Ann DeWitt Is At It Again

It just continues to get more and more bizarre with each passing week.  Ann DeWitt promised to continue to develop her Black Confederate Soldiers website and she does not disappoint.  She recently added a section on the pension records of Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee.   Nowhere does she inform her reader that these pensions were given to former slaves – a fact obscured by the black individual holding a Confederate flag.  But wait, it gets much better.  Check out DeWitt’s description of body servants:

So what is the definition of a body servant?  A body servant is a gentleman’s gentleman.  These African-American men, whether freedmen or slaves, dedicated their lives to the service of men who in some form or fashion shaped the United States of America.  In 21st century vernacular the role is analogous to a position known as an executive assistant—a position today that requires a college Bachelors Degree or equivalent level experience.  Ask any salesman. You cannot secure an appointment with a senior executive without getting approval from his or her  executive assistant.

I deplore slavery. However, my point is that these body servants did break ground in establishing the importance of the role in 21st century context.  Body servants were trusted advisers and confidants to Confederate Generals such as Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Nathan Bedford Forrest to name a few.  As an example, capitalist Nathan Bedford Forrest was the most revered as well as loathed Confederate General because Nathan Bedford Forrest in the end was respected by both black and white southern men who served under his leadership.  Look at the official Confederate Tennessee Pension records.  Forrest even had an “escort cavalry,” which in today’s terms we call an entourage.  Even President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, travels with a staff of 500 people.

Here is DeWitt’s page on Alabama’s pension records:

The African-Americans, who served during the American Civil War from Alabama, served as drummers, musicians, laborers, carpenters and teamsters to name a few.  Alabama Department of Archives & History provides an Online Index with links to original pension applications.  Please note that the Alabama Department of Archives & History does not document if these African-Americans fought for the Union or the Confederate States Army. Some southerners who served in the United States Army continued to fight for the Union. Which begs the question, did some slaves go to war with their southern masters to fight for the Union?

I admit that I had a long day today, but can someone explain what DeWitt is asking in these final two sentences? I am assuming that the men listed on this page functioned as servants to soldiers in the Confederate army.

If that wasn’t enough, H.K. Edgerton is referred to as a “Human Rights Defender.” And, finally we have this creative interpretation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  Keep in mind that DeWitt intends this to be an educational site for teachers and students.  O.K. that’s enough crazy for one day.

31 comments… add one

  • Larry Cebula Sep 20, 2010

    Though her offenses are many, by far the worst is her misuse of “begs the question.”

  • Johnny Sep 20, 2010

    “Negro soldiers cannot cope with southerners.” – Nathan Bedford Forrest.

    Forrest also referred to blacks as “deluded.”

    Of all the Confederate officers who might have advocated for black Confederate soldiers or employ them as trusted confidants, Forrest would be the least likely to do so. Not a mention of Cleburne, but DeWittless managed to name Forrest.

    Incredible.

  • Jonathan Dresner Sep 20, 2010

    Actually, though she really does beg the question, there’s the germ of an interesting speculation in those last sentences. Was the pre-war US military organized on geographic lines such that slave-owning officers (I’m assuming that enlisted men would rarely be wealthy enough) ended up in units on the Union side? And were there any slave-owning officers who remained on the Union side, and if so, what did they do with their slaves? Unlike Dewitt, I’m not going to assume that anything I can imagine must necessarily be true, but it’s potentially kind of an interesting boundary case.

    The bit about body servants, though? Holy Ahistoricality, Batman!

    • Kevin Levin Sep 20, 2010

      I thought the same thing, but as far as I can tell DeWitt is inquiring about the men on the list and not the pre-war US military.

      • Jonathan Dresner Sep 20, 2010

        Apparently, in the absence of explicit and convenient documentation to the contrary, she’s being agnostic about whether Alabama recorded Union and Confederate pensions together. I’d guess that’s wrong, and something that could be determined, but I don’t know these things.

