The Richmond Howitzers Were Integrated (well, not quite)

A few days ago I referenced another essay by an individual masquerading as a legitimate authority on Civil War history and “black Confederates.”  In the essay, Bernhard Thuersam, who is the executive director of the Cape Fear Historical Institute, makes the ridiculous assertion that the Richmond Howitzers were “an integrated artillery unit.”  Since no references were provided we are forced to guess as to the origin of the claim.  More than likely it stems from a story about the slave, Aleck Kean, who accompanied John Henry Vest into the Confederate army at the beginning of the war.  Vest was killed in 1863, but for reasons unknown Kean decided to stay with the unit through to the end of the war.

In 1913 the Richmond Howitzers erected a stone to Aleck Kean that read: “In Testimony of this Admiration and Respect for a man who did his duty in war and peace. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.'”  [Unfortunately, I can’t locate an image of the stone.]  I did locate a short piece by Judge George L. Christian about Kean that appeared in the pages of Confederate Veteran in 1912:

…I affirm that he was the most faithful and efficient man in the performance of every duty pertaining to his sphere that I have ever known.  His whole mind and soul seemed bent on trying to get and prepare something for his mess to eat; and if there was anything to be gotten honestly, Aleck always got the share which was coming to his mess, and he always had that share prepared in the shortest time possible and the most delicious way in which it could have been prepared in camp.  The comfort of having such a man as Aleck around us in those trying times can scarcely be described and certainly cannot be exaggerated.

There is nothing unusual about the content of Christian’s personal memory or the broader collective memory of white southerners at the beginning of the twentieth century.  In short, slaves became loyal servants worthy of remembrance.  However, only an individual lacking the most basic knowledge of the Confederacy and slavery could make the assertion that the Richmond Howitzers were “integrated.”

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5 comments… add one

  • Andy Hall Jul 9, 2010

    My sister attended a high school in the South many years ago, not long after the Brown case. The public schools here took a long time in complying with that decision, and when she went there were still two public high schools, one for whites and Hispanics (who were nominally classed as “white”), and one for African Americans. But at her all-white high school they did have African American custodians and cafeteria workers. I guess by Bernhard Thuersam’s lights, that counts as “integrated,” too.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 9, 2010

      That sounds about right. The level of ignorance on the part of some of these people is truly staggering.

  • Dick Stanley Oct 26, 2010

    Am reading Robert Stiles’ “Four Years Under Marse Robert,” Stiles being a veteran of the Richmond Howitzers which was attached to the Griffith/Barksdale/Humprheys Mississippi Brigade. He tells lots of stories about camp life but never mentions the phenomenon of being “integrated.” Seems like he would have if it had occurred.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 26, 2010

      Thanks for the comment. None of them mention it.

  • Forester Feb 24, 2014

    Hey Kevin, I was just Googling the Richmond Howitzers and I found your blog here. The Howitzers interest me because of their connection with my local National Guard unit, the former Norfolk Blues. I know E.P. Alexander never mentioned any “integration” in the Howitzers, which were under his command. The “Norfolk Virginian” newspaper decried USCTs in 1866 as “black soldiers,” as though they were the first and only. It’s very strange that the Norfolk Virginian would be unaware of black Confederates if their own local unit served with the integrated Richmond Howitzers.

    Now I have a question, Kevin: is Aleck Kean the ONLY black allegedly connected with the Richmond Howitzers? The quotes you provided made him sound like a cook, whereas certain websites imply that the blacks were fighting. Does history record any other blacks connected with that unit?

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