a document in the pension bureau correspondence files under Union County and in the year 1930 – when Wary Clyburn died.  A friend of mine in the North Carolina Department of Archives and History checked the yearly statement of pensioners produced by the Clerk of Court for the Auditor’s Office.  The following information was conveyed.  Clyburn appears in 1926 and is alphabetical in order with other pensioners – however under the remarks column (which is mostly empty) it clearly indicates he is “colored body servant, Capt. Frank Clyburn;” other remarks indicate a pensioner’s transfer between pension levels or between counties (and one hand written remark noting pensioner is deceased).  In 1927, after the addition of former slaves to the pension series, Clyburn is listed with one other man in a separate section titled “Negro Pensioners.”

There can be no denying that the pension bureau saw him as anything but an eligible body servant – it is how they consistently describe him.  In addition, the Attorney General’s ruling that they could not be soldiers suggests that a case for anything other than body servant cannot be made.  Wary Clyburn was a slave in the 1860s and as late as 1930 the state of North Carolina recognized him as a slave during the Civil War.

So, where does that leave the Sons of Confederate Veteran’s ceremony that honored Clyburn as a Confederate soldier this past summer?  More importantly, what does it say about Earl Ijames’s participation in that ceremony?  Why did he not correct the SCV and Kevin Adkins as they acknowledged Clyburn as a Confederate soldier.  Why did he not state specifically in the face of the camera that Clyburn was a slave whose presence in the army and on the battlefield had nothing to do with choice.  Finally, what is so disturbing is that Clyburn’s descendants were included in this charade.  You decide.  Here is a short clip from the Clyburn celebration.  Now you understand why I do not consider the SCV to be an organization that is serious about the history of the Civil War.

38 thoughts on ““Negro Pensioners are Not Classed as Confederate Soldiers”

    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Robert,

      The SCV can do whatever it wants with the memory of Clyburn as long as they don’t try to pass it off as remembrance steeped in anything resembling history.

      Reply
  1. Don Shaffer

    Hi everyone. I’m sure a lot of readers to Kevin’s blog will be familiar with my work on black Union veterans. My book, After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans (Kansas, 2004) touches on this subject. The impression I get of what the SVC is doing with Clyburn is the latest version of a recurring story. It sometimes serves the Confederate memory of the Civil War to suggest that at least some African Americans favored their cause. Hence, Confederates (and more recently neo-Confederates) sought black participation in their celebrations of memory when it suited this purposes. The United Confederate Veterans sometimes would invite former body servants to attend their meetings and later white Southerners pushed for these men to receive state pensions available the Confederate veterans (no doubt to encourage and reward African Americans who identified with the Confederate cause). White Southerners who interviewed African Americans in the 1930s for the WPA also sought out former servants in the Confederate army. This SCV chapter can’t get Clyburn’s permission to use him for their memory purposes, so they reach out to his descendants instead. The purpose though is the same: promoting the notion of African-American support for the Confederacy. The message rigs as hollow now as it did back in the late 19th century.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Don,

      Great to hear from you and I am so pleased that you decided to chime in on this one given your research. For those of you interested in black Union soldiers in the postwar period this book is a must read.

      Reply
  2. Richard G. Williams, Jr.

    Kevin, Robert:

    I’ve stayed out of this debate lately because it’s my view that the same arguments and statements are being made over and over with nothing new being added. That view really hasn’t changed. I’ve expressed my thoughts here before in the exchange with Professor Carmichael, no need to rehash all that again.

    I have been someone who has readily acknowledged that most blacks who “served” (in whatever capacity), did so due to coercion and the master/slave relationship. Nonetheless, my position is, and remains, that these men still deserve recognition for their service in the Confederate Army. They were still exposed, in some measure, to danger and, in some measure, contributed to the Southern effort. I still think they deserve to be called “soldier”, with the caveat that most had no choice. Again, I’ve given my reasoning before and am not going to take up space here for that.

    I would add that a good number of these men, though coerced initially, got “caught up” in the struggle to one degree or another. How many is impossible to say, but I’ve read a number of accounts that would indicate that took place. Jackson’s body servant, Jim Lewis, is a classic example of this emotional connection to those with whom he served.

    Though this document is interesting, I don’t see it as anything new or surprising. You probably didn’t either. Since Virginia didn’t offer ANY pensions to blacks until the 1920′s, I think it’s a given that they were not recognized for any “service”, much less that of a “soldier” even in those few occasions where they should have been.