      • Tom Sep 20, 2010

        I’m really going to stick my neck out, and make the suggestion that the state of Alabama did not give out pensions for Federal service.

        • Ken Noe Sep 21, 2010

          It did not, Tom. I double checked this morning, just to be sure.

          And as far as Alabama is concerned, doesn’t it say something really significant that every single pension entry begins with the designation “Slave” or “Slave of…?”

          • Kevin Levin Sep 21, 2010

            Thanks Ken. This woman has absolutely no business putting up a website about anything having to do with history. She clearly lives in a different universe.

            By the way, are you going to the SHA?

            • Ken Noe Sep 21, 2010

              Yes, I’ll be there. One of my former students is presenting. You? If so, we need to plan ahead this time.

              • Kevin Levin Sep 21, 2010

                Just made my reservation.

          • Jonathan Dresner Sep 21, 2010

            It did not, Tom. I double checked this morning, just to be sure.

            That answers a big part of my question, too, thanks!

  • Mark R. Cheathem Sep 20, 2010

    Truly bizarre. Executive assistants? Entourages?

  • Greg Rowe Sep 20, 2010

    Forrest a “capitalist?” Please! No wonder capitalism is getting such a bad rap these days. I suppose he was; but, even though most white Southerners considered slavery a necessary evil, most could not stand slave traders except as far as was necessary to make purchases. Had the war not come along Forrest would not have made the history books in any notable fashion. While that might be said of even the likes of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in my estimation, Chamberlain would have still maintained some respect among his peers that Forrest would not have enjoyed.

  • Jimmy Price Sep 20, 2010

    I have to ask – is that a real t-shirt?

    If so, I’m mortified. That’s a photo of USCTs at Camp William Penn, in Philadelphia (and the header for my blog.)

    I guess people don’t understand that a sky blue great coat looks gray in a black and white photograph.

    Painful.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 21, 2010

      Unfortunately, it is for sale.

  • Marianne Davis Sep 20, 2010

    I once had an executive assistant. He did indeed have a degree, controlled my calendar and was dedicated to my service. Curiously, though, I never had title to him, or to his children.
    This has gone beyond apologia and is moving toward obscenity.

  • John Maass Sep 20, 2010

    How many “executive assistants” do we know that say “massa”?

    • Woodrowfan Sep 22, 2010

      And the term for what we now call “Executive Assistant” was “Secretary” and NOT “Body Servant.” Lincoln had secretaries, who acted as staffers and advisers. Put bluntly, DeWitt has no clue what she is talking about…

  • Colin Woodward Sep 21, 2010

    Wow. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to contradict the wild claims made by DeWitt.

    Obama travels with 500 people? Does Air Force One hold that many?

  • Sherree Sep 21, 2010

    Kevin,

    I think the Gordian knot to be untied here can be found in the movie “Glory”.

    Glory is a tremendous movie, beautifully done, and it brought to the forefront of American consciousness, the experiences of African Americans in the Civil War, showing in the powerful performances of Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman how black men and women fought and died for their own freedom and how that freedom was not a gift of the white man (the same white man who put the black man in bondage to start with)

    Yet, the movie is still a work of fiction. And it is a work of fiction that impacted several generations.

    The template created seems to be one that suggests that most white Union officers were gentlemen who, after amending their views on race, joined free blacks in the parlor and read aloud from Hawthorne (who was, himself, a racist.) The more unsavory people were from Kentucky, or were Irish immigrants.

    This is a false view of the past. And although it does not come near to the more outlandish claims made by neo Confederates; it does help to contribute to the idea that history is a lie, and that what we are deciding as a society, concerning history, is not how we will finally find the truth, but who will control the lie. This, in turn, leads to the absurd–such as the portrayal of a former slave trader turned Confederate officer as a hero.

