"Grim Harvest of War" by Bradley Schmehl
While modern day Lost Cause advocates of the black Confederate myth overwhelmingly refer to these men as soldiers, their preferred narrative falls right out of a late nineteenth-century fascination with the loyal camp or body servant. As I’ve said before there are almost no references to loyal black Confederate soldiers before the 1970s. What you will find, however, are scores of Confederate Veteran magazine accounts and other works of popular literature that wax poetic about the loyal body servant, who rushed to the battlefield to tend to his master’s wounds or to escort his body home in the event of his death.
I am doing my best in the first chapter of my black Confederate book to explore the complex exchange between master and slave that ensued as a result of being away from home and loved ones and in light of the many challenges associated with camp life and battle. The difficulty is compounded simply by the fact that we have so few black voices to work with. What I find so disturbing about this and other interpretations of that relationship is that it harkens back to blatantly racist notion that slaves could not live without their masters. The loss of the master was tantamount to the loss of a limb. To put it bluntly, it’s dehumanizing.
One wonders what was going through Bradley Schmehl’s mind when he painted “Grim Harvest of War”. Was he visualizing the stories of Thomas Nelson Page or those of Ann DeWitt?