    However, given the racial views that were prevalent in the 1930′s, isn’t it quite likely that there were still many whites who did not WANT to accept blacks as worthy of pensions, for whatever service, including those few that were soldiers, and that this letter was simply a reflection of those views?

    In other words, what motivated those government officials to deny even the deserving blacks pensions? The answer is obvious. So as long as all that’s on the table, shouldn’t that slight and injustice be corrected now by honoring these men with a ceremony, placing a marker on their grave, acknowledging whatever role they played, etc?

    Best,
    RGW

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Richard,

      Whether your speculation is right or wrong re: the unknown number of legitimate black Confederate soldiers, my point in this post is that Wary Clyburn was not one of them and the SCV is claiming that he was. What I find startling is that you have nothing to say about it. The SCV is essentially deceiving the public as well as Clyburn’s descendants. My guess is most people see your definition of soldier as much too broad and as far as I am concerned meaningless. Clyburn was not a soldier, he was a slave. I do believe that slaves should be honored, but let’s at least be honest about who they were. I would love to know if the word slave was mentioned once in the SCV commemoration.

      Actually, given that you’ve never done serious research on this topic I’m not sure that your opinion matters one bit – with all due respect. It’s all speculation. What I’ve said from the outset is that we need serious research.

      Reply
  3. ghost

    Here is a black Confederate soldier:

    Thomas Tobe, Comapany G, Holcombe’s Legion (South Carolina)

    “…[the witnesses] know of their own knowledge that he was a soldier…”

    “…he was a bona fide soldier in the late war between the States”

    “This was a free negro who volunteered in this company and served until the end of the war.” -County Pension Board statement.

    The application was approved.

    Here’s the application (just click on each thumbnail)-

    http://www.archivesindex.sc.gov/onlinearchives/Thumbnails.aspx?recordId=236144

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Peter,

      The other point that I would make is that exposure on the battlefield was just another obstacle that a slave had to deal with in order to survive. Plantation life offered its challenges as did the battlefield. That is one of the horrors of slavery that they were forced to confront such a situation.

      Ghost,

      Where is the muster roll sheet? Without a wartime document we can’t say much of anything about this individual. We have a similar problem with the case of Venable which is just posted.

      Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether Clyburn’s descendants went to the SCV. If they were in fact interested in getting the history right they would not have deceived this family.

      Reply
  4. Peter

    Richard raises an issue that has so far gone unexamined. He says “They were still exposed, in some measure, to danger and, in some measure, contributed to the Southern effort.” I don’t think anyone will deny that African Americans, enslaved and free, materially aided in the Confederate cause, predominantly unwillingly. So the question then becomes, would any of these black Southerners want their contributions to the Confederacy honored? The answer, of course, is no. How often did African Americans in the South commemorate their forced service to the Confederate cause? And I think the reliance on the pension records here is damning; African Americans only claimed affiliation with the Confederacy in order to secure some kind of monetary advantage because of it. In other words, why is that we feel it a duty to commemorate the supposed support of blacks for the Confederacy when they themselves did not?

    Reply
  5. ghost

    Don Shaffer:
    “This SCV chapter can’t get Clyburn’s permission to use him for their memory purposes, so they reach out to his descendants instead.”
    ***************************

    Is that what happened?…or did Clyburn’s descendants reach out to the SCV?

    Reply
  6. Peter

    Kevin,
    I in no way meant to diminish the horrors of slavery.

    I suppose what I was going for, was that if we do accept everything Mr. Ijames says, where does that get us? We’ve got black Confederate soldiers. Fine. These supposed masses did not commemorate their service or ask to be remembered as Confederate soldiers (and apparently, only laid claim to that distinction when it afforded the possibility of free money). In other words, even if we do accept all of these claims on the presence of black soldiers, there is absolutely nothing to speak towards their ideological motivations (either during the war or after). It is much like the UFO debate, as you pointed out earlier. You talk to a believer and admit that you agree – you are convinced that aliens are visiting us on a regular basis. Now what? Some lunatic fantasy about what the swarms of UFOs really mean for us.

    So, Mr. Ijames, if you are still reading this, or anyone else for that matter — for the sake of argument, I accept that all of these cases of blacks you claim as Confederate soldiers are indeed true. What does that mean and why is it important?