    I know that you are talking history here and not fiction. Yet, these perceptions pervade our culture and help create how we perceive the past. It would be interesting to see a study that traced and analyzed the impact of the movie Glory on white and African American men and women, North and South. I think you have brought this up before, but perhaps not from the perspective I am suggesting. I am not sure. Either way, it is a thought.

    • Matt McKeon Sep 21, 2010

      Sherlee,

      I have to disagree with your post. The 54th Massachusetts actually happened, and Hollywood came along and made a movie about it. History is used for the basis of a drama, which has been happening since Shakespeare.

      DeWitt is making things up. She’s taking things that didn’t happen and creating a website claiming they did happen. She’s lying and pretending to tell the truth. She’s seeking to spread her lies among children.

      Won’t anyone think of the children?

      • Sherree Sep 22, 2010

        Matt,

        Nice to hear from you. Also, I appreciate your point. I am a big fan of Shakespeare and of the writers for and director of “Glory”.

        However, my point is that on this blog Kevin examines memory. “Glory” played a large role in shaping memory over the past two decades. As heroic as Shaw was, not all Union officers were so heroic, and Confederate officers even less so. An archetype seemed to form, or maybe just an expectation.

        I remember reading the interview of an historian whom I greatly respect. (Gallagher) In this interview, Professor Gallagher talked about his admiration for “Glory”. He then later mentioned “Dances With Wolves”, and made a comment something to the effect that Hollywood always paints the US Army in negative terms and even had the army in “Dances with Wolves” shoot the wolf of the protagonist.

        Well, in reality, the army did more than just shoot a single wolf. (as I am sure Professor Gallagher knows– again, this was simply an informal comment) The mass slaughter of buffalo was ordered and the men and women of the Plains Nations were starved to death. Sherman was either instrumental in this, or actually ordered it. The same Sherman who was so instrumental in helping to bring about the end of slavery. This gets lost somehow in fights with neo Confederates who exploit this issue for their own purposes, much as Ms. DeWitt has exploited the issue of “black Confederates“.

        Indigenous men and women are fighting for their rights, too, and to shield their children from the distortion of their history. For descendants of members of the Plains Nations, this involves an honest appraisal of the army of Sherman. For Indigenous men and women east of the Mississippi, it requires an honest appraisal, period, and the darling of many conservatives–Andrew Jackson–does not fare well.

        I agree with you about Ms DeWitt. Quite honestly, I simply do not understand her reasoning.

        • Richard Sep 22, 2010

          “For descendants of members of the Plains Nations, this involves an honest appraisal of the army of Sherman”

          It will also require an honest appaisal of the role of the warrior societies that existed on the Plains. Some of it wont be so pretty.

          • Sherree Sep 22, 2010

            Richard,

            This observation proves my point to a certain extent. Immediately, the living descendants of those who perished in the nation’s expansion westward are asked to defend, and/ or explain themselves, which is why many Indigenous men and women don’t even bother.

            One simple answer: It was their land for thousands of years. It was their land.

            Back to the point of Kevin’s post and why I introduced this idea:

            How the Civil War has been remembered–even in the past twenty years–does indeed greatly affect our understanding of the past and helps to form our national identity. I cannot tell you how many people include in their recitation of the defense of every action the United States takes that we are a great country because we freed the slaves.

            First of all, half the country fought to preserve the institution of slavery. And secondly, the other half that did fight for “freedom” was not always clear concerning objectives. Nowhere does this show up so conclusively as in the policies of the US toward Native Americans before, during and after the Civil War. That is the picture that is not pretty. In fact, it is as un-pretty as the founding of a nation based upon slave labor. One lie begets another lie, is my point, until finally you have a website such as the one in question dedicated to teaching children about “Black Confederates” .

  • Nat Turners Son Sep 21, 2010

    NBF is sure considered a Hero in Tenn!

    http://www.nbforrest.org/

  • Matt McKeon Sep 21, 2010

    Anne DeWitt is a freaking liar. I’m sure a lot of folks go along with the black confederate myth because they don’t know any better, but the mass of sludge she wrote deliberately obscures and misleads.

