Who Was “Ten Cent Bill” Yopp?

One of my biggest complaints about the many stories about so-called “black Confederates” is that the authors in question have almost no interest in doing serious research.  Most of the stories that you will find on the Internet are simply cut and pasted from one site to another.  Essentially, these men are treated as a means to an end; they are used to reinforce assumptions that the authors themselves have a need to uphold.  Such is the case of Bill Yopp, who is the subject of a recent essay by Clint Johnson. The story:

The aging veterans, in the Confederate Soldier’s Home, were proud men who had braved many a battle in the 1860s. One of these men was former Captain Thomas Yopp who saw such battles as that of Fredericksburg, VA, where a cannon shell burst knocked him unconscious.   The man who stayed with him until he recovered was his servant who had also joined the 14th Georgia Regiment, Company H. Bill Yopp was more then a servant; he and Thomas Yopp were friends who hunted and fished together.  Bill Yopp, a Black Confederate, was sympathetic to the men of Atlanta’s soldiers home who had been his compatriots in arms over fifty years earlier.

During the War Between the States, 1861-1865, Bill Yopp was nicknamed “Ten Cent Bill” because of the money he made shining shoes. He did this for the soldiers at a dime a shine and ended up with more money than most of his comrades. These men, also, cared for him when he was sick.  During the Christmas of 1919, Bill wanted to pay back the kindness that was shown to him. He caught a train from Atlanta to Macon, where he was offered help from the editor of a local newspaper [The Macon Telegraph]. He then caught a train to Savannah to raise Christmas money for the old veterans. Bill met many generous people on his trip.  Just weeks before the Christmas of 1919, he had raised the money and Georgia’s Governor Hugh Dorsey helped him distribute envelopes of three dollars to each veteran. That was a lot of money in those days.  The old Confederates were speechless. Tears were shed because of Bill Yopp’s good heart and kind deed. Many of these men had little or nothing. Bill was invited to come into the home’s Chapel and say a few words.   Bill Yopp was later presented a medal of appreciation for his support of the old soldiers and also voted in as a resident of the Confederate Soldier’s Home.

It’s unfortunate that Bill Yopp is irrelevant to this story.  Think about it.  We learn nothing about this man other than how he fits into those timeless tropes of loyalty and reconciliation.  It seems obvious to me that Bill Yopp was owned by Thomas Yopp and yet Johnson continues to refer to him as a “servant” who “joined” the 14the Georgia.  Well, that can easily be confirmed.

But beyond that there is so much that we don’t know about Bill Yopp.  What did he do after the war?  What was his economic situation before 1919?  And while it is comforting to believe that Yopp “wanted to pay back the kindness” of former “comrades” we are obligated to ask for evidence.  I am always struck by the ease with which writers like Johnson assume the motivation of former slaves during the Jim Crow Era.  I am also curious about Governor Dorsey’s involvement in Yopp’s project.  What was his motivation?  It would be interesting to know how Yopp fits into Atlanta politics during the period following WWI.  Perhaps the governor’s archival record might yield some answers.  Finally, I am very interested in a more sophisticated analysis of Bill Yopp’s place in the Confederate Soldiers Home.  We need to understand more about the culture and social structure of veterans homes and part of the problem is that we still need more research in this area.  [I am looking forward to Rusty Williams’s forthcoming study, My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans (University of Kentucky Press, 2010).  How common was it for former slaves in the Confederate army to gain admittance into these homes?  Were they, in fact, treated as veterans?  Did they have equal access to the available resources?  The questions are numerous, but if we have any interest at all in better understanding these men than they must be addressed.  Unfortunately, organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other writers have no interest in looking into these stories for fear that what they find will complicate and muddy their preferred interpretation.

Better to use the past to make us feel all warm and cozy during the Christmas season.

12 thoughts on “Who Was “Ten Cent Bill” Yopp?

  1. Tom

    Well, it wasn't common in NC for former slaves to gain admittance to the Confederate Soldiers' Home. In fact, it didn't happen. I've done a lot of research in the NC Soldier Home records and there weren't any former slaves staying there, I never even saw the question of that possibility coming up. I've researched the NC Home in the records of the home itself, newspaper articles, state legislative and governor's records, and private manuscript collections; and it is not mentioned. Evidence points to the fact that the question was never even asked. They did have a black family living there, the husband worked as a caretaker and the wife was a maid. I don't have the research in front of me, but at one time they refer to him as something along the lines of “Old Toby” or something like that. I do need to do some research on the caretaker family that lived there.

    I'm looking forward to the Rusty Williams book. I recommend “Living Monuments: Confederate Soldiers' Homes in the New South” by R.B. Rosenburg.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin

      Thanks for the comment. I wouldn't be surprised if Yopp turned out to be something other than a resident in the Georgia home. Perhaps was employed in some capacity. I never doubted that a black presence would be a rare occurrence in these homes.