    Reply
  7. ghost

    Kevin Levin

    “Where is the muster roll sheet? Without a wartime document we can’t say much of anything about this individual. We have a similar problem with the case of Venable which is just posted.”
    ****************************

    The point of my post was not to prove Tobe’s claim but that the County and State Pension Boards counted him to be a soldier.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Ghost,

      Sorry about that. I should have read your comment more carefully. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the South Carolina Pension Board system. Given the claim it would be interesting to learn more about how it made these decisions. Thanks for passing this document along.

      Peter,

      I know you weren’t. You are making an important point.

      Reply
  8. ghost

    Peter
    “These supposed masses did not commemorate their service or ask to be remembered as Confederate soldiers”
    ========================

    They most certainly did. They attended reunions and were members of Camps of Confederate Veterans.

    Reply
  9. Chris Meekins

    Such anomalies do exist within the Confederacy itself, as in the excellent book by Johnson and Roark – Black Masters: a Free Family of Color in the Old South. Examined therein is April William Ellison and his family – a Free black who owned slaves and supported the Southern cause in the war. Black Masters gives us context and understanding as to why this free black man was of his society – right down to his upward mobility through mechanical genius and aptitude but also through his acquisition of slaves. A similar study of a free black who served in the Confederate army would prove highly beneficial. If such a study could be crafted. It is precisely because of Johnson and Roark’s work that I would entertain the idea of a free black man being a Confederate soldier. The shock is not that a free black might be a soldier but rather in understanding how he might fit in the social structure. But a free black man, who can control his destiny to a degree, and more so in NC for a while (with voting rights, etc.), in the Confederate army, is not a slave. I would be very interested indeed of a study that could illuminate such a man – it would serve perhaps to demonstrate many things about the slave society itself. When class trumps ethnicity then we get some very interesting looks at the people involved.
    Oh my! Did I just write that?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Chris,

      Excellent comment and I highly recommend _Black Masters_ to all of you. No one is denying that there may have been a few free blacks who served in the Confederate ranks as Chris notes. The challenge is in understanding the dynamics of their experiences given the laws that many southern states passed curtailing their freedom.

      Reply
  10. Dan Wright

    While I agree that the SCV is not serious about history, they are serious about myth-making.
    That makes your research both interesting and important.
    What I’m curious about is how many people buy into the Black Confederate myth and the slavery-wasn’t-so-bad myth and the CW-wasn’t-about-slavery myth, etc.
    I’d like to think that they’re so marginalized as to be insignificant, but I’m probably wrong about that. Any estimate of their numbers?

    Reply
  11. Sherree Tannen

    ‘When class trumps ethnicity then we get some very interesting looks at the people involved.”

    Yes.

    I have just discovered that some Cherokee took African slaves with them on the Trail of Tears. I can’t tell you how difficult I find it to get my head around that. I know all of the classic explanations: most Indigenous slaveholders were of mixed race; most did not self-identify as Cherokee, etc. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they were just people who lived in their own time period to the best of their ability. I truly have no idea. This does nothing to diminish the tragedy of the forced removal of the Cherokee and other Indigenous Nations west of the Mississippi. Nor does it diminish the tragedy of the history of slavery. It just makes the history more complex.

    Reply
  12. James Bartek

    Here’s another bit of evidence to ponder. I came across this while researching in the archives of the Museum of the Confederacy. Apologies for not being able to provide the names of the “mulattoes” in question. I failed to write them down at the time, being more interested in the substance of the petition.

    Petition from Officers of Nelson’s BN, S.C. Vols, May 1862:
    “We the undersigned Commissioned Officers of Nelson’s [7th South Carolina Infantry] Battalion being desirous of getting the following men out of the Battalion petition that they be removed from our midst on account of their not being white men and not liable to do duty as soldiers.”

    Four officers qualified the request:
    “We concur, but suggest they be detailed as teamsters.”

    Major P.H. Nelson, commander:
    “The within named enlisted members [. . .] are mulattoes. They are so regarded in the neighborhood from which they come, and are not allowed to vote. They are a drawback to the company, preventing white men from joining it.”

    Even free blacks of mixed ancestry who willingly volunteered (as I assume to be the case here) would’ve had trouble finding acceptance. Further, despite the views of the SCV on the matter and modern definitions of who qualifies as a “soldier,” I think this would indicate that Confederates did NOT consider black teamsters [or cooks, or servants] to be “soldiers,” as that was a privilege reserved for white men.

