Scratch Off Another Black Confederate

Update: Thanks to Andy Hall for sending along the link to the LOC page that includes a reference to David Lowe’s and Philip Shiman’s essay, “Substitute for a Corpse,” Civil War Times, Dec. 2010, p. 41.

One of the websites that I use in my teacher workshops on digital media literacy is a page from the Petersburg Express website, which is maintained by Ashleigh Moody.  It makes for an ideal case study of why teachers and students need to be educated about how to access and assess online information.  If you scroll down to the bottom of the page you will notice one of the best known photographs from the trenches of Petersburg.  It’s a photograph of a dead Confederate soldier, perhaps a member of an artillery unit.  There are at least two photographs of the body and one of them includes an additional body.  Moody refers to it as, “Black and White Confederate Soldiers.”

I have to admit that I’ve always had trouble with this image, particularly the identification of the second body as a black man.  I just didn’t see it and in my most recent workshop I even suggested that the identification of race by Moody was unjustified.  Not so fast.  Following my presentation Garry Adelman was kind enough to share a few additional photographs that I was unfamiliar with. Perhaps some of you are familiar with this recent discovery.  If you look at the third image you will clearly see that the individual is indeed black.  However, it is unlikely that this man was a soldier given the final photograph.  Apparently, this individual was used as an extra and if you look closely you will notice that the pants pattern match in both photographs.

I have no idea how Moody arrived at his preferred conclusion, but I am certain that it had little to do with anything approaching a critical examination of the relevant sources.  He properly identified the man as black and given his location next to a dead white Confederate concluded that he must be one of those black Confederate soldiers.  We’ve seen quite a bit of shoddy interpretation of late when it comes to this subject and this is just another example.

I am sure that Garry provided me with additional information about who put the pieces together, but unfortunately I don’t remember the remainder of the conversation since it took place after a long day.  Please feel free to add the details.  I would love to give the individual(s) credit for this.

11 thoughts on “Scratch Off Another Black Confederate

  1. Ray O'Hara

    I’d guess the Blackman was a freedman working for the photog and he nicely posed as a body for his boss.
    I’d also wager the horse and wagon were the photogs mobile dark room.

    Reply
  2. Rob Baker

    What an interesting set of photographs. I want to conclude that it could be some sort of servant to that particular artillery company, but that would be a little hasty. I will say the idea of a ‘black confederate’ but more hasty though. The “soldier” would be one of zero supplies. Not to mention he is missing certain aspects of a uniform that would be more essential in my mind such as a jacket. Who knows. Interesting discovery though Kevin.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I don’t see any reason to conclude that this individual had any connection to the Confederate army. As you note, he doesn’t seem to be wearing much of anything that I would identify as a uniform. Of course, I am no expert on such things so I will leave that one to others. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  3. Corey Meyer

    I don’t remember where I saw a discussion of this finding, but I have to admit it is a pretty impressive bit of detective work to connect the person in both photos.

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      1. Ray O'Hara

        Kevin. doesn’t it strain credulity to think a Black would have his picture taken on the very same day he was killed? He is just posing as dead. there can be no other logical explanation.
        look at his clothes and then look at the clothes of people killed violently
        their clothes are always askew.
        So again. not only is he not a Black Confed or any other type of Confed and neither is he dead.
        Posing was a common tactic with CW photographers.

        Reply
        1. Rob Baker

          I can definitely see this analysis. It also doesn’t appear that he has laid outside for a period of time. His clothes have a pristine look to them. Nor is he showing any signs of bloating, though it could be early or very cold. Interesting study nonetheless.

          Reply
  4. Shanon Hays

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this already, and it may not even be of any import, but the photos are taken from two different perspectives, judging from the presence of the rammer in the background of the first photo, and in the foreground of the second. This doesn’t mean that the black man was not indeed posing for the camera…

    Reply

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