      Reply
    2. C.W. Roden

      A Soldier’s Christmas Gift

      By Calvin E. Johnson, Jr., A Freelance Writer, Author of book ‘When America Stood for God, Family and Country’ and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
      cjohnson1861@bellsouth.net

      This is a True Christmas Story.

      Christmas is a wonderful time to celebrate with family, friends and supper at Grandma's house. Grandpa will gather the children around the fire place and tell them the story of Jesus Christ who was born on Christmas Day while Grandma makes ginger bread cookies and Daddy brings the Christmas tree in the family room for decorating. Mamma as always will lead us in the singing of ‘Silent Night—Holy Night’ as the Star of Bethlehem is placed on top of the tree.
      90 years ago….

      during the year 1919, one year after the end of World War I, the people of Atlanta, Georgia were celebrating the Christmas Season. Many people attended Church or Synagogue and gave thanks to God for his many blessings. Folks, while shopping, were uplifted by sweet sounds of Christmas music played by the Salvation Army Band. There was a friendly and charitable atmosphere during this time of the year.

      There were, however, some who were not as fortunate!

      The aging veterans, in the Confederate Soldier’s Home, were proud men who had braved many a battle in the 1860s. One of these men was former Captain Thomas Yopp who saw such battles as that of Fredericksburg where a cannon shell burst knocked him unconscious.

      The man who stayed with him until he recovered was his servant who had also joined the 14th Georgia Regiment, Company H. Bill Yopp was more then a servant; he and Thomas Yopp were friends who hunted and fished together.

      Bill Yopp, a Black Confederate, was sympathetic to the men of Atlanta’s soldiers home who had been his compatriots in arms over fifty years earlier.

      During the War Between the States, 1861-1865, Bill Yopp was nicknamed “Ten Cent Bill” because of the money he made shining shoes. He did this for the soldiers at a dime a shine and ended up with more money than most of his comrades. These men, also, cared for him when he was sick.

      During the Christmas of 1919, Bill wanted to pay back the kindness that was shown to him. He caught a train from Atlanta to Macon, where he was offered help from the editor of a local newspaper [The Macon Telegraph]. He then caught a train to Savannah to raise Christmas money for the old veterans. Bill met many generous people on his trip.

      Just weeks before the Christmas of 1919, he had raised the money and Georgia’s Governor Hugh Dorsey helped him distribute envelopes of three dollars to each veteran. That was a lot of money in those days.

      The old Confederates were speechless. Tears were shed because of Bill Yopp's good heart and kind deed. Many of these men had little or nothing. Bill was invited to come into the home's Chapel and say a few words.

      Bill Yopp was later presented a medal of appreciation for his support of the old soldiers and also voted in as a resident of the Confederate Soldier's Home.

      Bill died on June 3, 1936, the 128th birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He was buried at Marietta, Georgia’s Confederate Cemetery with his compatriots.

      The Confederate Soldier’s Home was located at 401 Confederate Ave., in Atlanta, Georgia.

      Christmas is about love, forgiveness, old friends, family and the Child who became a savior.

      Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jesus!

      The source of information for this story came from the book, entitled: Bill Yopp “Ten Cent Bill” Narrative of a Slave! This book was written in 1969 by Charles W. Hampton.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin

        I don't know why you are linking to this story since it is the very story that I based this post on. Please understand that Calvin Johnson is not a historian. His article is pretty much cut and pasted from the countless stories about Yopp that can be found Online. Unfortunately, just about all of it lacks any serious scholarly rigor and is worth little.

        Reply
  2. Rusty Williams

    There’s a different picture of Ten Cent Bill Yopp in the Chicago Defender, a newspaper published for black readers in the Midwest.

    Under the headline, “Ex-Slave Prays at Death Bed of Oppressor,” the newspaper describes how Bill Yopp knelt and prayed at the deathbed of his former master, asking forgiveness for the “man, who it is said, had been a Southern slave trader and fought against the freedom of his race.” (January 31, 1920; p. 11)

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin

      Nice to hear from you and thanks for the tip re: the Chicago Defender. Well, as you know all too well, the idea of loyal ex-slaves praying over the graves of their masters is well ingrained in our Civil War memory.

      Reply
  3. C.W. Roden

    Actually the Sons of Confederate Veterans is very supportive of remembering Black Confederates and their service to the cause of Southern Independence.
    I myself do presentations for my SCV camp and others on the history and individual stories of Black Confederates and their services with the Armies. These include: both slaves and freed black men who joined up; laborers, wagoners, body servants, musicians ect. Stories include those who were loyal, even under torture in Union POW camps.
    20 years of research into these individual stories is very eye-opening.