    Reply
  13. Kevin Levin Post author

    Dan,

    My guess is that it is marginal at best. The problem, of course, is that the Internet gives them access to a much broader audience that has no ability to judge what is claimed. Just Google “black Confederates” and you will see what I mean.

    James,

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across references that reflect this sentiment. This is exactly part of the broader context in which the more extravagant claims must be judged.

    Reply
  14. ghost

    James Bartek,

    One petition from one unit cannot be used as across the board evidence of how blacks were viewed in the Confederate army.

    But how did they enlist in the first place?…and how did they remain to May 1862?

    Furthermore, who are they (so we can check their records)?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Ghost,

      Of course, you must know that Civil War historians have written extensively about how whites responded to slaves in their camps throughout the war. You can start with Chandra Manning’s recent study as well as books by Reid Mitchell, James McPherson, Earl Hess, Joseph Glatthaar, etc. I could go on, but that is a start.

      Reply
  15. Mike

    Well from what I have read so far on line and here, we all will have to do a whole lot more digging before we get to the bottom of this issue across the Board.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Mike,

      No, the burden must be on those who make the claims. They must present their findings and interpretation in a forum that can be openly critiqued. It is their responsibility to take the necessary steps to ensure that their conclusions satisfy the basic requirements of historical scholarship. Sounds like we are pretty much on the same page, but I want to make it clear that it is not my responsibility to do the research for those who claim to be the experts. That is exactly what has happened re: the claims of Earl Ijames. You need to demand that he justify his position.

      Reply
  16. David Tatum

    HOLD THE STINKIN BUS !!!!!!!!!!!
    .Kevin !!!!!
    I just read your comment about the S.C.V. not being concerned with history’s accuracy.
    You better back up and punt !!
    You stated
    “ There can be no denying that the pension bureau saw him as anything but an eligible body servant – it is how they consistently describe him. In addition, the Attorney General’s ruling that they could not be soldiers suggests that a case for anything other than body servant cannot be made. Wary Clyburn was a slave in the 1860s and as late as 1930 the state of North Carolina recognized him as a slave during the Civil War.”

    You seem to be overlooking an important factor.

    After King Lincoln the First was Dethroned, a little thing called RECONSTRUCTION came along. The In place Government was replaced by military jurisdiction and districts were given to military officers to guide and control.
    Southern preachers were rounded up and sent north for re-indoctrination.

    The Government that failed to recognize Wary Clyburn as a Confederate Solider was a governing force that was put in place by the north !

    Southern Black soldiers were paid the same sum as there white counterparts. Unlike the north who paid The blacks at a lower rate.

    All in all you seem pretty fair in your observations. But you were asleep at the switch on this one.

    Respectfully Submitted

    David Tatum Jr.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Mr. Tatum,

      No one disputes that Clyburn was a slave. Unfortunately, as I’ve pointed out in countless posts the SCV honored him as a soldier which is a gross distortion of the past. I am not willing to debate this issue with you, but I appreciate the comment.

      Your claim about Southern black soldiers has little to do with the facts. I would ask that you explore previous posts on this issue as well as the few published studies that are available, including Bruce Levine’s _Confederate Emancipation_ (Oxford University Press) Finally, I have no idea what you mean by “King Lincoln” or your claim that southern preachers were “rounded up and sent north.” I respectfully ask that you leave this hyperbole away from my site. Thanks for your understanding.

      Reply
  17. Zunny Matema

    Dear Sherree,

    As a descendant of the Buffalo Ridge Cherokees and member of The Painted Gourd: Red Black Voices, I can tell you it is a long road to the understanding of why First Nation People took on the ominous task of slave holding. I can tell you that my research shows that most of the so-called five civilized tribes held slaves, educated their children in American schools and colleges and began to dress like the early white settlers to be like and get along. They thought that this behavior would make them accepted by white society. Unfortunately, they were wrong. My Choctaw ancestors were from Livingston, Alabama. Most Choctaws complied with every policy the whites established. It shocked me when I first learned that Choctaws were the first to be marched off to the reservations. Not all reservations where Native people were displaced, however, were in Oklahoma, some were in Arkansas and Georgia.

    Records in Livingston, those that didnt get burned up in the two court house fires, showed a remarkably intercultural town with acknowledgment of the good, the bad and the ugly among most of the folks who lived there. I perform a one woman show about my ancestor, Poncohontas or Poky as she was called ( not Pocohantas though there does seem to be a Virginia connection) and the first 100 year history of Livingston.

