A group of historians and other concerned citizens recently lobbied the commissioners of Union County to “recogniz[e] the contributions of 10 black Confederate pensioners, known as colored troops during the Civil War.” We’ve seen all this before and it doesn’t look like anything will steer certain folks away from making this all too common mistake regarding the conditions under which black Southerners were given pensions after the Civil War. The assumption seems to be that a pension indicates that a given individual served as a soldier in the Confederate army. [For some reliable commentary on pensions please read James Hollandsworth, Jr., Robert Moore, and the Library of Virginia.] The group wants to install a small monument to these ten individuals in front of the old courthouse in Monroe.
The most disappointing aspect of this story is to read the words of the descendants of these men who were forced to endure the horrors of war as property, ultimately without any choice in the matter.
Aaron Perry of Charlotte is the great-grandson of one of the pensioners, also named Aaron Perry, a Union County slave who fought with the North Carolina 37th Company D. Although the Confederate States lost, their story should be remembered. “I think it’s a great thing,” said the younger Perry, 72. “It’s been a long time ago, so I’m not going to overlook that. What’s so bad about it? They’re honoring these 10 North Carolina soldiers for being helpful to their country, even if it was under slavery. “They lost that war, but my great grandfather helped rebuild the camp at Fort Fisher,” Perry said. “He played his part, even though he was under slavery and somebody else’s command. When you enlist in the service, you’re taking orders from somebody.”
Notice how Mr. Perry completely collapses the distinction between status as a slave and citizen. In what way was the Confederacy “their country” given the constitution’s provisions that specifically protect the institution of slavery? Even worse is the failure to distinguish between having to take orders within a military command – a responsibility that under certain conditions is conferred on citizens – and status as a slave which views the individual as an extension of his master’s will. What could be clearer?
Of course, it should come as no surprise that Earl Ijames is involved in this nonsense. Ijames works as a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, which is part of the NC Department of Archives and History. I guess Ijames couldn’t resist referencing Weary Clyburn, who happens to be his favorite “Colored Confederate.” Unfortunately, Ijames isn’t even sure whether Clyburn was a slave or a free man at the time of the Civil War.
Between Perry and Ijames we get a sense of the quality of “research” and thought that seems to be behind this project. I am sad to say that in 2010 we have two African American men, who are essentially hoping to erect a monument to faithful slaves of the Confederacy. What could be more pathetic?