    That freaking tee shirt even has the “First Native Guards” fake photo that has been debunked fifty times.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 21, 2010

      Matt,

      DeWitt may have no business setting up a website about this history, but the t-shirt image is not from her site.

  • Bob Sep 21, 2010

    I think the topics of Black Confederates is interesting, and ALL the posts over the past few months have been good…but it seems like EVERY other post on this blog is about Black Confederates, the Crater or the MOC selling Black Confederates….how bout branching out? I know, if I dont like it I can not come to the site, but its just suggestion

    • Kevin Levin Sep 21, 2010

      Bob,

      I appreciate the feedback. This blog has always functioned as a platform to discuss topics that I am currently researching. Right now I am writing an essay on the subject of black Confederates and planning a book-length project on the subject. I recently finished a book on the Crater and historical memory. That explains the concentration of posts. The nice thing about the Civil War blogosphere is that there are plenty of sites to choose from. I appreciate you making Civil War Memory one of those stops.

      • Marianne Davis Sep 21, 2010

        I think the Black Confederate meme is an important aspect of the contemporary development of Civil War memory. This is not the first myth or misconstruction of historical fact that has gained prominence or credence in the national consciousness. The Confederate monument in Arlington National Cemetery, dedicated in 1914, memorializes another iconic African-American, the devoted “mammy” lovingly sending her master off to war. In the 1930s, the UDC sang the same tune in their tribute plaque to Heyward Shepard, “an industrious and respected colored freeman”, “exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of negroes” who left no stain on the “peculiar heritage of the American people.” These, and the tropes that will follow them, are all attempts to persuade us that enslaved people honored their masters’ interests more than their own freedoms. There may be people who are simply hoping to prove to fellow Southerners that black people share their “Heritage”, but they do so at risk of the truth and the future.

  • Michaela Sep 21, 2010

    It is, of course, not just an American phenomenon to distort the history of human rights violations that were regulated by the government. But is it acceptable today in the US, a different question, to distort the issue of slavery because it happened in our distant past in contrast, for example, to the Holocaust where the ones that committed the crime and the ones who suffered are still alive? Or will it be acceptable for Germans in the near future to distort history by describing concentration camps as “enclosed communities for special interest groups” or “government funded living arrangements for the enhancement of culturally unique people”?

    I am interested in how a person in 2010 can describe a slave serving in the Confederate Army as a “freedom fighter” or “Black Confederate Soldier”, not meaning the small group of slaves that were allowed in1865 to participate in combat (using the phrase “participate in combat” very carefully). And lets stay away from analyzing the illogical conclusion that a slave fought to maintain a system that keeps his people in bondage or from the impossible assertion that a victim of a crime agreed to support the perpetrator out of free will and being in possession of his or her full psychological health. What does the argument for the “loyal” slave stand for, when we decode it?

    I am not interested in offending one’s freedom of speech, but I am interested in understanding the intellectual roots of an argument. Even on a blog or “some” website public discourse should be supported by a hypothesis that should be based on documentation that ALL can understand and agree on as acceptable. So, what do/did American textbooks omit over the last century regarding slavery? How close is the poorly stated argument for thousands of “Black Confederate Soldiers” related to this country’s education system and political agenda? How is a Western country different from China or Sadam Hussein’s Iraq regarding the design and control of its education system? Of course, we don’t send people to prison! But a more serious analysis would be: what is the benefit of the distortion or omission of slavery over different historic periods in American culture? For example, does the “loyal” slave fit into our current view of a just, nation-building country and thus justify our current foreign policy? Did this description of slaves help America to avoid a critical review of its past and a reform of segregation laws when American soldiers returned from World War II fighting, among many more prominent reasons, to end the human rights violations of the Holocaust? Where do people like DeWitt fit in?

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