    Check out my website for information on issues pertaining to enslaved descendants from Virginia and parts south. I will soon be adding more to my main website, zsun-nee-matema.com. For 13 years (1991-2004), members of our group presented, performed and lectured our findings throughout the northeast and midwest US. We hosted a radio show, Indigenous Circle later, The Talking Feather, to answer questions just like the one you posed. Many of our audience members were as shocked as you to find that First Nation People held slaves. Its even harder for us to tell our mixed racial, family histories. There are many, Native, black and white who dont want to deal with what that implies. Im hoping that President Obamas mixed heritage can begin a dialogue on acceptance where little existed just a year ago.

    I am encouraged by learning from a CNN story that a young Irish lad and over-the-seas supporter of Obama asked his dad if there were any African Americans in their town. When he learned that there were not, he told his dad that he was so disappointed because he was hoping to get to know them.

    I wish you the best in your search for truth about your ancestors.
    Aho,
    Zunny

    Reply
  18. Sherree Tannen

    Zunny,

    What an absolutely unexpected and pleasant surprise! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I will indeed visit your website. Wado, my friend, wado!

    And thank you to our host as well for creating such possibilities of interaction across time, space, and differing cultures! I enjoyed your posts on Amsterdam, Kevin. I just returned from a trip to Rome to hear a young relative perform the lead role in a riveting production of Puccinis Suor Angelica. I am not quite back either, as you said of your first days back from Amsterdam. Zunnys beautiful commentary was certainly a pleasant way to come home, though, I must say.

    My regards to you, to your truly beautiful wife, and to your readers.

    Sherree

    Reply
  19. Patricia Poland

    Well, perhaps this is a post too late but will try anyway. I do concur that Wary/Weary Clyburn was a slave and was Thomas Frank Clyburn’s body servant. I have come to accept that the marking of Clyburn’s grave was more a daughter wanting something to the memory of her father. I’d like to add that the information found in these men’s pensions is quite interesting and eye-opening. Too bad my great-grandfather wasn’t required to fill out a more detailed pension application so that I might know more of what he did during the Civil War. Let’s look for a minute at the ‘other man’ listed in 1927 as a Negro pensioner with Clyburn. Hamp Cuthbertson’s 1927 pension application is one of the few oral histories (brief!) we have of someone who helped build Fort Fisher (NC). “Drafted” as a “colored servant” he helped build the fortifications and performed other manual labors “under the direction and command of his masters, and enduring severe privation, hunger, illness and punishments”; he was returned to the home of his owner about one year later. First of all, it’s pretty amazing that the board of white men so willingly wrote this down as it was dictated to them by Mr. Cuthbertson. You would think they would have glossed this over, given that they may have had an ulterior motive to perhaps show that the black man supported the South in the war. No doubt, his master, Moses Cuthbertson, was paid, albeit in Confederate monies, for the services of the slave, Hamp Cuthbertson. Where Hamp is buried and exactly when he died is not known for he would indeed deserve recognition and a marker for his grave. But out of the ten pensioners of color on record in Union County, Hamp is the one that lacks this particular information. To recognize all ten, for their service during the war, for their unusual position in the 1930s when they transcended the color barriers of that time–being accepted as part of the veterans, attending reunions and other celebrations once their pensions were approved–recognizing that one of them was the last man to die in the county who had first hand knowledge of a Civil War battlefield — all of this would be a first step in helping Union County’s history be all-inclusive. For the record, the word ‘soldier’ is not being used as part of the recently proposed recognition. As for Wary/Weary Clyburn – his family, notably his daughter, had stories from her father of his time during the war. It is very hard to digest the criticism against a daughter’s memories (not so much here but in much earlier posts), even if they may have changed over time. Though family stories can and do get skewed as they are told and retold, nonetheless, they are that family’s rightful stories and no one else should discount them.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Patricia,

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. You are lucky to have even a brief narrative about your great-grandfather’s participation in the war. Think about the the countless number of slaves who have no written record whatsoever. Hamp, along with the rest of the slaves who were forced to participate in the Confederate war effort, but that recognition should be based on sound historical investigation and in a way that simply satisfies our own needs. That said, I don’t know if I agree with you that the pensions are evidence of blacks and whites transcending race. After all, the pension system was reflective of the political power structure in NC at that time as well as other southern states. Former slaves attended reunions and other celebrations throughout this period even before some received pensions, but that does not necessarily imply a lax racial code. In fact, the research on this shows that the opposite is true. I do agree with you that it is important to uncover these stories as part of our broader narratives. Unfortunately, the SCV and so-called professionals like Earl Ijames have done significant damage in the way they’ve handled stories such as Weary Clyburn’s. Finally, I agree that Clyburn’s family are entitled to their stories, but historians have to treat such evidence as we do anything else. It’s not a matter of disrespecting a family’s tradition. In fact, I would argue that the careful evaluation of all the evidence is ultimately a sign of respect for that family and their history. Thanks again.