    I am pleased by your story about Bill Yopp and his service both during and after the War Between the States. Sometime later next year, I am planning a trip to visit the grave of this Confederate soldier, as well as the battlefield of Chickamauga where my own Confederate Ancestor fell in defense of his home state of Alabama.

    Reply
  4. PC

    Copied from findagrave.com

    William H. “Ten-Cent Bill” Yopp;
    Company H of the 14th Georgia

    Residence Laurens County GA;
    Enlisted on 7/9/1861 as a Drummer-Colored.
    On 7/9/1861 he mustered into “H” Co. GA 14th Infantry
    He was Surrendered on 4/9/1865 at Appomattox Court House, VA.

    After the war, now a free man, he returned to the Yopp plantation in Georgia and worked there until 1870. He then secured a job as bell boy at the Brown House in Macon. From there he went to New York, California, Europe, and then worked as a porter on the private car of the President of the Delaware and Hudson Railway.

    In his later years he returned to Georgia to find his former master, Captain T.M. Yopp, ready to be enrolled in the Confederate Soldier’s Home in Atlanta. Bill was a frequent visitor to the home, not only to see his former master but the other Confederate veterans as well. At Christmas, with the help of the Macon Telegraph, he raised enough money to give each resident in the home $3.

    In 1920 Bill wrote a book entitled “Bill Yopp, ‘Ten-Cent’ Bill”. The book was about his exploits before, during, and after the war. The book sold for 15 cents a copy, or $1.50 for a dozen. Proceeds were shared by Bill and the Confederate Soldier’s Home. The Confederate veterans were so appreciative of Bills help that they took up a collection and awarded him a medal. The board of trustees voted to allow Bill to stay at the Home for as long as he lived. He was one of the last remaining veterans in the Home when it closed its doors in the 1940′s. Bill was also a member of the Atlanta U.C.V. Camp.

    1880 United States Federal Census:
    Name: William H. Yopp, Home in 1880: Albany, Albany, New York, Age: 34, Estimated birth year: abt 1846
    Birthplace: Georgia, Relation to head-of-household: Self (Head), Spouse’s name: Mary J., Occupation: Waiter,
    Marital Status: Married, Race: Black, Gender: Male
    Household Members:, William H. Yopp 34, Mary J. Yopp 34,
    Phoebe Woods 75, Forester E. Alford 20

    Sources:
    Census Source: Dainah Chandler
    http://www.civilwardata.com/active/hdsquery.dll?SoldierHistory?C&125020
    http://www.37thtexas.org/html/HistRef.html

    Burial:
    Marietta Confederate Cemetery
    Marietta
    Cobb County
    Georgia, USA

    Reply
    1. Andy Hall

      Ah, copy-and-paste. Is there no historical question you can’t answer? ;-)

      Bill Yopp’s story is an interesting one, but it doesn’t get us anywhere when it comes to understanding the concept of African Americans enlisted as soldiers in the Confederate Army. A few key points here:

      1. Bell Irvin Wiley, the famous Civil War historian, knew Bill Yopp and wrote about him in his first book, Southern Negroes. Wiley was very clear about Yopp’s wartime status as a personal servant, not as a soldier.

      2. Yopp’s admittance to the soldier’s home was not in recognition of his wartime service, but of his contributions to the residents’ well-being, decades after the war.

      3. Yopp was admitted to the home only after a special vote by the trustees for admittance, because he did not otherwise qualify. His admittance is, as the saying goes, the exception that proves the rule, in that the old soldiers’ home did not generally admit former body servants.

      Note that none of this is a criticism of Yopp, nor a diminution of his role, either during the war or after; those things are a matter of record. Rather, it’s to correct exaggerated and false claims being made about Bill Yopp, decades after his passing.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Thanks, Andy. One less thing to worry about this morning. I particularly like your qualifier at the end. :-)

        Reply
  5. Rosalind Hillhouse

    I don’t know what to think of all of this, I can only muddy waters more. Last evening, I stood at Mr. Yopp’s headstone, not in Marietta, Ga but in the Historic African American section of Atlanta’s Historic Oakland Cemetery. The is mention of Captain Thomas Yopp on the bottom of the stone. It is a family provided stone or so it seems because the first inscription above his name is Uncle Bill. I am a guide at Oakland and I would like to be loyal to the memory of Mr. Yopp by presenting his memory respectfully without slanting it to suit anyone else’s politics. But mainly I want to know which cemetery has his remains now and who merely has a cynataph.

    Reply
    1. Andy Hall

      Wow, that’s really interesting. Everything I’ve seen has him buried in the Marietta Confederate Cemetery, under a traditional CS military-style headstone. This fits with his being admitted to the Confederate Soldier’s Home, and is a key part of Yopp’s story as it’s told today. Do you have pictures of the stone at Oakland? Are there any other family members in that Oakland plot, of is it just Bill Yopp’s stone?

      Reply

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