Update on Vicksburg’s Black Confederates

Update: This is what happens when you try to write a post when you are not feeling well. I called my contact again and now can confirm that the museum is 63 years old, while the exhibit was done within the last few years. Sorry about that.

Yesterday I shared photographs of an exhibit on black Confederates at the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Today I had a chance to talk with a curator at the museum about the exhibit. I appreciate his willingness to answer my questions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to learn much about the exhibit itself given that it has been on display for 63 years. That, of course, explains the emphasis on faithful slaves. Andy Hall correctly surmises that this probably has as much to do with a limited budget as it does with a flawed interpretation of the Confederacy and slavery.

I asked about how it was possible that slaves were enlisted as soldiers given the Confederate government’s position, but all he could say was that these men were loyal to their owners and accepted by their comrades.  For further reading it was suggested that I check out Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear by Minor Ferris Buchanan.  I’ve never heard of this book before, but I will definitely take a look at it at some point.  Given my initial assumption that the exhibit was much more recent, it is interesting to note that many of the most common images and accounts that can be found today Online were being used in the 1940s.  That definitely changes my perspective on the history of when these accounts first surfaced.  I want to know, for example, when the image of the Chandler Boys first came to be used as an example of loyal black Confederate soldiers, etc.

The problem with this exhibit can be reduced to its title.  Calling it “Blacks Who Wore Gray” clouds the distinction between slave and soldier.  Rather, it should be titled, “Slaves Who Wore Gray.”

9 comments… add one
  • David Jul 3, 2010 @ 10:51

    I used to live in Mississippi and know that exhibit. It was there in the 50’s for sure. The graphics have been updated, as in all such museums, but the concept is one that Mississippi has always been proud of and displayed. You may want to explore black’s in the South a bit more. They were not discriminated against nearly as bad as in the North. On obtaining freedom they frequently prospered. In fact, they were the largest constituent of the middle class in the South. At least 5000 blacks owned slaves. Thus, it would not be strange for them to react to the invasion of their homes just as whites did.

    One book you might want to read would be “War Crimes Against Southern Civilians” by Cisco. There is a chapter on the abuses suffered by blacks.

    As to labeling the exhibit as”slaves in the army”, that sounds like you are touching on the Myth or the Moral North concept.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 3, 2010 @ 12:26

      Hi David,

      Thanks for taking the time to write. Well, your placing the exhibit in the 1950s complicates things given that others have pointed out references in the exhibit that place it in the 1980s-90s. Historians have written extensively about the lives of southern blacks during the postwar period. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend Cisco’s book for much of anything given its lack of serious analysis.

      Please note that my interest in the myth of black Confederates has absolutely nothing to do with any belief in a “Moral North” – whatever that is supposed to mean. I know way too much about the history of the region to fall into that trap. Thanks again for the comment.

  • James F. Epperson Jun 30, 2010 @ 3:36

    When we visited Vicksburg in 1988 (pre-casino days), we were advised, by some locals at the B&B where we stayed, to check out the Courthouse museum. Given what they told us it said about Grant’s drinking, I was looking to be unimpressed. Alas, we did not find the time to go, but I gathered that it was the creation of a single local official. You might contact Terry Winschel at the Park to see what he says.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 30, 2010 @ 4:44

      That’s probably a good idea. I have another contact as well that I may eventually follow up on. Thanks.

  • Larry Cebula Jun 29, 2010 @ 9:29

    That exhibit has NOT been on display for 63 years. Look at the fonts, the laminating–it is much more recent than that.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2010 @ 9:46

      You and Andy are no doubt right about the age of the exhibit. Thanks. It’s nice to have experts looking over my shoulders. 😀

  • Andy Hall Jun 29, 2010 @ 6:59

    I don’t believe for a minute that display has been there 63 years. Period, full stop.

    Maybe it’s been there a long time — fifteen years, twenty. (Southern Partisan, which is credited for at least one of the images, was established in 1979.) But the laser-printed, typeset labels and the (seemingly) photocopied images suggest it’s much more recent. I visited there twenty years ago this past spring and don’t recall this display, but my visit was rushed, and I may have forgotten it.

    Maybe it’s been there longer than the curator, but he’s is doing nothing here but saying, “didn’t happen on my watch,” and washing his hands of the responsibility for it.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2010 @ 7:08


      I forgot about your reference to the Southern Partisan. That does complicate things. Still, I have no idea why the curator suggested it was so old.

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