      Reply
      1. Patricia Poland

        Kevin, “Think about the countless number of slaves who have no written record whatsoever. ” Exactly! Recognition of these ten men is important – even if it only causes one to pause and consider (or realize!) that black men were in attendance of the war with their masters. Most in today’s society have no idea that black men were there at all. These ten in Union County, NC lived long enough to claim a pension – their pensions are the only record the county has of slaves in the war (though one of the ten, Jeff Sanders, was a free person of color). They can represent the countless others that remain unknown. You are correct that the pensions alone do not prove that these men were accepted outside the social norms of the time. Research of local newspapers during this time gives insight to the crossing of the color barriers. Stories about the yearly celebrations and/or subsequent trips to the national reunions before the time the pensions were granted do not reveal any black men as attending. However, not every article for those prior years has been found yet. Wary/Weary Clyburn is the first to be awarded a pension in 1926 – he becomes the first black man, as far as we know, to be included on a reunion trip in 1928 (Monroe Enquirer, May 3, 1928). In 1932, a special car was secured by W. C. Heath, a member of the local Pension Board and a champion of all Confederate Veterans, to take the veterans to the Richmond reunion; “also on board were four colored men, body guards and pensioners” — these men weren’t sent to some other car but instead were welcomed as part of the group of veterans, recognized by the other veterans as comrades. (Monroe Enquirer, 6/20/1932, p5) But this camaraderie didn’t begin until those pensions were approved. To read that both white and black attended Ned Byrd’s funeral, “Last of the Pensioners” (Monroe Journal, 2/10/1942, p5 – note that page number, if he had been white he would have made the front page) and that his coffin was draped with a confederate flag and the traditional ivy wreath in this county of all counties indicates something else was at work here, thus the crossing of the color barriers, even if only for veteran events. If, say Byrd’s funeral, were to be used as publicity (so-to-speak) then where is the photograph that surely would have been taken? (and I’d love to see that photograph!!!) These two articles are just a couple of examples.
        African-American research is a delicate mix of oral history, a little legal research (marriage records beginning in1866, deeds, censuses generally beginning with 1870) and rare mentions in the local newspaper (before 1960ish in Union County, NC) – one doesn’t always find absolute proof but one must be diligent in the search to uncover as much as one can. We’re trying!

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          Patricia,

          Thanks so much for the comment. I think you summed it up beautifully. I’ve argued from the beginning that these men deserve to be remembered. As historians, like any subject, we need to take the evidence seriously by interpreting it carefully. I find the postwar evidence to be extremely interesting, but as you well know it tells us much more about the complexity of race relations during Jim Crow than anything having to do with the Civil War and the “service” of blacks in the Confederate army. Unfortunately, organizations like the SCV and others have used this body of evidence to infer back to the Civil War and in doing so have distorted the lives of these individuals. In doing so they have not honored the memories of these men, but instead have used them to satisfy their own agenda. That is inexcusable and I will continue to speak out in response to it. Finally, I agree entirely that we need to keep working to expand our understanding of this crucial aspect of Civil War history. Thanks again, Patricia.

          Reply
        2. Richard

          “Think about the countless number of slaves who have no written record whatsoever. ” Exactly! Recognition of these ten men is important – even if it only causes one to pause and consider (or realize!) that black men were in attendance of the war with their masters.

          Your statement is right on the mark. I had never thought or considered black men on the battlefield with their masters until recently. The recognition by the SCV brings these men into the public eye and hopefully will inspire further research. These men went through the greatest event in American history together and it had to have a physiological affect on all involved.
          Thanks for sharing and good luck with your research.

          Reply
          1. Patricia Poland

            Kevin,
            I don’t want to see the memories of these men distorted by others’ agendas. And you are right, that has happened in the past. I do not blame you for speaking out against that distortion (I asked, in my round-about way, that a daughter’s stories of her father not be discounted). However, do you disbelieve that these men were ‘of service’ to the Confederate Army?

