Black Confederates in the Old Courthouse

Special thanks to Robert Pomerenk, who took these photos of an exhibit on black Confederates in the Old Courthouse in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  It looks like a relatively old exhibit that was done with a very limited budget.  A quick perusal of these photos suggests that very little research went into this exhibit.  You will see the standard images as well as primary source accounts with absolutely no analysis whatsoever.  The exhibit is framed around the following assumption:

Dedicated to the faithful slaves, who loyal to the sacred trust, toiled for support of the Army, with matchless devotion and sterling fidelity guarded our defenseless homes, women and children, during the struggles for the principles of our Confederate States of America.

I’ve suggested that this debate ought to be understood as an extension of the central Lost Cause theme that assumes that slaves were faithful and had no interest in freedom.  This is one of the best examples of that point.  Yes, a book on this subject is desperately needed.

15 comments… add one

  • Andy Hall Jun 28, 2010

    Yup, the “Black Confederate” story is simply a more palatable update of the “faithful slave” themes. Unfortunately, local history museums such as this are perennially broke, with little or no professional staff — notwithstanding Vicksburg’s key role in that conflict — and are prone to accept “assistance” from anyone who comes along with a new idea. I suspect, as well, that local groups pushing the “Black Confederate” story line hold a lot of sway when it comes to organizations like that.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 28, 2010

      Andy,

      You are probably right about that. This is clearly a low budget exhibit and I suspect that it didn’t involve any public historians.

  • toby Jun 28, 2010

    One of the photographs shows a white man (sitting) and a black man (standing). The sitting man is in Confederate grey his hand resting on his sword, the standing man is wearing a military tunic with no insignia and carries no weapon. The picture is captioned “A Confederate second lieutentant and his body servant”.

    Sums up the “black confederates”.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 28, 2010

      Hi Toby,

      The man sitting is Lt. J. Wallace Comer of the 57th Alabama and the individual standing is his body servant, who is identified only as Burrell. The photograph was taken in 1864. It was not unusual for slaves to procure a uniform.

    • Andy Hall Jun 28, 2010

      The framed pension application is explicitly for a servant, and makes reference to the applicant’s “owner.” Not that that matters, because nothing about the display distinguishes between the roles of personal servant v. soldier, or free v. slave. It’s an incoherent mess.

      • Kevin Levin Jun 28, 2010

        It’s a complete mess. The failure to distinguish between soldiers and slaves is a fundamental problem with this debate. It’s why the label ‘black Confederate’ is pretty much useless.

  • Marianne Davis Jun 28, 2010

    Kevin,
    Once again, I need your help in translating some things:
    What is meant by “the sacred trust?” (Since you’ve already reminded me that Confederate leaders were Christian stalwarts, and Northerners godless heathens, are these the people who put the “sacred bond” in bondage?)
    And,
    “the principles of OUR Confederate States?” (Are we to belief that these faithful slaves were consulted as to their political views?)
    Help!

    • Kevin Levin Jun 28, 2010

      Marianne,

      The “sacred trust” is meant to suggest that slaves remained loyal during the war in exchange for the care they received from their owners. Sounds to me like you understand what’s going on here. :D

  • Tom Jun 28, 2010

    I visited this museum 10+ years ago. I do not remember this particular display, but I do remember the mention of “faithful slaves.” One thing I do remember was an exhibit sign that read: “Kennesaw Mountain – Where the South Taught Sherman that War is Hell.” I’m sorry, but I have to give a small tip of my Yankee blue cap to whoever wrote that.

    There is a section on this museum in Horowitz’s “Confederates in the Attic.”

    • Kevin Levin Jun 28, 2010

      Tom,

      Thanks for the additional information. I am planning on calling the courthouse tomorrow to follow up on this story.

    • Robert Pomerenk Jun 29, 2010

      Tom – that sign is still there – along with many other pro-Confederate items……

  • Bob Pollock Jun 28, 2010

    I visited this museum back in ’04. I remember seeing a display about the woman who got pregnant by a minie ball. http://www.security-faqs.com/the-virgin-bullet-pregnancy-of-1874.html

    • Robert Pomerenk Jun 29, 2010

      Still there…….

  • “Black Southerners in Grey” was given credit for the photo of Silas and Andrew Chandler. This book was published in 1997. Andrew Chandler Battiale was one of the authors.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2010

      Myra,

      You are absolutely right. I didn’t bother to look at that image close up. Thanks.

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