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              Patricia,

              Thanks again for the comment. I think we are both in agreement that the stories of the slaves and free black men who were involved in the Confederate war effort are woefully lacking and need to be acknowledged whenever possible. I also think we agree that when we do so we have an ethical obligation to do our best to base our narratives around solid primary sources.

              You asked: “[D]o you disbelieve that these men were ‘of service’ to the Confederate Army?”

              I think we have to be very careful here. If we are talking about the thousands of slaves, who served as servants to their officer-masters than we need to understand their collective story as an extension of the master-slave relationship. I would suggest that even those slaves who were impressed by the Confederate government continued to function as an extension of the master’s will. As a citizen of the Confederacy the master was obligated to sacrifice for the cause as were other citizens through taxes, the draft, etc. It’s important that we be careful with how we characterize the presence of these men. As I’ve said all along there may have been a few free black men who served as soldiers in the army; however, they are an exception to the rule and ought not to be used to characterize the broader experiences of African Americans in the Confederacy. We need to acknowledge the vigorous debate that took place throughout the Confederacy over the question of how far the government could go in utilizing the assistance of slaves. Slaveowners fiercely protected their right to property and viewed the government as a threat to their direct control over their property. I highly recommend Stephanie McCurry’s new book, _Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South_ (Harvard Press), which includes an excellent chapter on just this issue.

              If you simply mean that their presence aided the Confederate war effort than I agree. My concern is with those who make wild claims about how slaves viewed the war without any documentation whatsoever. This is what the Sons of Confederate Veterans does on a regular basis as well as others who use these men to satisfy their own beliefs about what they believe to be true. This, of course, is not to do history.

              In the end, we need to acknowledge these men for what they were: slaves. Their is nothing to be ashamed about such a status. In fact, I believe it makes their story that much more admirable. First, it shows just how brutal the institution of slavery was given that these men were forced into harms way and separated once again from loved ones. And yet, we have countless stories of these men taking action to secure their freedom and possibly helping to bring about the defeat of the Confederacy.

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              1. Patricia Poland

                Kevin,

                We do indeed agree that these men and their part in the history of the Civil War is lacking. I also agree that their very status as slaves “makes their story that much more admirable” as you’ve said. Though I get strange looks when I say this, I’ll post it here: It took great courage to be a slave: before, during and after the war. In that respect, I mean the dignity of their service, their very survival of that war, their willingness to carve out some sort of life afterwards. Aaron Perry, one of the ten pensioners of Union County, NC, is a fine example of this.

                We must remember the southern states were their home, it was all they knew, and they, just like the soldiers they served, wanted to get back home in one piece. As far as their view of the war – we honestly don’t know – I’m fairly certain no one ever asked them. So in that respect towards your concern of the unfounded and “wild claims” — none of us, including those in the SCV, can rightfully claim what these men may have felt towards their masters, the war, even their way of life. (there is one WPA slave narrative out there about Moses Cuthbertson of Union County, NC who was Hamp Cuthbertson’s master…the interviewee was Mandy Coverson – notice the probable misprounciation of the surname and thus the misspelling of the name as we know it – this would give us a clue of Hamp’s slave life)

                However, we’ve (or rather, I’ve) come back to Wary/Weary Clyburn and the stories his family has. We can’t discount their stories even though there is no documentation that supports their claims (other than his pension application). I must accept Clyburn’s daughter’s stories of her father’s time in the war.

                I’ll take your suggestion at finding the book you recommend as it sounds interesting and informative.

                And yes, that is simply what I meant, that their presence aided the Confederate army. Absurd as it may seem, I would say they were “support staff”. I would even dare to say that without them in those positions of support the war would have ended sooner. (but I suspect I’ll get some bashing for that claim…)

                Reply
  20. Pingback: Thomas Tobe and the Limits of Confederate Pension Records « Dead Confederates

  21. focusoninfinity

    Long after the Civil War, in the era of racial segregation by law; for most of those of mixed races, it paid to succesfully pass oneself off as more privileged “white”. For such an individual or family; especially after the conscription draft had begone; to continue the deception; Confederate military service logically followed. I speculate there were likely over 100 such Confederate soldiers, and if they were difficult to detect then; they would be harder to detect today.

    The Southern white man’s laws that constituted what made a man “black”, required very little African American blood.

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